By Brandon Moseley
Alabama Political Reporter
Tuesday, May 9, 2017, the Alabama House of Representatives took up the controversial court ordered redistricting bill for the Alabama House, HB571, sponsored by State Representative Randy Davis (R-Daphne).
When it became apparent that the Democrats did not have the votes to stop the bill, State Representative Thomas Jackson (D-Thomasville) demanded that the bill be read at length. Since the redistricting bill is over 500 pages this will take approximately 15 hours, during which time the House has to maintain a quorum present.
One key points of dispute between the two parties is how to redistrict Jefferson County, the State’s largest county which is transitioning from a white majority Republican County to a black majority Democratic County.
The House Democratic Caucus wrote in a statement: “The Reapportionment Committee’s House redistricting plan, HB571, passed by House Republicans, contains an unconstitutional racial gerrymander of Jefferson County. Only 15 incumbent House members reside in Jefferson County, seven of whom are white and eight of whom are black. Solely for the purpose of maintaining white control of the Jefferson County House delegation.”
The Democrats continued, “HB571 extends the districts of nonresident incumbents Wadsworth, HD 14, and South, HD 16, inside Jefferson County to provide representatives of majority-white districts a 9-8 majority in the delegation. HB 14 is 95 percent white, and its 5,338 Jefferson County residents make up only 11 percent of the district’s population. HB 16 is 87 percent white, and its 12,716 Jefferson County residents make up only 28 percent of the district’s population. Taken together, HD 14 and HD 16 are 91 percent white, and their 18,054 Jefferson County residents comprise just 20 percent of the population in the two districts. In addition, the districts of three white House members who reside in Jefferson County, HD 15, HD 45 and HD 48 extend beyond the county boundaries. The districts of all eight black House members are wholly contained inside Jefferson County. To accomplish the Jefferson County gerrymander, HB571 subordinates traditional districting principles to race, by splitting county boundaries in particular. It allows 110,153 persons residing in 6 other counties,1 89 percent of whom are white, to vote for members of Jefferson County’s House delegation.”
The Black Legislative Caucus wanted a plan, introduced as HB583, which takes HD 14 and HD 16 out of Jefferson County and adds part of HD 49 (anchored in Bibb County), leaving eight white and eight black members of the Jefferson County delegation.
The Joint Committee on Reapportionment did agree to reduce the number of majority white Districts in Jefferson County from ten to just nine.
Rep. Davis said that his plan was developed by, “Working with the ladies and gentlemen across the chamber we have worked for hundreds of hours.”
State Representative John Rogers (D-Birmingahm) said, “How in the Sam Hill do you divide Jefferson County into 17 districts? I don’t care about this plan and am ready to go to court. I am begging to go to court, because I have an idea of what is going to happen. In 2020 it will a whole different ball game.”
State Representative John Knight (D-Montgomery) said, “Reapportionment is a very serious business. You should go back to your district and give your people input. Not only did we shut the public out of the process we shut member of this legislature out of the process. This plan is wrong it is concepted wrong. It does not comply with the supreme court it does not comply with the Alabama Constitution. Lets take our time and come up with a compromise.”
Rep. Rogers said, “The Senate plan is better than the House plan but the House plan is just terrible. I guarantee if you pass this one here we will be back in court and take our chances. This racially gerrymandered plan will not stand scrutiny of the United States Supreme Court no matter who the President puts on the Supreme Court.”
The Budget Isolation Resolution passed 71 to 31.
Chairman Davis said that 14 plans were submitted to the office. Close to 70 districts were a part of this Plan 2 apportionment. There is a standard deviation of 545 people between districts.
Davis introduced a substitute bill on the floor of the House.
Rep. Laura Hall said, “That is not right. That is just wrong. We have not had the opportunity to see that substitute we have not even seen the whole map. Maybe if we saw it we would say that everything is ok.”
State Representative Mary Moore (D-Birmingham) said, “Part of our concern is the process. A house divided can not stand.” Moore lamented that legislators who were in the Jefferson County Delegation who live 2 or 3 counties over do “not even understand the culture of Jefferson County.”
Rep. Dexter Grimsley (D-Newville) was very upset that his district was changed from majority black to just 44 percent black. He compared it to what the Sanhedrin did to Jesus.
Rep. A.J. McCampbell (D-Livingston) was disturbed that his multi county district will now be 44 percent in Tuscaloosa.
Chairman Davis said that our smallest county is Greene with 9000 people and our largest is Jefferson with 670,000 people.
Rep. Marcel Black (D-Tuscumbia) told Davis, I stood in your shoes in 2001 as Chairman of the Joint Committee on Reapportionment. One think I was proud in the legislature that we passed a House plan without it being nested. Before then each senate district had 3 house districts inside it. The senate can draw their plan and the House passed the Senate plan, It was challenged and upheld. The chief reason for that is that it was a bipartisan effort.”
The bill reading robot started reading the bill just after 7:00 pm and went until midnight. It will resume its task on Thursday.
State Representative Mack Butler (R-Rainbow City) said on social media, “The House of Representatives is basically shut down for the rest of the night and all day Thursday unless the Democrats withdraw their motion to have the 538 page reapportionment bill read at length. If you have an interest in the budgets or other legislation please know everything is shut down and can’t move for the time being. We have to keep a quorum in the chamber. Listening to a computer speed read a bill 538 pages long is similar to watching paint dry. Roll Tide!”
State Representative Koven L. Brown (R-Jacksonville) said on social media, “Well, I had hoped the filibuster would end, but it looks like we will carry on until midnight and then come in early Thursday morning and resume for 7 more hours. Not a good use of time when we have 5 legislative days left in this session.”
The Republicans had successfully used cloture on the Democrats and passed the substitute so final passage is almost certain on Tuesday when the robot is done reading the bill.