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OPINION: New maps show growth in NWA, declines out in state

by Maylon Rice | October 13, 2021 at 5:25 a.m.

The Arkansas Legislature finally came to terms on a new Congressional District Map, amid a session more focused on thwarting any covid mandates by employers, cities, counties, school boards or other governing or employment entities.

As predicted, the phenomenal population growth in the Third Congressional District – Northwest Arkansas – saw much of the previous Third District being divided up to the First and Fourth Congressional Districts.

Today, should the maps hold any federal court challenge on "gerrymandering" along the grounds of race or political subversion, the Third District will include the counties of Benton, Washington, Carroll, Madison, Crawford and most of Sebastian County.

An area south of the Arkansas River, in Sebastian County, especially the Greenwood area, will now be in the Fourth Congressional District.

Gone from the old Third District territory are the entire populations of Marion, Boone, Newton, Pope, Johnson and Franklin counties.

An area of controversy was the splitting of the state's most populated county, Pulaski County, into three different congressional districts.

A largely minority area of Pulaski County with Black voters has been annexed into the Fourth Congressional District.

Another area in the southeast portion of Pulaski County has been annexed into the First Congressional District, while the bulk of Pulaski County remains in the Second Congressional District.

This division of three different districts for Pulaski County, some lawmakers say, will impact Black and other minority communities. That is a fatal "no no" for any federal lawsuit – like some court challenges in Texas and North Carolina in recent years, which has either held up any congressional district changes taking place, unless court approved, or caused some mid-term elections to be federally monitored for fairness.

It came as no surprise that some of the vocal Democrat members of the Pulaski County delegation didn't hold back on this disdain of these changes.

"This map is hellish, prejudice, this is prejudice, it is petty," Sen. Linda Chesterfield, D-Little Rock, said while speaking on the state Senate floor against the map.

Others, especially Republicans, tried to extinguish the talk about race being a motivating factor for splitting Pulaski County.

"I'm really disappointed that at every turn the conversation of race is continued to be interjected into the discussion," Rep. David Ray, R-Cabot, said during the debate.

Many TV commentators, usually political science professors at local universities, have noted this is the first time, since Civil War Reconstruction, that the Republicans have had the majority in the state legislature while redrawing the congressional district map.

The question has been asked of those doing so with map after map of such redrawn lines: why divide up the state's county with the most population?

One TV commentator, Professor Janine Parry of the University of Arkansas political science department, gave a reason – diluting the power base.

"In this case," Parry said in a local TV interview, "by dividing up the majority of population centers, in addition to dividing up on of the major concentrations of reliable Democratic voters, which Black voters typically continue to be, you're diluting the power of that Democratic stronghold."

Other leaders in the Republican Party's right win, such as state Sen. Jason Rapert, R-Conway, tried to deflect criticism saying everyone tried to do their best. "Could they make the map perfect?" Rapert asked in a TV interview. "No, but I'm tired of hearing allegations from members about all this stuff. They've done the best they could."

Perhaps, state Sen. Joyce Elliot, D-Little Rock, who ran two years ago for the Second Congressional District seat, carrying Pulaski County, before losing in the rural areas of the Second District, said it best.

"For us to say that we can't get a good map without splitting Pulaski County is not true," Elliot rebutted Rapert's remarks in a TV interview.

"So, I would appreciate folks to say we (the legislature) did it just simply because we (the legislature) can."

But for which political party was this 10-year map really drawn as a power base?

Perhaps we shall, over the next decade see, for sure.

--Maylon Rice is a former journalist who worked for several northwest Arkansas publications. He can be reached via email at [email protected] The opinions expressed are those of the author.

Print Headline: New maps show growth in NWA, declines out in state

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