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New congressional districts set as possible legal challenges abound

Arkansas State Capitol (Source: KAIT)
Arkansas State Capitol (Source: KAIT)
Published: Oct. 13, 2021 at 6:59 PM CDT|Updated: 19 hours ago
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LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (KAIT) - A bill setting Arkansas’ four congressional districts for the next 10 years became law without Gov. Asa Hutchinson’s signature Wednesday, as threats of a possible lawsuit challenging the map make their way into the political debate.

Gov. Asa Hutchinson said during his weekly press conference that SB743 and HB1982 would become law in the state.

The two bills, sponsored by Sen. Jane English (R-Little Rock) and Rep. Nelda Speaks (R-Mountain Home), were approved earlier this month by the state legislature.

Under the bills, the 1st District includes Arkansas, Baxter, Boone, Chicot, Clay, Craighead, Crittenden, Cross, Desha, Fulton, Greene, Independence, Izard, Jackson, Lawrence, Lee, Lincoln, Lonoke, Marion, Mississippi, Monroe, Phillips, Poinsett, Prairie, Randolph, St. Francis, Searcy, Sharp, Stone, Woodruff and portions of Pulaski County. Cleburne County, which is now in the 1st District, would move to the 2nd District and would join White County in the central Arkansas-based district.

The debate over the issue has involved the moving of Pulaski County into the 1st, 2nd and 4th districts. Right now, Pulaski County is in the 2nd District.

Critics have said the changes in Pulaski County would dilute minority representation in Congress, while supporters have said population drops in eastern and southern Arkansas, along with growth in Northwest Arkansas, led to the changes in the map.

Also, supporters of the new map have said having three U.S. Representatives in Pulaski County could help the county on various issues including highways and the Little Rock Air Force Base.

New Arkansas Democratic Party chairman Grant Tennille told content partner Talk Business & Politics that he anticipates a lawsuit on the issue.

“I can tell you that it (legal challenge) will happen. There is common purpose among a large group of people who say the court has got to look at this,” Tennille told Talk Business & Politics.

The Arkansas State Senate Republican Caucus also released a statement Friday about the map.

“The Senate Republican caucus fully rejects any notion that the congressional map passed by the legislature is out of line with Supreme Court precedent. If Governor Hutchinson had sincere concerns, he could have raised them at any point during the process. This map is lawful and the courts will uphold it. “For 140 years, Democrats have been in complete control of the redistricting process. During that time, they have continued to gerrymander maps and split multiple counties in an attempt to secure political power. Now they choose to cry foul over a map that splits fewer counties than maps they have drawn,” state senators said in the statement. “Unlike the Democrats, we do not depend on the redistricting process to win elections. We will continue to earn the trust and confidence of Arkansans by ensuring that our platform reflects their beliefs and values. That is why Republicans have continually won in districts drawn by democrats.”

Next step

While the congressional redistricting map has become law, officials with the Arkansas Board of Apportionment are still working on drawing the state legislative map for the next 10 years.

The board - made up of Gov. Asa Hutchinson, Attorney General Leslie Rutledge and Secretary of State John Thurston - vote on the 135 state house and state senate district maps in the legislature.

Earlier this year, the board held a series of meetings around the state to get feedback from people on the issue.

According to the board’s website, the districts are drawn using several criteria including population, the Equal Protection Clause of the U.S. Constitution, communities of interest and avoiding giving preferential treatment to anyone based on political affiliation.

A representative with the board said Wednesday they believe the new legislative maps will be done by late October-early November.

Copyright 2021 KAIT. All rights reserved.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.