By SHELIA BYRD
Republican Lt. Gov. Phil Bryant’s hands-on approach to redistricting may have shown he can be vulnerable in the 2011 governor’s race.
Bryant, who’s the Senate’s presiding officer, attempted an end-run around Republican Sen. Terry Burton of Newton, the man Bryant himself had put in charge of drawing the Senate’s new legislative district lines. The maps are needed to reflect population shifts based on the 2010 Census.
Bryant said Burton’s map was unfair to some Republican districts, particularly one around Hattiesburg. Bryant contended that district should have gone Republican, not Democratic, as he said Burton proposed.
So, Bryant got one of his own political consultants to draw a map, and he gave senators the option of choosing his map or Burton’s. Most Democrats — and quietly some Republicans — argued Bryant’s map was sure to be rejected by the U.S. Justice Department, which checks to ensure that the plans don’t dilute minorities’ voting strength. Hattiesburg is a majority-black city.
The Senate, which has a Republican majority, rejected Bryant’s proposal and chose the Burton plan.
Now, Bryant faces the possibility of a rippling effect from his redistricting foray as he runs for governor this year. Bryant is the money leader in the race that has several candidates, including businessman Dave Dennis of Pass Christian, who’s a Republican; and Hattiesburg Mayor Johnny DuPree and Clarksdale businessman and attorney Bill Luckett, who are both Democrats.
Bryant has given them a weapon to use against him, says Steve Rozman, a political science professor at Tougaloo College.
“He’s shown a vulnerability with his own party going against him like that. I can’t imagine Haley Barbour putting himself in a position where he was rebuffed by his own party,” Rozman said, referring to the state’s Republican governor.
The redistricting vote could raise a red flag over Bryant’s ability, if elected governor, to muster the votes to push his agenda through a bipartisan Legislature.
Barbour on the other hand has rarely picked a fight he couldn’t win.
Before the redistricting debate in the Senate last week, Bryant took aim at the House map passed in that Democratic-controlled chamber.
In years past, there’s been a gentleman’s agreement between the two chambers to accept the other’s redistricting plans. Bryant said he would honor no such agreement, going so far as to say it’s tantamount to a breach of oath of office.
The House plan was killed in Burton’s committee but could be revived through legislative maneuvering. The Senate redistricting plan is now headed to the House.
While all this was unfolding, former Republican Lt. Gov. Eddie Briggs likely reminisced about when he was dealing with redistricting in 1991. Briggs, who is a practicing attorney in Madison, told The Associated Press he wasn’t involved to the extent that Bryant has been.
Briggs said then-state Sen. Roger Wicker — now a U.S. senator — was the chairman of the committee drawing the map.
“He was having a lot of difficulty deciding which was best. I remember taking him into my office and telling him to make a decision.
“You’re never going to draw the districts to everybody’s satisfaction. Back in those days, we weren’t as partisan as we are now,” Briggs said.
When asked if he thought Bryant’s redistricting misstep could hurt in the governor’s race, Briggs said: “You make a lot of enemies when you take sides on the redistricting issue. Always, those who work against you, work harder than those who are with you.”