Tuesday, August 02, 2011

TOP STORY >> Criticism is voiced on lines in Senate

Leader staff writer

Jacksonville Mayor Gary Fletcher said this week that he would have preferred that his city not be divided into two Senate districts, but at least it is no longer in a district with Searcy.

Jacksonville will be split into Senate Dists. 30 and 34.

Even with two Senate districts instead of the one that was created after the last census, the area is more compact and therefore more advantageous to the people and the two senators who will represent them for the next 10 years.

“The senators can be more visible,” he said. “Stretched out like it was wasn’t fair to the senator or the people.”

Fletcher said he is not dissatisfied with Sen. Jonathan Dismang (R-Searcy), who was elected in 2010 and represented Jacksonville in Dist. 29.

“I like Jonathan,” he said. “But every city has its own issues, and the people who represent those cities should feel connected.”

“You really had to use a lot of imagination to hook Jacksonville up with Searcy,” Fletcher said. “That was the craziest thing I ever heard of.

“They talk about the Fayetteville finger. I think Jacksonville got the finger 10 years ago,” he said.

Fletcher said he thought Cabot and Jacksonville should be in the same Senate district since Jacksonville has Little Rock Air Force Base and Cabot is where many military families live. But he said Jacksonville also has much in common with Sherwood, North Little Rock and Little Rock, so he won’t complain.

Sen. Linda Ches-terfield (D-Little Rock) is the incumbent in new Senate Dist. 30, which includes the eastern part of Jacksonville. Sen. Mary Anne Salmon (D-North Little Rock) has the western part in the new Dist. 34 but won’t be able to run because she is term-limited.

Dist. 30 also includes McAlmont, College Station, Sweet Home and Wrightsville.

Dist. 34 also includes Little Rock Air Force base, Sherwood and North Little Rock.

Lonoke County, which was put into one Senate district 10 years ago, is divided again. Dismang, who was elected to serve Dist. 29—which included Searcy, Beebe and Jacksonville— now lives in Dist. 28, which still includes Searcy and Beebe, but otherwise is a farming district that runs south from Searcy and includes all of Lonoke County except for the Cabot School District, the southwestern quarter of Woodruff County, about one-quarter of Monroe County, all of Prairie County and most of the northern half of Arkansas County.

Sen. Eddie Joe Williams (R-Cabot) was elected to serve Dist. 28 but now lives in Dist. 29, which includes Cabot, Ward, Austin, El Paso, Floyd, Vilonia and a section of northern Pulaski County.
Williams said this week that the new district is not the one he wanted because he wanted Lonoke County to stay in one district and he had developed a good relationship with his constituents in Prairie and Arkansas counties.

“But the new district is compact,” he said. “It’s conservative and it’s easy to get around in.”

Williams won in every county in 2010 and he said he believes he can win in the new district. He said he also thinks Dismang stands a good chance of winning in his new district.

Dismang’s base of support is in the area around Searcy and Beebe, Williams said, but if one Republican can win in farming country he doesn’t see why another Republican would have any trouble doing the same thing.

“As long as Obama is the head of the ticket, people will continue to vote conservative,” Williams said.

The state Board of Apportionment on Friday approved new boundaries for House and Senate districts on a 2-1 vote.

Gov. Mike Beebe and Attorney General Dustin McDaniel voted for the plan they developed together. The lone Republican on the board, Secretary of State Mark Martin, voted against it.

The Beebe-McDaniel plan reduced the number of black-majority House districts from 13 to 11, a change that has upset some lawmakers.

Their changes also resulted in four cases in which an incumbent representative could face an election challenge from another incumbent.

Those districts are in the Paris, Altheimer, Pine Bluff, Camden, Magnolia and Pocahontas areas.

Those changes couldn’t be helped, Beebe said, because of population shifts.

“You can’t make everyone happy,” Beebe told reporters. “Some people are happy and some are unhappy. But it was really challenging to protect the minority vote.”

The new plans have each House district with about 29,150 residents and each Senate district with about 83,300 residents.

Democrats have a 55-45 majority in the House and a 20-15 majority in the Senate. Those margins have been dwindling over the years, and GOP leaders think they can win control of one or both chambers in the 2012 elections.