Tuesday, August 02, 2011

TOP STORY >> Legislators learning new districts

Leader staff writer

Several area legislators are being moved into new districts where most of the residents didn’t even vote for them in the last election.

The changes are happening because of legislative redistricting every decade. Unless the new district lines for the Arkansas Senate and House of Representatives are challenged in federal court, they become effective 30 days from their approval on July 29.

What that means for sitting senators and representatives, said Tim Humphries, legal counsel for the Arkansas State Board of Election Commissions, is that like it or not, they will soon find themselves responsible for a group of voters who didn’t put them in office.

What many will do, he said, is to continue to listen to the needs of those who elected them while getting to know those in the new district, especially if they intend to run for re-election. If they take that route, the job of some is about to get a little harder, he said.

Dist. 48 Rep. Davy Carter (R-Cabot), lives in new Dist. 43 and like all other state representatives and senators will have to run for office in 2012 in his new district.

“I no longer have Ward or Austin. It’s basically Cabot city limits now.

“I hate to lose them. I hate that I don’t get to keep representing them, but we’ve grown (in population) so much that the territory had to shrink,” Carter said.

Dist. 49 Rep. Jeremy Gillam (R-Judsonia) now lives in new Dist. 45, which is smaller on the east and west sides than Dist. 49. He got into office less than a year ago with the help of several volunteer fire departments that he won’t represent if he is elected in 2012 to represent the new district.

He has lost El Paso, Romance, Antioch, Floyd and Center Hill on the west and Georgetown and Griffithville on the east. But he has picked up Higginson.

“I hate to lose those folks, but I’ve got them until the next election, and I’m proud of that,” Gillam said.

Gillam said there is really no good time for an incumbent’s district to change but he had to lose 3,000 and the new lines are as fair to everyone as they could be.

What Carter and Gillam lost in the redistricting is now part of new House Dist. 44, which includes Ward and Austin in Lonoke County and Rose Bud and Pangburn in White County. That seat is up for grabs since no representative currently lives there.

Dist. 15 Rep. Walls McCrary (D-Lonoke), lives in new Dist. 14, which is larger than his old district in area. But he says he is pleased because the new district is made up of small towns, rural communities and farmland. The goal of keeping like areas together was a success in new Dist. 14, he said.

“I’ll be representing the people I know and feel the most comfortable with and I think I can do them a good job,” said McCrary, who runs the business end of his family’s farm operation in Lonoke County.

The area around Cabot’s Rolling Hills Country Club that was part of Dist. 15 is not included in Dist. 14. Walls said he also lost part of Prairie County but gained part of Jefferson and Arkansas counties as well as Pulaski County’s Scott area.

Dist. 43 Rep. Jim Nickels (D-Sherwood) will run next year in new Dist. 41. Nickels said the area he serves is changing very little. He loses the area between Jacksonville Cato Road and Old Box Road to Rep. Mark Perry (D-Jacksonville), but his job, if re-elected in 2012, will remain the same.

“My district is made up of working-class families and small businesses and I don’t see a change,” Nickels said.

Dist. 41 includes the North Lake area of Jacksonville, about two-thirds of Sherwood and Gravel Ridge and the Windsor Valley-Indian Hills area of North Little Rock.

Perry, who was elected in Dist. 44, will have to run in Dist. 42 in 2012.

His territory shifted west to Hwy. 107, but he told The Leader recently that he is content with the change.

Dist. 42 Rep. Jane English (R-North Little Rock) will lose most of her Pulaski County territory when her new Dist. 40 becomes official. Territory in Jacksonville, Maumelle, North Little Rock and Sherwood will be gone and she will be left with part of north Pulaski County and a lot of Faulkner County.

English has one term left before she is term-limited. She said she had seriously considered running for Mary Ann Salmon’s Dist. 31 Senate seat since Salmon is term-limited and can’t run again. But now that the lines have been redrawn, she doesn’t live in Salmon’s district. She’s in Dist. 29, Sen. Eddie Joe Williams’ new district.

English said she wouldn’t run against Williams, but she hasn’t ruled out the possibility of moving into Salmon’s new Dist. 34 so she can run for that seat despite the changes in the lines.

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