SEN. CLARKE TUCKER: Questions racial impact of amended redistricting plan.

After tinkering with the division of Pulaski County, the Senate State Agencies Committee today endorsed Sen. Jane English’s SB 743 to redraw the state’s congressional district lines.

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That cleared the path for the adoption of this plan for state redistricting. An identical bill cleared the committee soon after in the House.

English got some pushback in the Senate committee from Sen. Clarke Tucker, who noted that the division of Pulaski among three congressional districts was built on moving 64,000 residents in two predominantly minority areas — one north of the Arkansas River to the 1st District and a southeastern portion of the county, including a chunk of Little Rock south of the Arkansas River to the 4th district.

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She’ll balance this loss with the addition of some 25,000 people of overwhelmingly white Cleburne County to the 2nd district.

Sen. Jason Rapert, chair of the committee, said no legislator had a racial motive in drawing district lines. To inject the subject is racial, he said. Tucker said he wasn’t suggesting anyone’s intent, but highlighting the impact.

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He said Pulaski’s effort to do major projects in the capital city will be impaired by having to call on three members of Congress.

Others said redistricting couldn’t be achieved without splitting some counties — either Sebastian and Pulaski as English’s bill would do or numerous smaller, less populous counties. This isn’t true. Several maps were drawn that split no counties and met equal population standards. These include the original bill filed by Rep. Nelda Speaks, whose amended bill emerged as the choice in the House committee today.

But slicing up Democratic Pulaski, with its disproportionate minority representation, has been a desire of most Republicans from the outset.

English’s amendment changed slightly the provisions I outlined earlier:

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It added 103 and 124, both in Southwest Little Rock to the 4th District.

It eliminated Precinct 30, which is in Sherwood, from the 1st District. It also cut two North Little Rock precincts, 52 and 53, from the original bill.

After the Senate committee met, the House committee met on the House version of the same bill, HB 1982 by Rep. Speaks. It was endorsed, over some objections.

So identical bills now go to the respective houses for a full vote.

The Senate bill went to the Senate floor after the committee meeting for approval of the amendment, where Sen. Joyce Elliott again raised questions about the areas being stripped from the 2nd District. English said the racial makeup of the areas “never entered our minds.” Elliott said, “I’m asking you to think about it.”

Sen. Linda Chesterfield complained that the amendment removed a big portion of her district (predominantly African-American) from the 2nd District and her voters are led to believe “their district just doesn’t matter.”

English couldn’t explain clearly why Pulaski was reduced and Cleburne added since the district could have met population standards simply by dropping Van Buren County.

Sen. Mat Pitsch complained that the amended bill expanded the amount of Sebastian County kept in the 4th District. English said she could provide no numbers on the change there.

If you’re keeping score, Precincts 54 and 55 of Pulaski County go to the 1st District. Precincts 103-105, 124-127 and 131-133 and 135 go into the 4th District.

Some members of the committee believed the map didn’t take parts of Little Rock or split any cities in Pulaski county. It does, as Rep. Jim Dotson pointed out, particularly along the south side of Interstate 30. It also moves a part of North Little Rock in Precinct 54 to the 1st District.