Arkansas lawmakers in both the House and the Senate voted Wednesday afternoon to adopt a congressional redistricting map that will pull strongly Democratic minority communities in Pulaski County into two separate stalwart Republican districts, thereby diluting their voting power. The map splits the state’s capital city in two, the capital county in three, and pulls the chances of Democrats winning a seat in Arkansas’s congressional delegation further out of reach. Sebastian County also gets divided with the Greenwood School District going to the Third congressional district.
While both houses have to hold a final vote tomorrow, the process seems pretty well wrapped up.
Democratic lawmakers spoke out against what Rep. Andrew Collins (D-Little Rock) said was a map forged on “partisanship, regionalism and racial gerrymandering.”
A line of Republicans, all white, took turns at the podium to feign affront at the suggestion that the map being considered will harm communities of color. Some of them accused Democrats of using race as a political weapon and being overly dramatic.
Whistling the loudest was Republican David Ray of Maumelle, who said Democrats’ objections to having a blue voting block in Central Arkansas divided among other districts was “performative theatrics of moral outrage.” He accused Democrats of injecting race into the conversation unnecessarily and said Democrats are also guilty of racializing the debate when it comes to gun laws and school choice. (In fact, Black people do suffer disproportionately from both gun violence and the defunding of public education that results from school choice.)
Democrats, both white and Black, took their turns at the podium to point out that voices of people of color were being discounted or ignored completely.
“I’m not trying to win an Academy Award by being up here, so this is not theatrics,” Rep. Monte Hodges (D-Blytheville) said. A Black man, Hodges said pretending the map won’t divide minority voices into pieces too small to carry much weight is dishonest.
“We all know what’s going on here, it’s no secret,” he said.
Rep. Megan Godfrey (D-Springdale) urged fellow white representatives to seek out and take to heart the wishes of their Black and brown constituents.
“When we, as white representatives, hear from colleagues and constituents of color telling us we missed the mark, we need to listen,” Godfrey said.
But Republican Reps. Jim Wooten (Beebe) and David Tollett (Lexa) took to victim blaming, saying Pulaski County voters should have called them or come to the Capitol if they didn’t like the map.
“You tell me the people of Pulaski County can’t stand up and punch a phone and call representatives in another district? Sure, they can,” Wooten said.
Wooten insisted that race played no factor in his decision to support the map.
“I love black people just as much as I love white people,” he said.
Rep. Tippi McCullough (D-Little Rock) remained unconvinced of Republicans’ allegedly pure intentions.
“I could not sit in my seat today and listen to anyone accuse my friends and my colleagues, your colleagues, of cheap political tricks,” she said.
“Often, when we hear something’s not about race, it is about race. I just suggest we listen to the folks who know what they’re talking about.”
While redistricting was the priority for this extended session, anti-science, states’ rights lawmakers turned it into an opportunity to push bills that make it easier for Arkansans to shirk vaccines. The bills, which offer up incentives like unemployment benefits and reimbursement for testing to people who forego the vaccine, will create an environment where COVID-19 is likely to continue spreading.