A map that would chop Pulaski County into three different congressional districts, largely along racial lines, got voted down on the Senate floor Wednesday morning.
But in this whirlwind extended session where lawmakers are constantly expunging votes and recalling bills, it’s hard to know if that down vote will stick.
UPDATE: It seems that the bill didn’t fail on its merits. After the Senate failed to pass an emergency clause for SB 1977, a bill that gives workers a way around vaccine requirements by businesses, sponsor Sen. Kim Hammer (R-Benton) asked the House to return the bill to the Senate for reconsideration. The bill passed the Senate, but fell two votes shy of the 24-vote threshold needed for the emergency clause to put the bill in effect right away. Two yay votes were absent and voted for the bill through “pairs,” where a present member on the opposite side of the vote vouches for them. But those weren’t accepted in the emergency clause vote. So Hammer and Co. wanted another try when the full number of senate supporters are present.
There was grumbling in the House. Rep. Lane Jean (R-Magnolia) said a number of Republican senators planned to hold out their support of approving a redistricting bill until the emergency clause of SB 1977 was approved. He said the Senate didn’t respect the House and wanted to drag the process out. But the motion to send the bill back to the Senate ultimately passed with 60 votes, needing a simple majority.
Back to redistricting:
The map by Sen. Jane English (R-North Little Rock) failed after Democrats called out the obvious racial divisions etched into it, and two Republicans pushed back on what they said was unnecessary splitting of counties.
English’s map lops off strongly Black and Democratic-leaning chunks of Pulaski County from the Second District and farms them out to the First and Fourth districts, where those votes would be thoroughly and irreversibly diluted by white rural voters.
Republican defenders of the split have repeatedly said they didn’t see or consider race when looking at the map, so any negative impact was purely incidental. Many of them said that dividing Pulaski County up among different districts was unavoidable.
Sen. Joyce Elliott (D-Little Rock) wasn’t going to let that slide, and called out the elephants in the room.
Of the 36 versions of redistricting maps submitted, 11 did not split any counties but still met all the legal criteria, she said. So claims that cracking Pulaski County was unavoidable are “patently untrue,” she said. She urged Republicans to at least be honest.
“I would appreciate people saying, ‘We chose to do this because we can,’ ” Elliott said.
Sen. Jason Rapert (R-Conway) seemed affronted by Elliott’s points and said he believed everyone’s intentions were pure and that Arkansas should be happy with the result.
Sen. Clarke Tucker (D-Little Rock) came with hard numbers to prove that, whether on purpose or just incidentally, the portions of Little Rock and Pulaski County being sheared away from the Second District have large minority populations, whose political voices would be more easily drowned out when added into the more heavily white and rural districts. (Both Tucker and Elliott made unsuccessful runs for the Second District Congressional seat currently held by Rep. French Hill.)
“We are slicing and dicing the minority population in Pulaski County into three different districts,” he said.
The effect, he said, is that Black and brown communities could easily be neglected.
“They’ll be left to fend for themselves.”
Regional projects to improve transportation, infrastructure and the arts will be more complicated to achieve when they require the support of three different congress members, he said.
Republican Sens. Mark Johnson and Mathew Pitsch spoke against the map because they said it splits Sebastian and Pulaski counties unnecessarily.
Sen. Linda Chesterfield (D-North Little Rock) was blunt in her criticism.
“The people I represent feel that this is a hellish map. It is prejudiced, it is hyper-partisan, and it is petty.”
The Senate reconvenes at 2 p.m., most likely to pass more anti-vax legislation.