Fort Smith area likely to avoid shift from Congressional redistricting

by The City Wire staff ([email protected]) 195 views 

It’s possible but unlikely that Sebastian County or other large portions of the Fort Smith metro area will be moved into the 4th Congressional District as a result of redistricting that will take place in 2011.

Most of the Fort Smith metro area is now in the 3rd Congressional District, with Logan and Scott counties in the 4th Congressional District. During the previous five decades, the geographic size of the 3rd District has shrunk as the population in the district grew. (See below for map of district changes.)

With district population growth — seen primarily in Benton and Washington counties — continuing, it’s possible the district’s geography will shrink again based on the 2010 Census.

The Arkansas House and Senate is responsible to redraw Arkansas’ Congressional Districts so that the population is balanced within federally-mandated margins. The process begins in the State Agencies and Governmental Affairs committees of the Arkansas House and Senate. Obviously, the makeup and leadership of the two committees will be more important than usual in this redistricting cycle (Redrawing of legislative districts within Arkansas is handled by the Governor, Secretary of State and Attorney General)

Paul Harvel, president of the Fort Smith Regional Chamber of Commerce, says the scuttlebutt is that the district will shrink in size, but he believes Logan County or Johnson County — or both — would be used instead of Sebastian County to balance population numbers in Arkansas’ four Congressional districts.

Harvel says U.S. Rep. Mike Ross, D-Prescott, will be a key player — if re-elected as the 4th District Congressman — in the redistricting. A re-elected Ross would be the senior member of Arkansas’ U.S. House of Representatives delegation.

Ross spokesman John Dickerman said he does not think Ross has commented on redistricting. (The City Wire will update this story with an expected follow up comment from Dickerman.)

Richard Wilson, research director for the Arkansas Bureau of Legislative Research, agrees that Ross will have input into the process. However, he says there are too many options available to balance the districts, and suggested that it’s “much too early” for a single plan to emerge as the likely option. All that being said, he doesn’t think Sebastian County will be pulled into the 4th District.

“I would think Sebastian’s got too many people to make it into Ross’ district, but I could be wrong about that,” Wilson said, adding that portions of the 1st or 2nd Congressional Districts also could be used to provide the necessary population balance.

Jake Files, the Senator-elect representing Fort Smith, would oppose Sebastian County being part of the 4th District. He said being the biggest city in “a huge rural district” like the 4th District would not be beneficial for the Fort Smith area.

“I will fight for us to stay in the 3rd District. We have more similarities with the communities to our north than we do with all the communities in that (4th) District,” Files explained. “To move us out of the 3rd district would be purely political.”

Wilson said those opposing or proposing redistricting options will need to begin in the State Agencies committees.

“That’s where it starts. That’s where you’ll need to be,” he said.

Gov. Mike Beebe doesn’t see how the “sheer numbers” will allow Sebastian and Crawford counties to be pulled into the 4th District.

“I’d think that would be highly unlikely,” Beebe said of moving Fort Smith and Van Buren out of the 3rd District. “Now, having said that, they’re (Legislators) under an obligation under federal law that these districts have to, population wise, have to be within a certain percentage.”