The discussion about redistricting includes a plan that would place Fayetteville within the same Congressional District as Pine Bluff and Texarkana.
And a few business leaders in Fort Smith, thinking 2020 might bring a fifth Congressional District to the state, aren’t sure if they want to lobby to keep Sebastian County in the 3rd District or push to move it to the 4th District.
This is not an early April Fools story.
Steve Clark, president of the Fayetteville Chamber of Commerce, sent an e-mail late Tuesday (Mar. 1) urging chamber members to be prepared to lobby to keep Fayetteville out of a plan that would snake the 4th Congressional District up through Franklin, Johnson and Madison counties and pull out the Democratic-leaning portions of Washington County.
Republicans have been floating maps that include solid GOP Congressional Districts and a "majority-minority" district in eastern Arkansas. Democrats have been discussing proposals to carve districts in a way that boosts their prospects after last fall’s major losses. Every 10 years, the state legislature is tasked with redrawing Congressional lines and with Democrats losing federal seats but holding slim majorities in both chambers, their efforts include some very creative maps.
“It has come to my attention that members of the General Assembly are discussing a congressional redistricting plan that would either move the city of Fayetteville and/or Washington County, in its entirety, into the Fourth Congressional District,” Clark noted in the e-mail.
Clark used the e-mail to explain to his chamber members of the lack of common interests Fayetteville has with a majority of cities in the 4th District.
“Put bluntly, there is no community of interest that exists between the existing Fourth District and Fayetteville,” Clark wrote. “This proposal is bad policy. This proposal is not logical. This proposal is not in the best interest of Fayetteville and/or Washington County. I believe this proposal is detrimental to the economic growth of Fayetteville and the economic growth of our region. This proposal is partisan and overly political.”
Clark, the one-time Democratic Arkansas Attorney General, included in his blanket e-mail the contact info for the Northwest Arkansas legislative delegation. He asked the members to contact them “in the next twenty-four hours” and encourage them to oppose any plan that would pull Fayetteville out of the 3rd Congressional District.
“This idea has received significant attention and there is evidence it is being supported by some Democrats. I learned about the possibility of this action being proposed from one of our legislative delegation who was wondering whether our Chamber Investors supported this change,” Clark explained. “We have worked tirelessly over the past several years to build Northwest Arkansas as a region. We just completed a plan for our future regional growth. Putting Fayetteville in a different congressional district would, in my opinion, undermine all of our regional efforts.”
Less than 50 miles south, the board of the Fort Smith Regional Chamber of Commerce is somewhat divided on the redistricting issue.
The city of Fort Smith moved quickly to send a resolution to the Arkansas Legislature requesting to remain in the 3rd Congressional District.
However, several sources tell The City Wire that a few business leaders on the Fort Smith chamber board believe the city may be better served to land in the 4th District. Some think this would somehow better position Fort Smith to be the center of a possible fifth Congressional District formed after the 2020 Census.
A fifth district is possible, but unlikely. Population growth in Arkansas would have to more than triple from growth between 2000 and 2010, and/or population in other states would have to dramatically decline. Population in Arkansas grew from 2,673,400 in 2000 to 2,915,918 in 2010, a 9.1% increase.
Jim Patridge, chairman of the Fort Smith chamber board of directors, declined to offer details on the chamber board’s discussion.
“We’re trying to make sure that everybody has the time to think about all the pieces and all the ramifications of this,” Patridge said.
He did not know when the board might again consider a stance on the redistricting issue.
The reticence by the Fort Smith chamber board to take a position provides some credibility to a statement by Sen. Gilbert Baker, R-Conway, that some business leaders in Sebastian County supported a move to the 4th District.
Baker, who chairs the powerful Joint Budget Committee and is vice-chair of the State Agencies Committee, has said Sebastian County is in play in the redrawing of district maps.
"The numbers match up there (in Sebastian County) a little bit so that is a scenario that’s in play. You have community leaders in Fort Smith that recognize that if they were in the Fourth District they would be kind of the big dog in the Fourth District," Baker said during an interview with Talk Business.