Editor’s note: Roby Brock, with our content partner Talk Business, wrote this report. He can be reached at [email protected]
After two days of deliberation, State Senators advanced a Congressional redistricting plan from a bipartisan Senate committee, but its fate is as unknown as when this session might end.
On Tuesday (April 5), Sen. Robert Thompson, D-Paragould, advanced SB 871, a map that would reconfigure Arkansas’ 4 Congressional boundaries, through the Senate State Agencies Committee on a voice vote. There were no audible dissenting votes.
The plan would split Pope and Searcy counties with Russellville moving to the 4th District. Yell County moves from the 2nd to the 4th District. The eastern side of the map makes the Mississippi Delta counties fairly contiguous through the 1st District, with Ashley County added to the 1st, too.
Madison, Franklin and Johnson counties move from the 3rd to the 4th, still leaving a "thick finger," jutting through the heart of northwest Arkansas. That has been a major argument against a plan known as the "Fayetteville Finger," or "Fayetteville to the Fourth," which has passed the House but failed to make its way past the Senate panel, so far.
It is unclear if the Thompson plan has 18 votes to pass the Senate, but it does have some Democratic and Republican support — neither party unanimously. State Sen. Jimmy Jeffress, D-Crossett, is against Ashley County moving from the 4th to the 1st District under the plan.
If it does, it’s passage in the House is cloudy. First District Democrats in the House object to Baxter and Lonoke counties both remaining in the 1st District. House Speaker Robert Moore has expressed dissatisfaction with the Senate plan.
The Senate convenes at 9 a.m. Wednesday to consider the bill. Also, the possibility remains that the "Fayetteville to the Fourth" map could also be drawn out of its Senate committee onto the Senate floor for debate.
And here’s another intriguing thought, Sen. Ruth Whitaker (R-Cedarville) was taken to the hospital on Tuesday and is not expected to be in the Senate voting tomorrow. That removes one Republican vote and with a potential razor-thin margin for passage, her vote could be crucial. It could also set up Lt. Gov. Mark Darr, a Republican, for a tie-breaking vote if the votes split evenly 17-17 on any measure.
Finally, at this juncture the two plans in the Senate seem to be the only options on the table. Does a third path to resolving this issue through the legislative body exist?
"Who knows?" says one Democratic confidante.
Tomorrow will be a telling day.