Last week, the Arkansas legislature sent up bills that would enact new congressional maps for our voting districts. Gov. Asa Hutchinson should not sign these into law.
Every 10 years, the legislature redraws the federal Congressional district lines to reflect changes in population according to the U.S. Census. While the goal is to balance each district to roughly the same population count, raw numbers are not the only consideration when drawing new district boundaries. Keeping communities intact is not only important, but also it’s legally required.
Senate Bill 743 and House Bill 1982 break Pulaski County into three different districts and break Little Rock into two districts.
While much of Little Rock and North Little Rock remains in the 2nd Congressional district, parts of Little Rock south of Interstate 30 and communities including Wrightsville and College Station would go to the 4th Congressional district. A southeast section of North Little Rock and Pulaski County would go to the 1st Congressional district.
The new district map breaks the majority of Little Rock’s Black and Latinx voters into different districts. Sadly, the courts will be forced to address this issue, regardless of the original intent of the proponents’ bill. The current plan separates voters south of Interstate 30 from the rest of Little Rock. How can it be that some residents of Little Rock need different federal representation? What is fundamentally different about those areas of the city and of the county? The answer is simple. There isn’t a different need in those areas—there are different voters.
The Arkansas legislature is not listening to Arkansas voters, and this map means it will continue to ignore Arkansas voices. So many people have fought to keep our country free, so we could vote and to uphold the principles of democracy. But this map ignores the value of freedom and the importance of having the liberty to exercise democracy with votes that matter.
Arkansas is the only former Confederate state that has not elected a Black member to any federal office. State Senator Joyce Elliott came close in 2020. She lost the 2nd district by just over 35,000 votes. Republican legislators may not be trying to protect the 2nd district by making it 21,000 votes whiter, but there’s no way the courts won’t take note of this when it’s inevitably challenged.
Gov. Hutchinson knows this. He made reference to this very concern in a press conference October 6, 2021. He is also fully aware that this legislature is running up large legal bills for the state. Between anti-trans legislation, abortion laws and mask mandate bans, all of which have been challenged in court, the Arkansas legislature is burdening the state with legal bills that we shouldn’t be forced to pay. They are creating unnecessary chaos.
These laws also harm our national reputation. Businesses do not want to locate or expand in a place where their workers cannot be safe, healthy, and heard.
We deserve to be heard in a representative form of government. All of us—including the Little Rock residents south of Interstate 30—are entitled to that basic freedom.
At the end of the day, this power move costs all Arkansans–not just the communities directly affected. Our taxes will cover court fees as these maps are challenged. There’s a better way to spend this money. We could fix water infrastructure for farmers, expand broadband to every corner of our state, bolster rural hospitals, increase teacher pay, improve services for our homeless veterans, strengthen mental health programs, and invest in our small businesses. That’s where we should be focused.
There are multiple other proposals offered that would keep all counties intact. There’s no logical reason to make such a costly error.
Gov. Hutchinson is a reasonable man. He should veto this legislation.
Editor’s note: Dr. Chris Jones is a Democratic candidate for Arkansas governor. The opinions expressed are those of the author.