BY CAROLINE BECK and MARY SELL, Alabama Daily News
MONTGOMERY, Ala. — The Alabama Legislature’s special session on redistricting continued Monday as lawmakers advanced the four new maps based on new 2020 census data on population changes.
The Alabama House approved a new congressional district map and then later its own new House district map, which drew some opposition from both Republicans and Democrats. The Alabama Senate approved its own new districts as well as new districts for the Alabama State Board of Education.
Those were the first chamber-level votes on redistricting plans in this fast-paced special session. All four bills now move to the opposite chambers.
State House map
The House district map, House Bill 2, was approved along party lines late Monday night with a final vote of 68-35.
The bill was first substituted by sponsor Rep. Chris Pringle, R-Mobile, which made small changes to a handful of districts that he said doesn’t affect their demographics or racial makeup.
Multiple members attempted to substitute the bill with their own versions, some attempting to adjust areas in just their own district and one Democrat-backed bill that aimed to keep counties whole.
House Minority Leader Anthony Daniel, D-Huntsville, said the point of the substitute bill was to help keep communities of interest together and lead to more diverse districts.
“We’re trying to focus on how do we make certain that these counties in these communities are represented by someone that actually understands their community,” Daniels said.
Pringle said that based on previous lawsuits, the state now tries to avoid splitting voting precincts and that his bill has also reduced the amount of county splits.
Rep. Charlotte Meadows, R-Montgomery, attempted to substitute the bill with a version that would restore her district, House district 74, to its current boundaries.
“It is 47% white, which means it’s 53% other,” Meadows said about her bill. “That’s not a map that I think is overwhelming majority Republican or white but it is a map I can run in.”
Under Pringle’s bill her district would likely turn into a Democrat-leaning district. Pringle said that his map would keep the split between Republican and Democratic districts the same as it currently stands. Rep. Dexter Grimsley, D-Newville, is the other district that has flipped under the new map to be a majority white district and makes him at risk to lose his seat.
House Bill 1, the congressional map, passed the Alabama House 65-38 with several Republicans joining Democrats to oppose the plan.
Debate on the bill lasted more than two hours with most of the attempted changes coming from Republicans. Only one Democratic alternative was proposed. All of the substitute bills were eventually voted down.
Rep. Chris Pringle, R-Mobile, who co-chaired the reapportionment committee, said the new congressional map followed all legal requirements.
“We maintain counties to the extent practicable with minimal number of splits in each congressional district,” Pringle said.
Some Lauderdale County lawmakers voted against the congressional plan because of the way it splits that county and some of its municipalities.
Rep. Phillip Pettus, R-Green Hlll, said he’d heard from city officials in Florence and Killen who opposed the plan.
“They all contacted me and said they were not for this,” he said.
Rep. Lynn Greer, R-Rogersville, said he wasn’t bothered as much by the splitting of the county, but was concerned about the smaller communities.
“The little town of Killen, about 1,100 people, they split it,” Greer said. “There’s no way to justify that.”
Rep. Merika Coleman, D-Pleasant Grove, offered a substitute to the congressional map that she said also had a 0% deviation and would keep more counties whole compared to Pringle’s plan.
“When you’re trying to be fair and equitable, you want to make sure that we try to have the least amount of splits when it comes to the county,” Coleman said.
Pringle ultimately disagreed with the bill saying that he was afraid the courts would accuse the state of racial packing for district seven.
Rep. David Faulkner, R-Homewood, attempted to pass a substitute bill that would move around a handful of voting precincts from the 7th Congressional District back to the 6th. As drafted, the 7th District would extend into parts of Hoover and Homewood.
“What I’m asking for is to allow the status quo,” Faulkner said.
Pringle again said he thought Faulkner’s plan was an example of racial packing that would eventually be struck down by the courts.
House Minority Leader Anthony Daniels, D-Huntsville, didn’t speak on any problems he had with Pringle’s congressional map during debate but said he would prefer to see more counties kept whole.
Rep. Randy Wood, R-Anniston, served on the redistricting committee and told ADN that he was happy with the final congressional map because it has the best chance to avoid lawsuits.
“If there is a lawsuit, then we just want them to know that we did everything humanly possible according to the law,” Wood said.
Senate Bill 1, the Senate district map, passed along party lines Monday, 25-7.
While the map actually splits fewer counties into multiple districts than the current map, 19 compared to 26, Democrats raised issue with several of those divisions.
Sen. Rodger Smitherman, D-Birmingham, spent time at the podium Monday afternoon asking why 670,000-resident Jefferson County is split among seven districts. Madison County, by comparison, would have five districts. Mobile County would have four.
Sen. Jim McClendon, R-Springville, who co-chaired the reapportionment committee, said almost all the high-population areas get split to make up for the sparsely populated rural counties, many of which remain whole.
Senate Republicans remained mostly quiet, not wanting to draw out the debate and allowing McClendon to respond to questions from Democrats.
Sen. Bobby Singleton, D-Greensboro, said that some districts, including in Madison County, looked “almost gerrymandered” and could have been drawn more compactly given the growth in that county.
“What you seem to be doing is getting more population that is favorable to (incumbent GOP) senators,” Singleton said.
McClendon said part of his job leading the committee “is to get enough votes to get this map passed and out of the Senate.”
“That’s not what the Supreme Court is going to say if we have to take this to court,” Singleton responded. He said in a lawsuit, the court will want to see equitable treatment for population growth.
Sen. Vivian Figures, D-Mobile, again raised concerns that her district was being drawn into Baldwin County and gaining a whiter population.
“My concern is that District 33 is eventually going to be lost as a Democrat district or majority-minority district,” Figures said.
McClendon said the map creates eight minority majority districts.
“These districts fulfill the state’s obligations under the Voting Rights Act,” he said.
Singleton, like Figures, said he wasn’t consulted about changes to his district, which shed two counties under the new map.
“Membership has its privileges,” he said about the drawing process. “ … but I wish I’d had that same opportunity.”