Though one of the smallest counties in the state, Limestone could eventually be represented in the Alabama Legislature by five House members and three senators pending lawmakers’ approval of reapportionment proposals issued Wednesday.
The effects of adding three lawmakers are unknown, but some see the end result as a mixed bag. Mayor Ronnie Marks is one of those who are concerned about the “more is better” approach, especially where local legislative bills are concerned.
At his state of the city address at Athens State University on May 2, he urged those in attendance to contact their representatives and voice their opinions.
“Right now, if you have a local legislative bill, you have to get five people to sign off on it or … it won’t be put on the calendar (for consideration),” he said. “If we add two representatives and another senator, you go from five to eight. There does have to be some changes and I recognize they have a tough job because somebody has to give and somebody has to be added to.”
Federal laws require a re-examination of district lines every 10 years following the U.S. Census. If the proposed changes are approved in a special session next week, they would go into effect in 2014.
Rep. Jim McClendon, R-Springville, co-chaired the committee in charge of the maps. He said they are a work in progress and can be tweaked before the Legislature votes.
The lines, he said, comply with the state and U.S. Constitutions, as well as federal law.
Though Limestone County is one of the smallest counties in the state, geographically speaking, it has a population of 82,782. It has three state House representatives — Dan Williams, R-5th (Athens) Mac McCutcheon, R-25th (Capshaw) and Micky Hammon, R-4th (Decatur) — and two state senators —Bill Holtzclaw, R-2nd (Madison) and Arthur Orr, R-3rd (Decatur). Only Williams’ district is wholly in Limestone County.
By law, each district must not deviate 5 percent more or less than 45,521 residents. Williams’ district has about 48,495. McCutcheon’s district has roughly 64,950 while Hammon’s district, which stretches into Morgan County, has about 51,181.
If the House plan is approved, Limestone would gain Rep. Lynn Greer, R-2nd, from Lauderdale County and Rep. Phil Williams, R-6th, who represents Harvest.
“I hated to lose any of my district, but I knew I would have to lose some,” said Rep. Dan Williams. “Basically, mine hasn’t changed that much; it’s still the city of Athens and a big portion of the northern part of the county. I’m still the only one inside Limestone County.”
A plan offered by a Senate committee — led by Sen. Gerald Dial, R-Lineville — would significantly shift the district line of State Sen. Tammy Irons, a Democrat who represents Colbert and Lauderdale counties in District 1. The new line would encompass most of Limestone County, including the city of Athens.
Holtzclaw’s district would remain primarily in eastern Limestone and western Madison counties, while Orr would serve the southern third of the county.
Orr said having three senators could be beneficial to the county. Whereas there are only 35 state senators, Limestone’s lawmakers would comprise nearly 10 percent of the total Senate.
“I enjoy working with the leadership in Limestone County and being able to traverse the three counties of Madison, Limestone and Morgan because it helps improve communication in that area,” he said. “I’m pleased with the possibility of representing Tanner and South Limestone in the Senate.”
A Democrat’s return?
Should Dial’s plan be approved, a Democratic senator could once again represent Limestone County in Montgomery for the first time since Tom Butler’s defeat by Holtzclaw in 2010.
However, with Irons facing re-election the same year the new lines go into effect, she could be defeated by a Republican challenger before having the chance to serve her new constituents.
A call left to Irons was not returned this week, but Rep. Dan Williams said the new lines could give Limestone a chance to elect a new senator. Orr said should Irons win re-election, however, he did not see an issue in regard to working across party lines.
When he was first elected to the Senate, Orr said, he was the only Republican senator representing Madison County. He added that the lawmakers were able to consistently work together to support local bills at the state level.
“We did not let party affiliations affect the needs of the citizens,” he said. “Sen. Irons, Sen. Holtzclaw and I would be of the same spirit on the needs of the citizens of Limestone. Local bills usually come from the County Commission or local sheriff and rarely is there a reason to disagree on party lines or philosophy.”