As Limestone County recovers from one of the worst natural disasters in the state’s history, a man-made disaster may be looming on the horizon.
This month, public hearings were held throughout the state to gather public input on reapportionment for U.S. congressional districts and state School Board. Current and former leaders, however, are more concerned about the reapportionment of Limestone County. Some have expressed fears that Limestone County won’t get a fair shake in the process, slated to begin next year.
Former Limestone County Probate Judge Mike Davis is no longer an elected official, but the reapportionment process is one he’s gravely concerned about. Prior to his May 1 retirement, Davis oversaw the county’s elections for nearly 30 years. However, he said the reapportionment process isn’t about a political fight; it’s about doing what’s fair.
"Is it fair to wholesale slice up the fifth-largest growing county in the state in the name of representation?" he asked. "In reality, there is no representation when it comes to local matters. What kind of interest does a representative who is elected from another county with the majority of registered voters have for the people of another county who has less registered voters and whose interests are in direct conflict? Where is their loyalty and interest going to lie?"
He said Limestone County residents need to understand the importance and the necessity of having at least one senator or representative that resides in Limestone County and shared with Madison County in order to balance the power over local legislation. Currently, Limestone County is not afforded that right. Therefore, he said, more is not better as long as the legislative process allows for one local delegation member from another county to kill local legislation from another county.
"It affects them when it comes to schools, annexation and taxes," he said. "They need to wake up and make sure you’re tuned into what’s going on. They need to contact their representative and tell them the people of Limestone County have the right of self-determination; there needs to be a level of consciousness raised."
State House lines
Federal laws require a re-examination of district lines every 10 years following the U.S. Census. Altering district lines within the county or adding state House or Senate representatives could actually mean less representation in Montgomery, leaders say, which may mean less consideration given to important county projects.
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, Mac McCutcheon and Micky Hammon — and two state senators —Bill Holtzclaw and Arthur Orr. Only Williams’ district, District 5, is wholly in Limestone County.
By law, each district must not deviate 5 percent more or less than 45,521 residents. Williams’ district currently has 48,495. McCutcheon’s district, which encompasses East Limestone and West Madison counties, has 64,950. Hammon’s district, which stretches into Morgan County, has 51,181. That means Williams could lose 2,974 residents, McCutcheon could lose 19,429 and Hammon could lose 5,661.
Williams, an Athens resident and its former mayor, said he has concerns about how Limestone County could be impacted through reapportionment. Though he has no issues with the county’s other representatives, he feels less may be more.
"Right now, we have three representatives and two senators, and you’ve got four people who don’t live here," he said. "That’s not an ideal situation and there’s got to be some movement of the lines."
Williams’ biggest fear is that Limestone may pick up an additional representative from Lauderdale County. He said the best-case scenario would be to add another House member who resides in Limestone County.
"I don’t have anything against the people representing us now, but we don’t know who will be there in the future," he said. "After two or three more elections, you don’t know who will be your representative."
The target population for Senate districts is greater at 136,564. Holtzclaw’s district, District 2, which encompasses most of Limestone County and fast-growing northwest Madison County, has 179,058 residents, meaning he’ll likely lose 42,494 through redistricting. District 3 Sen. Orr, who represents the southern tip of Limestone and most of Morgan County, has 151,168 people, meaning he’ll likely lose 14,604 residents.
"Reapportionment is a big issue in my district because it grew so much (over 10 years)," Holtzclaw said in an interview last month. "It’s a giant Rubik’s Cube because as we make adjustments on one side, we have to make adjustments on the other side. On one hand, it’s a good thing, but on the other, it’s challenging."
During a state of the city address on Thursday, Athens Mayor Ronnie Marks spoke about the importance of reapportionment and emphasized the need for Limestone County to remain a key player in Montgomery.
"We’ve got two senators and three representatives. If the local legislative delegation is not together 100 percent, you won’t get it on the House floor," he said.
He said a "rumor" is that Democratic state Sen. Tammy Irons may shift into western Limestone County from Lauderdale County.
"We’d have three state senators and three representatives in one of the smallest counties in the state," Marks said. "Only one of our five representatives lives in the county."
Davis believes "less is better," as long as Limestone residents have a voice in Montgomery who represents them.
The best solution, he feels, is to either add a Limestone House member who lives in the county, but shares borders with Morgan County, or add a Senate member who lives in the county but shares borders with Madison County.
"We need a representative who lives here who has the right to play in the game with Madison County on local legislation," Davis said. "It allows us to set up negotiations and it leads to compromise. Right now, we’re not in a compromising position."
On Thursday, the Alabama Legislature’s reapportionment committee gave its approval to a plan that dropped Colbert and Lawrence counties from Congressional District 5 and added all of Morgan County. Limestone County, which is also in District 5, is represented by U.S. Rep. Mo Brooks, R-Huntsville.
The redistricting plan is set to be filed Tuesday with the state Legislature, where it could still be modified. Lawmakers could pass the current or modified plan by June 9.
Brooks, who has no vote in the process, said he was anxious to see what version the Legislature passes. He said the congressional delegation had suggested a preference, which was rejected Wednesday by the reapportionment committee. The plan adopted Thursday, he said, was the same plan suggested by the congressional delegation, but with "minor modifications."
Should the Legislature approve the most recent plan, it shouldn’t have any major demographic or political impact, Brooks said. Colbert and Lawrence counties would be represented by Rep. Robert Aderholt, whom Brooks described as a "good congressman with a great reputation."