MONTGOMERY, Ala. (AP) — Proposed new legislative lines for state government seats would group two pairs of incumbent Democratic representatives into districts together, create a new majority-black district and a new Republican-leaning district.
The joint committee in charge of redrawing those lines approved the proposed new state House and Senate maps on Wednesday. Legislators crowded around large cardstock displays of the map, trying to determine how their districts had changed.
The proposed new House map puts Democratic Montgomery Reps. Joe Hubbard and John Knight into the same district. It also eliminates the district of Democratic Birmingham Rep. Demetrius Newton, placing him in the same district as fellow Birmingham Democrat Rep. Patricia Todd.
State legislative lines must be re-drawn every 10 years after the census to reflect changes in population. The Senate map did not group any incumbent Senators together.
Hubbard said he believes he was grouped into the same district as Knight because Alabama's ruling Republicans are trying to get rid of white Democrats. Both Knight and Newton are black.
"Whoever has the political power holds the pen (to draw the maps), but that doesn't give them the right to grind a political axe," Hubbard said. "This map takes away fair chance people have to choose who represents their district."
Hubbard said he met with the top House official in charge of redrawing the maps three times and offered him three different maps that would not have grouped incumbents together, but those maps were not incorporated into the one presented Wednesday.
House Minority Leader Craig Ford, D-Gadsden, said his caucus plans on challenging the maps in court, and he thinks they will prevail.
"They opened them (maps) up and ran over us — no debate, no input," Ford said.
However, Todd says she is happy with the district she was drawn into and is ready to run against Newton, if he chooses to do so.
"I love Demetrius to death, but it's not my responsibility to take care of Demetrius," said Todd, Alabama's only openly-gay legislator.
The top House official on the joint committee — Springville Republican Rep. Jim McClendon — said the maps comply with the state and U.S. Constitutions, as well as federal law.
"We have some latitude (in drawing the maps), but we don't have as much latitude as some may think," McClendon said.
He said the mapmakers worked to keep cities and counties together in the same districts as much as possible, as well as making sure the population of each district was as even as they could.
The Voting Rights Act of 1965 requires that states not impede the ability of black voters to elect the candidate of their choice. Most states accomplish that by drawing some districts with a majority voting-age black population.
The proposed Senate map preserves all of the so-called majority-minority districts, while the House map creates a new one in Madison County.
"I'm very proud of that," McClendon said.
He said that a new district created in Shelby County will likely elect a Republican representative.
Lawmakers are planning for a special session next Wednesday to take up the maps. McClendon said legislators have a week to take the proposed maps back to their constituents for review and they can submit changes during the special session. He said there will be a public hearing where anyone in the state can weigh in on the proposed maps.
The maps have not yet been made public, but McClendon said that will happen in the coming days.
Gov. Robert Bentley is the one who has to call the Legislature back for the special session. Spokeswoman Jennifer Ardis said he has not yet called one and wouldn't know when it would be until it was called.
Ford said one week isn't enough time to really scrutinize the map and come up with changes before lawmakers take it up in the special session.
"I can't distinguish any district on this map," he said, referring to the single sheet printout legislators were given during the committee meeting. "Is there a reason we just received it this morning?"