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CONTRASTING VIEWS Criticisms Don’t Hold Water

REDISTRICTING PLAN UNSETTLING FOR THOSE WHO DISLIKE CHANGE

Posted: March 27, 2011 at 7:02 a.m.

EDITOR’S NOTE COLUMN INFORMATION

Columns by Art Hobson and Grady Jim Robinson will appear next week. Today’s opinion pages will present opposing views on a plan that would move Fayetteville and other portions of Washington County to the 4th Congressional District.

I am amused by the fervor of my friends who seem upset by the “Fayetteville to the 4th” redistricting plan. All changes can be unsettling, but change can be advantageous or otherwise, depending on the consequences.

I can see some significant advantages to the proposal. Fayetteville would be the largest city in the new district and would once again have a district congressional office, making it more convenient for our citizens to have direct contact with our representative and staff. More importantly, Washington County could now have two members of Congress dedicated to looking out for our interests in Washington, D.C.

The arguments against the proposed district seem flawed to me, so let’s take a look at them.

Having two Congressmen destroys the “community of interests” in Northwest Arkansas. Pshaw. We get along just fine with numerous county judges, state legislators and mayors when they work together, so having extra help in Washington would be the same. The Fayetteville Chamber can still meet with the Northwest Arkansas Council and the Rogers and Bentonville Chambers at the Embassy Suites to discuss shared economic plans anytime they want, regardless of lines on a map.

One opponent said Fayetteville does “not have much in common with either the constituents and/ or the political, educational, social, industrial, agricultural, historic, financial or economic institutions of that area.” I doubt that is the messagethat the University of Arkansas wants to be sending to alumni, donors, parents and prospective students in south Arkansas, or legislators who vote on the UA budget. Because of the university, its outreach and the diverse student body, Fayetteville has always been a blend of the entire state.

Another disadvantage suggested was there “are no common carriers that provide transportation by land, water or air from one end of this proposed district to the other.” The same could be said of the existing 3rd, and the solution for both is to increase the availability of mass transit. Whatever inconvenience this might present for politicians, our two senators seem to manage adequately with an even larger and morediverse constituency.

It has also been argued that “our populations differ greatly. Put bluntly, there is no community of interest that exists between the existing 4th District and Fayetteville.” That’s justplain wrong. Fayetteville’s legislators work well with and have voting records more similar to legislators from Texarkana, Hope, Sheridan, Pine Bluff, Arkadelphia and Crossett than they do with their colleagues in Benton and Sebastian counties on divisive social issues.

Furthermore, former Congressman John Paul Hammerschmidt lived in Harrison when he represented 12 of those counties in the proposed new district and others now in the 1st and 2nd districts. He never complained, nor did they.

Another allegation is partisan politics. Yes, all legislation is political and increasingly partisan. The Republican plans tend to increase electability of their candidates, and they consistently oppose anything proposed by Democrats.

David Whitaker might have had a better chance for an open seat in the new 4th than in the old 3rd, but if Democrats were playing hardball, they’d put incumbent Republicans Tim Griffin and Rick Crawford in the same district. That’s what Republicans did in Texas.

Finally, some Republican opponents question whether such a district would be constitutional.

The fact is that it’s closer to mandated population equality than any of the plans offered by Republicans. It is contiguous and it does not dilute the representationof protected classes. The framers of our federal constitution were experts in gerrymandering and this proposal doesn’t even come close.

None of the stated objections hold up under rational scrutiny. And, none of them trump the clear advantage of Washington County having two members of Congress fighting for us on the Hill.

That another member of Congress can consider and represent Fayetteville has already been shown this year. The Congressman from the 4th District voted to keep the funding for the Regional Greenway trail in Northwest Arkansas and he voted to continue funding for National Public Radio and KUAF, Fayetteville’s outstanding regional public radio station.

Given the facts and trends, by the time the next U.S. Census and redistricting rolls around, we could have two districts completely encompassed just in Northwest Arkansas.

But for now, we can have that advantage for Northwest Arkansas if we are smart enough to take it: double the clout and double the muster representing us in Washington for the next decade. We just cannot let partisans or those averse to change mess it up.

STEPHEN SMITH IS A FAYETTEVILLE NATIVE AND A PROFESSOR OF COMMUNICATION AT THE UNIVERSITY OF ARKANSAS.

HE PREVIOUSLY SERVED IN THE ARKANSAS HOUSE OFREPRESENTATIVES, AS VICE PRESIDENT OF THE ARKANSAS CONSTITUTIONAL CONVENTION, CHIEF OF STAFF TO THE ARKANSAS ATTORNEY GENERAL AND EXECUTIVE ASSISTANT TO FORMER GOVERNOR BILL CLINTON.

Opinion, Pages 15 on 03/27/2011

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