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Lawsuit could cloud ‘06 legislative races

By Staff
The cloud hovering over the gubernatorial campaign of Don Siegelman is not the only one looming in this year's primaries and election.
There are huge storm clouds hanging over all Legislative and Senate races.
Republicans filed a suit in federal court last year claiming that the 2000 redistricting lines were skewed in favor of Democrats and should be redrawn.
The case is a copycat taken from our sister state of Georgia. Georgia Republicans won their suit in federal court, thus the precedent is set. Alabama Republicans filed their suit in Mobile federal court, which they consider a friendly venue.
The argument made by the GOP is that the Democratic majority in the Alabama Legislature packed Republican leaning districts and left the minimum number of people in Democratic districts. When this is done all over the state it overtly creates about five to ten additional districts for the Democrats.
For example, the ideal House district based on the 2000 census should have about 42,000 people. The federal courts allow a 5 percent deviation.
Therefore, what the House Democrats did was put 44,000 people in most, if not all, of the white, suburban, Republican leaning districts and drew districts of 40,000 in most of the African American, Democratic leaning districts.
The ripple effect does indeed create more Democratic districts statewide than if you put exactly 42,000 in each district.
The facts are obvious that the Democrats drew the lines in their favor, but the question begs is it okay to do this. Is it politics and not subject to judicial scrutiny? The Republicans blatantly did the same thing in Texas.
Also is it feasible or fair to draw new district lines in 2006 based on 2000 census figures? The Georgia federal courts have said yes on both counts and ordered new districts and new elections in the Peach State. It caused the Georgia Legislature to move from majority Democratic to majority Republican. 
So this case is what leaves a big question mark over the current elections for Legislative seats. A three judge federal panel will convene in Mobile this week and within a few weeks will rule whether the case should proceed.
Candidates are currently qualifying and planning their campaigns for this year's elections. The elections are in progress now. Therefore you could have Legislators elected this June and November that may serve only one year. New elections could be called for 2007 with all new lines.
This is causing special interest PACs and lobbyists to keep their campaign coffers close to their vest. They may have to finance all new Legislative races next year. 
Secretly the majority of Republican House and Senate members are hoping the case fails as do most of their Democratic colleagues because the prevailing theme when the lines were drawn was to make the districts incumbent friendly. As long as their seats were made safe the fact that is was a Democratic friendly reapportionment process became secondary.
It will be interesting to watch this case unfold. A lot of PAC money is riding on it.
See you next week.
Steve Flowers' column appears weekly in 60 Alabama newspapers. Steve served 16 years in the state legislature. He may be reached at www.steveflowers.us.