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Dickey, former chief justice, appointed to oversee state redistricting

by Rachel Herzog | June 8, 2021 at 7:06 a.m.

The Arkansas Board of Apportionment on Monday hired former state Supreme Court Chief Justice Betty Dickey as the panel's redistricting coordinator.

The board redraws legislative district boundaries every 10 years, following the U.S. census. Its members, all Republicans, are Gov. Asa Hutchinson, who serves as chairman, Attorney General Leslie Rutledge and Secretary of State John Thurston.

After a roughly 35-minute executive session during which the panel interviewed Dickey, Rutledge made a motion to hire her at a rate of $10,000 per month for the term of the redistricting process, which the board approved.

In this year's regular legislative session, lawmakers authorized a redistricting coordinator in the governor's office with a maximum salary of $63,000 a year.

Hutchinson, who suggested hiring Dickey at the board's first meeting in May, thanked her for taking on the responsibility and touted her credentials.

"One of the things that was important to me and the board was that she's going to be able to present in a very fair, judicious matter her work as redistricting coordinator," Hutchinson said.

He added that she will start June 15 and will have the responsibility of organizing the staff and office that she needs. She also must undergo training and hold meetings to gather public input, including when the board has a proposed map for legislative districts.

Rutledge previously said the redistricting coordinator needs to be technologically savvy because of the challenges in drawing maps.

Dickey, 81, was appointed to the state's high court in 2003 by then-Gov. Mike Huckabee to replace former Chief Justice W.H. Arnold, who had resigned midway through his term. She served as chief justice for one year and was then appointed by Huckabee to finish the term of former Chief Justice Jim Hannah through 2006.

She is also a former prosecuting attorney and a former member of the Public Service Commission. A Republican, Dickey ran unsuccessfully for attorney general in 1998, losing to Democratic nominee Mark Pryor of Little Rock.

Dickey grew up in Walnut Ridge and now lives in Little Rock.

"I'm humbled and appreciative that they trust me to be fair," she said after the Board of Apportionment meeting. "I've had a lot of challenging jobs and this is probably the most challenging because it is statewide."

In other business Monday, Hutchinson said two letters that the board approved sending at its previous meeting had been delivered: one to the Arkansas Supreme Court notifying the justices of the board's intent to complete the redistricting of the Arkansas House and Senate by Dec. 31 "if the official population counts are received by September 30, 2021," and one to U.S. Secretary of Commerce Gina Raimondo, who oversees the Census Bureau, stating that the board is "seeking the release of redistricting data as soon as possible so that we may begin to perform this important task on behalf of Arkansans."

Information for this article was contributed by Michael R. Wickline of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette.

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