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Central Arkansas mayors Hartwick, Scott unhappy with redistricting split

Officials in cities, county weigh in by Neal Earley | October 9, 2021 at 4:12 a.m.
From left, North Little Rock Mayor Terry Hartwick; Barry Hyde, county judge of Pulaski County; and Little Rock Mayor Frank Scott Jr. are shown in this undated combination photo.

Weeks of redistricting debates and proposals have led to an outcome that many Central Arkansas leaders have feared -- a division of the state's biggest county and city.

The identical bills state lawmakers approved Thursday would separate parts of Pulaski County and slice Little Rock and North Little Rock into separate congressional districts.

While some Central Arkansas lawmakers and mayors had pushed for a map to keep Pulaski County intact, the Republican-controlled General Assembly approved a map that some political leaders have said favor GOP incumbents.

Now the bills awaits a decision by Gov. Asa Hutchinson, who can sign the bills into law, issue a veto or let them become law without his signature.

North Little Rock Mayor Terry Hartwick said he reached out to Sen. Jane English, R-North Little Rock, last week share with her his concerns about potentially seeing his city divided into separate congressional districts.

"It just didn't make any sense to divide up this county," Hartwick said.

By the time they met Friday afternoon, the General Assembly had already sent the bills to the governor's desk.

English, the sponsor of the Senate redistricting bill, said the decision to split North Little Rock and Pulaski County came down to basic math caused by uneven growth in different parts of the state.

"In order to make the population even in all of the districts, it requires a lot of finesse," she said.

Some Pulaski County political leaders have called out state lawmakers for drawing a congressional map that divides the county and their cities.

The map state lawmakers approved divide Pulaski County into three separate congressional districts. Most of Pulaski County will stay in the 2nd Congressional District, represented by Republican French Hill.

Part of Little Rock, south of Interstate 30, would be moved from Hill's Central Arkansas district to the 4th Congressional District, which encompasses much of southwest Arkansas.

When asked Monday about the possible division of Pulaski County into separate congressional districts, Hill was reluctant to weigh in on the redistricting debate, saying, "I'm not going to interfere with what their process is."

But Hill added the Legislature needs to "take into account the political ramifications of the boundaries as well as the economic ramifications."

North Little Rock, a city of approximately 66,000, will mostly stay in the 2nd Congressional District, but an eastern portion of the city will be put into the 1st Congressional District represented by Republican Rick Crawford of Jonesboro.

"I don't think I've ever met him, and I don't think he has any idea what's going on in North Little Rock," Hartwick said of Crawford.

"I mean, I don't think Mr. Crawford has ever been to that part of the world," Hartwick said.

While most of the city's population will remain in the 2nd Congressional District under the proposed map, the city's eastern wing, home to a newly minted Amazon fulfillment center and other potential business development, will be moved to Crawford's district.

State lawmakers said they didn't factor race into account when designing the map. The proposed map would move about 21,000 Black people out of the 2nd Congressional District, according to U.S. Census data applied to the bills.

Little Rock Mayor Frank Scott issued a statement Thursday night deriding the map for dividing Little Rock's Black and Hispanic communities into separate congressional districts.

"I am deeply concerned about the gerrymandering along racial lines happening in our community, which was designed to dilute the voices of the residences of Little Rock," Scott said.

Pulaski County Judge Barry Hyde also spoke out against the map dividing the county and pushed for Metroplan, an association of local government in Central Arkansas, to vote on a resolution encouraging lawmakers to not divide the county.

Metroplan Executive Director Tab Townsell said in an email he has lobbied the Legislature on behalf of Central Arkansas politicians who don't want the county divided, dropping and emailing packets of information to state lawmakers and the governor.

But English said with growth in the state concentrated in Northwest and Central Arkansas, there was not much the Legislature could do to prevent Pulaski County from being divided.

"That's the only place you could look at -- to make those even -- is in the Central Arkansas area," English said.

Print Headline: District redraw raises concern

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