By Adam Lynch
Jackson Advocate Guest Writer
New Census figures demand the city reorganize its six wards to reflect population changes. The board of aldermen and the mayor are considering several maps, but Fisher maneuvered to swiftly remove a map submitted by the Clinton NAACP, which would have created two wards reflecting 40% or more African American population. The wards might have helped bring the city into compliance with Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act by potentially increasing the number of Black representatives on the board. The city currently has a population that is 40% Black, but only one Black board member. White people comprise only 53% of the city population, according to Census figures.
Proponents of the more representative Map 7 originally wanted the board to delay the vote for additional consideration. Amir Badat, special counsel of the NAACP Legal Defense and Education Fund, urged the board to vote in accord with federal civil rights law and give Clinton residents “at least two months” … to analyze the board’s proposals … in addition to the one the NAACP just presented.
“[T]he community has not had enough time to consider the board’s plans or the opportunity to present comment … until just right now, just a few seconds ago,” Badat said at a recent work session. “Community groups only received shape files for the board’s maps this week and with municipal elections two years away the board has ample time to conduct redistricting that ensures community participation.”
Mayor Fisher was impatient to hold a vote, however, and he disputed Badat’s claim that the city had ferreted maps away from public view. Fisher argued the maps were available at board work sessions. Ward 4 Alderman James Lott, the sole Black member on the board, complained that the board “did not push them out to the public to be available.”
Hiding Under Refreshments?
Fisher argued the maps “have already been there.”
“But not on display,” countered Oliver. “They’ve been in the refreshment room.”
“But they’ve been available for anyone to ask for,” Fisher insisted.
Clinton NAACP President Monica McInnis, a 20-year city resident, told BGX that the Clinton NAACP submitted Map 7 either in late July or Early August, so it has only appeared in a couple of board work sessions, and it has only been available “in the refreshment room” for a few weeks.
Fisher’s enthusiasm to rush a vote was soon made clear after four members of the board approved the NAACP map at the board’s Sept. 19 meeting. Once the board voted, Fisher was free to veto the map and make sure it never appeared on the city’s website alongside more white-friendly maps. Fisher slaughtered and buried the map faster than a Black family at the 1875 Clinton race massacre.
“I’d hoped that it would turn out like Gulfport. I did the map for Gulfport, too, and they were able to get another minority district, and they were fine with that,” McInnis said later. “But Clinton … well, Phil Fisher is a totally different breed of people.”
The board will now require five votes to override Fisher’s veto, which is not likely.
Fisher insisted on Facebook that vetoing the minority-friendly map had nothing to do with race politics or protecting the board’s white super-majority.
“(Map 7) will effectively disenfranchise the residents of the Cascades, many of whom are elderly and who have voted in the same ward for years,” Fisher claimed.
The new map moves the affluent, sprawly Cascades neighborhood from one white ward to another white ward, but white people in other areas could potentially get relocated to new, higher minority districts that water down their Republican vote. Mississippi generally reserves that kind of “vote cracking” for Black voters.
Map 7 reassigns sections of Hamstead Boulevard from Ward 5—in addition to Ward 4’s Twin Oaks and Hawthorne Place—to increase the Black population of Ward 6 to 63%. And it buttresses the Black population of Ward 1 with Ward 3’s Huntcliff Way, Foxhill Drive and Canterbury Lane. It also divides Ward 5’s scenic Lakeside community between Wards 4 and 6.
Fisher additionally argued that members of the board who supported Map 7 did it “for themselves” because the new map pulled more politically aligned voters into their ward and helped preserve their incumbency.
McInnis, who said she designed the map using the same Maptitude software used by the Central Mississippi Planning and Development District to fashion competing maps, claims she did not create the maps to protect any particular incumbent but to create a city ward plan that was more fair and racially balanced.
“I didn’t think far enough in advance (to protect incumbents) when I made the map because I really didn’t think they were going to vote for it,” said McInnis. “Two aldermen live on streets right behind one another, and another lives probably a fourth of a mile from them, so you’ve got three aldermen that live within a fourth of a mile from each other. It’s hard to draw a map following their criteria and make it compact.”
Politicians in Mississippi do cherry-pick their voters through outrageous gerrymanders every 10 years, however, and they willfully plan maps by race because race reliably determines whether a Mississippian votes Republican or Democrat. The controversy of race behind the Clinton maps was no secret. Republican alderman Karen Godfrey said the quiet part out loud when she chastised conservative board members for encouraging minority participation with map 7.
“… Of the group that has gotten together to decide what they’re doing, three of them are conservatives that were elected on a Republican ticket,” Godfrey told the board. “They agreed to uphold conservative values … when they were elected. And … they’re going to gut a conservative ward completely.”
Alderman at-large Ricki Garrett called Godfrey’s statement “frustrating.”
“This has nothing to do with conservative values,” Garrett said. “Every single one of these maps pretty much has the same percentages, pretty much the same changes and discrepancies in voting patterns. To say that one particular map—just because it was brought forward by (the NAACP)—rips apart a conservative ward just doesn’t make any sense at all. … I hate that it’s being portrayed as some kind of ‘conservative verses liberal’ decision.”
Lott questioned why members of the board kept referring to Map 7 as “the NAACP plan” instead of giving it a number designation like the other maps.
“… I don’t know why everyone keeps calling it ‘the NAACP Map.’ Every other map is given a number 1 through 6, including Map 3 … Who or what entity presented the map makes no difference. If it is to be called the ‘NAACP’ map then we need to label all maps … according to who presented it,” Lott stated in a post.
White Suburbs Do Not Share
Fisher’s demand for an early vote removes Map 7 from consideration and likely ensures Clinton will remain a suburb whose politics do not reflect its demographics. But this is not rare behavior in suburban communities surrounding the high-minority capital city of Jackson. The neighboring town of Ridgeland barely cracks 50% white, with African Americans alone comprising 38.9% of the population. Combined with Latinos totaling 6.7%, and “two or more races” and Asians making up an even 5% of the population, Ridgeland’s board of alderman should have a lot more color in its line-up, but that’s clearly not the case.
Ridgeland: 50% white, plus inclusive.
Flowood’s board of alderman has only one Black member despite people of color comprising nearly 40% of the city’s population. The city of Pearl is also 36% Black, Latino and Asian, but with only one non-white alderman, which is just 16% of the board. The affluent city of Madison is 23% Black, Latino and Asian, but has no non-white representation on its board of alderman.
There are few examples of Jackson suburbs with real parity between politicians and people. Elected leaders of the bedroom community of Byram accurately mirror their voters, who are 75% Black. Greater Madison County, unlike the City of Madison, also boasts two Black members on its five-member board of supervisors to better reflect its 45% minority population. But even these rare examples of fairness aggrieve suburban white candidates who feel they deserve every advantage.
District 4 candidate David Bishop, working hard to keep “those types” from taking over Madison County.
“(My political campaign) has been tough this time because, as you know, the redistricting in Madison County was not done the way redistricting was supposed to be done,” said David Bishop, who is running to unseat one of the county’s two Black incumbents, Karl M. Banks. “… It was gerrymandered with a couple of districts to maintain certain supervisors in power. We’ve got to stop that. We’ve got to stop those types from taking over and we’ve got to stop all the wokeness coming into our county.”
Bishop urged his audience at a Sept. 6 “Grip and Grin” conservative public speaking event in Madison County against supporting his Black opponent and to “keep Madison County a great county.”