Arkansas legislature splits Little Rock in move that guarantees GOP seats

The Arkansas state legislature has approved new congressional district boundary lines that divide the state’s largest city into three pieces in a move that all but guarantees Republicans will maintain an insurmountable advantage through the next decade.

The map, sent Thursday to Gov. Asa HutchinsonAsa HutchinsonSarah Huckabee Sanders raises over million for Arkansas gubernatorial run Arkansas governor allows COVID-19 vaccine mandate opt-out bill to become law Arkansas legislature splits Little Rock in move that guarantees GOP seats MORE (R), divides Little Rock’s Pulaski County between districts held by Reps. French HillJames (French) French HillArkansas legislature splits Little Rock in move that guarantees GOP seats Biden to speak at UN general assembly in person Lobbying world MORE (R), Bruce WestermanBruce Eugene WestermanArkansas legislature splits Little Rock in move that guarantees GOP seats Interior Department to nix Trump rollback of bird protections Manchin, Barrasso announce bill to revegetate forests after devastating fires MORE (R) and Rick CrawfordRick CrawfordArkansas legislature splits Little Rock in move that guarantees GOP seats Gas shortages spread to more states Overnight Defense: Administration says 'low to moderate confidence' Russia behind Afghanistan troop bounties | 'Low to medium risk' of Russia invading Ukraine in next few weeks | Intelligence leaders face sharp questions during House worldwide threats he MORE (R). The other district that does not touch Little Rock, held by Rep. Steve WomackStephen (Steve) Allen WomackArkansas legislature splits Little Rock in move that guarantees GOP seats Funding fight imperils National Guard ops Overnight Defense: 6B Pentagon spending bill advances | Navy secretary nominee glides through hearing | Obstacles mount in Capitol security funding fight MORE (R), is centered around Fayetteville.

“It makes sense to split the most populous county that also happens to be at the center of the state, which will help to give more of a voice to our most populous counties,” said state Sen. Ben Gilmore (R), who proposed his own map that divided Pulaski County among several districts. “Their voice is actually getting stronger, living in a county that has three different members of Congress.”

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Democrats cried foul: Pulaski County is one of only eight counties in Arkansas that favored President BidenJoe BidenMcAuliffe holds slim lead over Youngkin in Fox News poll Biden signs bill to raise debt ceiling On The Money — Progressives play hard ball on Biden budget plan MORE over former President TrumpDonald TrumpMcCabe wins back full FBI pension after being fired under Trump Biden's Supreme Court reform study panel notes 'considerable' risks to court expansion Bennie Thompson not ruling out subpoenaing Trump MORE in 2020. Biden won just shy of 60 percent of the vote there.

“On the surface, it’s pure gerrymandering. They took high minority populations and split them. They have diluted the overall impact of the minority vote by doing this,” said state Sen. Keith Ingram (D), the Senate minority leader. “It is very curious that they would vote to split Pulaski County three ways.”

The new maps ensure that Republicans will hold all four U.S. House seats from Arkansas for the next decade. Hill was the only Arkansas incumbent who faced a prominent challenger in the 2020 elections, in a race he won by 11 percentage points. The new maps remove thousands of Democratic voters in Little Rock from his district and distribute them between Westerman’s and Crawford’s districts.

Republicans acknowledged their move to lock in the gains they made over the last decade, pointing to a Supreme Court precedent that labels the redistricting process inherently political.

“It was the intent of the legislature to look at political breakdowns of the county and to make sure that we drew seats that our party could hold going forward. That’s not something we’re trying to hide, this is a political process,” Gilmore said. “It is not our goal to gerrymander, it is our goal to draw districts that make sense.”

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Splitting a major city between several districts is an emerging trend in legislatures working to redraw boundary lines this year. In Oregon, Democratic legislators split liberal Portland between three districts that are virtually certain to send Democrats to Congress; in Tennessee, Republicans are considering dividing Nashville into multiple seats in a bid to target Rep. Jim CooperJim CooperArkansas legislature splits Little Rock in move that guarantees GOP seats Cities become pawns in redistricting game On The Trail: Census kicks off a wild redistricting cycle MORE (D) for defeat.

In the process, legislators are going where their predecessors dare not tread: Pulaski County has not been divided between multiple districts in any decade since the modern redistricting process began in the 1960s.

There is another new precedent taking place in Arkansas this year: It is the first time in which Republicans, not Democrats, have held control of the redistricting process since the Civil War.

“This is the first time in at least 140 years that Republicans have drawn these maps,” Gilmore said. “Hopefully we can fix the gerrymander of the last 140 years.”

Arkansas was one of the last Southern states to undergo the regionwide shift of ancestral Democratic voters moving to the Republican Party. When he ran for president in 2008, former Gov. Mike Huckabee (R) touted the fact that he had won election in a state in which 86 percent of elected officials were Democrats; that is no longer the case.

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At the turn of the century, Democrats held three of the state’s four seats in Congress — all but the Fayetteville-based seat, now held by Sen. John BoozmanJohn Nichols BoozmanArkansas legislature splits Little Rock in move that guarantees GOP seats Proposed IRS reporting requirements threaten taxpayer privacy, burden community financial institutions  More than ever, we must 'stand to' — and stand behind — our veterans MORE (R).

But the 2010 midterm elections devastated Democrats across the South. Then-Reps. Marion Berry (D) and Vic Snyder (D) retired, replaced by Crawford and then-Rep. Tim GriffinJohn (Tim) Timothy GriffinArkansas legislature splits Little Rock in move that guarantees GOP seats Trump faces test of power with early endorsements Trump announces new tranche of endorsements MORE (R). Two years later, Rep. Mike Ross (D) quit, and then-Rep. Tom CottonTom Bryant CottonThe Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Altria - House debt vote today; Biden struggles to unite Arkansas legislature splits Little Rock in move that guarantees GOP seats The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Facebook - Senate nears surprise deal on short-term debt ceiling hike MORE (R) easily won his seat.

The sea change is mirrored in the state legislature, where Democrats hold just seven of 35 state Senate seats and 24 of 100 seats in the state House.

Hutchinson, who will leave office next year after two terms, has not said whether he will sign the Republican-approved maps. But Democrats are realistic about their chances of reclaiming a seat in Congress under the new lines.

“It’d be very difficult, very difficult the way these are drawn,” Ingram said. 

But he held out hope for intervention from groups like the National Democratic Redistricting Committee, the organization dedicated to advocating for friendlier maps run by former Attorney General Eric HolderEric Himpton HolderArkansas legislature splits Little Rock in move that guarantees GOP seats Oregon legislature on the brink as Democrats push gerrymandered maps Christie, Pompeo named co-chairs of GOP redistricting group MORE

“National groups are already reviewing the maps,” Ingram said. “I think there’s a strong possibility that a lawsuit will take place, and we’ll just see what happens.”