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PENNSYLVANIA: Judges OK Redistricting Plan; Appeal Is Likely

A three-judge federal panel ruled last week that a revised Congressional redistricting plan is constitutional, clearing the way for current districts to be altered — and, most likely, further court challenges.

Under the new plan, about 40,000 residents would be shifted into new Congressional districts.

The district lines that were used in the 2002 elections were deemed unconstitutional by a three-judge panel in April 2002, after Democrats argued that the map violated the Equal Protection Clause of the Constitution, which guarantees that each person’s vote carries equal weight. The map had a 19-person population deviation among the districts, which the court determined to be too large.

The lines were allowed to stand, however, in order not to delay the 2002 elections and so that the court could consider a revised plan put forward by the Republican-controlled state Legislature. The alternative plan deviates by no more than one person among the 19 Congressional districts.

A lawyer for Democrats told The Associated Press they will likely appeal the case to the Supreme Court.

“The appeal will probably focus on the political gerrymandering aspects of the case and not the one-person, one-vote,” Robert Hoffman said. “The court here ruled that a political gerrymandering claim could be raised only in the narrowest of circumstances. We may ask the Supreme Court to rule on whether that’s right or wrong.”

— Lauren W. Whittington


Redistricting Challenge Is Heard in State Court

In another ongoing redistricting battle, the Mississippi Supreme Court heard arguments this week in a Congressional redistricting case that has also been argued before the Supreme Court.

At issue is whether chancery courts have the authority to draw new federal lines when the state Legislature deadlocks and is unable to approve a plan. This was the case in the latest round of redistricting in Mississippi, which took place in 2001 and 2002.

Republicans argue that chancery courts do not have authority to draw such lines, while Democrats contend that local courts are the proper venue when the Legislature fails to act.

A map favoring Democrats was drawn by a Chancery Court judge but, after legal disputes, the state ended up using lines drawn by a Republican-appointed federal judge in the 2002 elections. Mississippi lost one seat during reapportionment, and the districts of Reps. Chip Pickering (R) and Ronnie Shows (D) were combined to reflect that change. Pickering handily defeated Shows last November.

The Supreme Court heard oral arguments in the case in December but has not yet issued an opinion.

— L.W.W.

North Carolina

Burr Set to Saddle Up in Challenge to Edwards

Rep. Richard Burr (R) is expected to announce his candidacy for the Senate early next month, which would make him one of the first high-profile challengers to dip his oar into the water.

Burr, a telegenic five-term House Member, is the first serious Republican candidate in the Tar Heel State to declare his intentions.

Others looking at the race, including Rep. Walter Jones Jr. (R), may back away because of Burr’s early entrance, strong fundraising ability and support from the White House.

Burr showed $1.7 million in the bank through Nov. 25 and has significantly ramped up his fundraising efforts since that report.

Despite Burr’s forthcoming announcement, a great deal of uncertainty still surrounds the race because of Sen. John Edwards’ (D) decision to seek his party’s presidential nomination. Under North Carolina law, Edwards can run for president and for re-election to the Senate simultaneously, but, on a practical level, doing both is near impossible.

Edwards defeated then-Sen. Lauch Faircloth (R) in 1998, the fourth consecutive election party control of the seat switched. No one has been re-elected in the seat since 1976.

In the event Edwards chooses not to run for a second term, the leading candidate to replace him is 2002 Senate nominee Erskine Bowles (D), who lost in an open-seat race to now-Sen. Elizabeth Dole (R).

Other Democrats mentioned are Rep. Bob Etheridge as well as 2002 Senate candidate and former state Sen. Dan Blue, who lost to Bowles in the Democratic primary.

— Chris Cillizza


Passing on Statehouse, Henry Considers Senate

Lt. Gov. Steve Henry (D) did not file to run in the 2003 governor’s race by Tuesday’s deadline, fueling speculation that he is examining a race against Sen. Jim Bunning (R) in 2004.

Henry, an orthopedic surgeon by training, was considered a likely gubernatorial candidate until allegations that he overcharged Medicare and Medicaid came to light. Henry has launched a counter lawsuit and insists he actually underbilled both health care systems.

He was also hamstrung by Gov. Paul Patton’s (D) revelation last fall that he had an extramarital affair. Patton was considered an all-but-announced candidate against Bunning, but now is highly unlikely to run.

Both Rep. Ken Lucas (D) and state Treasurer Jonathan Miller (D) are also contemplating the contest.

Bunning was considered one of the most vulnerable Senators up for re-election in 2004 prior to Patton’s bombshell. He now looks stronger, bolstered by the $1 million sitting in his campaign war chest. His 50 percent victory in 1998, however, is sure to keep him on Democratic target lists.

— C.C.


GOP Touts Two Blacks As Mikulski Challengers

Although there is little evidence to suggest that Sen. Barbara Mikulski (D) would be vulnerable should she choose to seek a fourth term next year as expected, Maryland Republicans have made news this week floating the names of two possible opponents — both of whom are black.

The Baltimore Sun reported that GOP leaders are trying to persuade former Prince George’s County Executive Wayne Curry — a Democrat — to switch parties and run for the Senate. And there have been rumors for months that new Lt. Gov. Michael Steele (R) may challenge Mikulski.

While Curry compiled a centrist, pro-business record during two terms as chief of the wealthiest majority-black jurisdiction in the nation and often feuded with state Democratic leaders, he has done nothing to imply that he is ready to switch parties.

Steele, the former chairman of the Maryland Republican Party, is considered an attractive candidate for future higher office, but it is not clear whether he wants to leave his new job so soon. It is also unlikely that he would run unless he felt he had a chance of winning.

Republicans have long believed that they would be more competitive with the dominant Democrats in Maryland if they could field black candidates. However, conservative activist Alan Keyes, who is black, lost badly in his two tries for Senate in 1990 and 1992.

— Josh Kurtz

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