Metroplan votes to keep Pulaski County together

Opposition emerging on plan to split state's largest county into three Congressional districts

At a Wednesday morning meeting of Metroplan, the organization voted for a Congressional redistricting map that would keep the Little Rock Metropolitan Statistical Area and the Northwest Arkansas MSA, along with Fort Smith, in two congressional districts, with the rest of the state being divided between the 1st and 4th districts.

The Arkansas State Legislature will be in special session this week and on the agenda is Congressional redistricting.

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The redistricting is done based on 2020 Census population numbers and the state’s roughly three million people are split into four, evenly populated congressional districts.

The resolution stated the central and northwest Arkansas “regions should be kept intact to strengthen the congressional voice of their respective representatives – just as rural regions should be kept intact to have their voice clearly represented also.”

It noted that the Little Rock MSA, which includes Pulaski, Faulkner, Saline, Lonoke, Grant, and  Perry counties, is roughly 750,000 people and the ideal size of each Congressional district would be 752,000.

“It doesn’t make sense,” North Little Rock Mayor Terry Hartwick said in a phone interview on Tuesday of dividing up Pulaski County. “Central Arkansas and Northwest Arkansas are the economic engines of the state, so to split off North Little Rock … it just doesn’t make any sense.”

Among the plans presented is from state Sen. Bart Hester, a Republican from Cave Springs and his propose map, below, splits Pulaski County into three chunks with North Little Rock being divided into two different congressional districts and neither of them in central Arkansas with the eastern portion of the city going to the 1st, while the western portion, and Maumelle, would go to the 4th.

The red symbols on the map indicate where Arkansas’s four congressmen live and the Bart Hester map would place Bruce Westerman and French Hill in the same congressional district.

“We need to take the force of politics out of it,” Hartwick said. “And not disrupt the economics, the transportation, the lifestyle and the daily lives of the people who live in these regions, just like we shouldn’t mess with the people who live in the unpopulated areas.”

Hartwick, who previously served as the head of the North Little Rock Chamber of Commerce, feared that splitting North Little Rock into different Congressional districts could impact economic development. He noted that the Amazon Fulfillment Center on the eastern side of North Little Rock, would go into the 1st Congressional District, if Hester’s plan was approved.

“I've got several big businesses that are coming to the eastern part of our city,” Hartwick said. “So this would mean, I’m going to deal with legislators who may not know where or what I’m talking about.”

Some legislators are noticing.

“While I appreciate Senator Hester putting forward a map for consideration and I appreciate his willingness to think outside the box,” said state Rep. David Ray of Maumelle. “I think it’s pretty obvious to anyone who lives in central Arkansas that Maumelle belongs in the 2nd Congressional District.”

State Rep. Mark Lowery of Maumelle also isn’t in favor of Hester’s proposed map.

“First, I would oppose any map that splits Pulaski County in such a way that Maumelle is placed in any District other than the 2nd Congressional District,” he wrote in a Monday email. “This is because a substantial number of Maumelle residents actually commute into areas that would be in Sen. Hester’s map.”

Lowery added that he was in favor of “keeping row crop counties together as much as possible in the 1st District” and “I am inclined to support Rep. David Ray’s map (HB1964). I also like Sen. Mark Johnson’s bill (SB729) except that it places Sebastian County in the 4th District — against the wishes of most leaders in the county who prefer to remain in the 3rd District.”

It was noted during the Metroplan meeting that a full third of the Arkansas Legislature lives in the Little Rock MSA and the mayors and county judges there said they would be reaching out to all members of the Legislature to note their opposition to any plan that splits up the region.

If the Legislature listens is another question.