As of now, most projections suggest the state will lose a congressional seat after reapportionment as the result of the Census count.
When our Founding Fathers brokered the so-called “Great Compromise,” they added to the Constitution a requirement that House districts be reapportioned, based on population changes, every 10 years. The more populous the state, the more representation it gets in the House of Representatives.
The problem for Alabama is not that the state is not growing. It just is not growing as fast as other states. Some blame immigration for Alabama’s comparatively slower growth. With Alabama likely to lose representation as a result, two lawsuits bear directly on Alabama’s future federal influence.
One lawsuit seeks to include a question on the 2020 Census probing the legal status of individuals counted. Another lawsuit led by Attorney General Steve Marshall and U.S. Rep. Mo Brooks, R-Huntsville, challenges a Census Bureau rule that counts people in the country illegally in determining population.
All of this may come too late for Alabama. So, what might Alabama’s congressional representation look like with only six of the House of Representatives’ 435 congressional seats? What might that mean for southwest Alabama?
Here is how it all may shake out.
When the Alabama legislature convenes to determine new congressional districting, one hurdle it will have to overcome is figuring out how to maintain the seventh congressional district as a majority-minority congressional district. Currently, that seat is occupied by Rep. Terri Sewell, D-Birmingham, and is made up of the Black Belt and the predominantly black neighborhoods of Montgomery and Birmingham.
Given economic woes and the shrinking population of the Black Belt, Alabama’s majority-minority congressional district will have to look to other predominantly black precincts, and that could mean AL-7, which presently goes to the southern tip of Clarke County, will have to continue southward into Prichard and parts of Mobile.
In this robbing Peter to pay Paul scenario, Alabama’s first congressional district, currently occupied by Rep. Bradley Byrne, R-Fairhope, will have to extend into the second congressional district, held by Rep. Martha Roby, R-Montgomery, to make up the difference, and that could reach as far as, perhaps, Dothan.
There is a misguided attitude that prevails within Alabama’s power structure in the Montgomery-Birmingham-Huntsville corridor that southwestern Alabama and the Wiregrass are the state’s less-important stepchildren. For that reason, there could be a move to combine parts of Mobile County, all of Baldwin County and across the bottom of the state with Brewton, Andalusia, Opp, Enterprise and Dothan and to the Alabama-Georgia state line into one Lower Alabama congressional district.
To make up the difference for the losses of the second congressional district, it would still include parts of the Wiregrass, but continue north through Montgomery, Prattville, Wetumpka, Chilton County and north into the ruby-red southern Birmingham suburbs.
That takes us to the district that would go away: the sixth congressional district, occupied currently by Rep. Gary Palmer, R-Hoover. That district could be divided among Rep. Mike Rogers’, R-Saks, third congressional district, who would get the eastern portion, Rep. Robert Aderholt’s, R-Haleyville, fourth congressional and Roby’s second district.
Since Palmer is the junior member of the delegation, dividing his district up could be the path of political least resistance. It also would make sense, given how Jefferson County is balkanized with 34 incorporated towns and municipalities.
Rep. Mo Brooks’, R-Huntsville, decision not to seek a seat in the U.S. Senate in 2020 earlier this month also may have influenced some of the politics of the future redistricting. Had Brooks run for Senate, the possibility of a bitter head-to-head match-up between him and Aderholt would have been eliminated. By being a high-ranking member of the House Appropriations Committee, Aderholt also may have wanted portions of defense contractor-rich Huntsville in his district.
However, now Aderholt’s advance in Huntsville with the expansion of what is now Alabama’s fourth congressional district doesn’t seem likely, given those drawing the line will want to avoid a head-to-head match-up between Aderholt and Brooks.
Under this scenario, Alabama’s first congressional district would have a much larger agricultural presence. Could the next member representing this hypothetical district be able to juggle the interests of the farmers in southeastern Alabama and the demands of Mobile and its metropolitan area?
Projections have Baldwin County’s population exploding by a 25 percent increase by 2030. There would be lots of challenges for this U.S. Representative, geographical and politically.
As for Mobile County, there could be benefits to having two votes in Congress, especially with one likely be Republican and the other Democrat. Birmingham and Montgomery have operated with multiple members representing their metropolitan areas for decades.
The politics would take a completely different look. In the past, whenever the first district congressional seat was up for grabs, we’ve had the West Mobile candidate, the Spring Hill/midtown/downtown candidate, the Eastern Shore candidate and the South Baldwin County candidate.
In 2022, it could be the Mobile candidate, the Baldwin County candidate and the Dothan candidate. Also, AL-1 would suddenly cover three media markets: Mobile-Pensacola, the very southern part of the Montgomery market with Covington County and Andalusia and the Dothan media market.
Although this scenario seems unfair, whatever scenario the legislature comes up with to draw the boundaries of the six future congressional districts, everyone statewide is going to feel a little pain from the loss of a seat.
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