The Delta Grassroots Caucus (DGC) is a broad coalition of grassroots leaders in the eight-state Delta region. DGC is also a founding partner of the Economic Equality Caucus,
which advocates for economic equality across the USA.

Delta Caucus Analysis of Congressional Redistricting Issues

Posted on March 23, 2011 at 05:56 PM

The Delta Grassroots Caucus partners have devoted considerable study and reflection to Congressional redistricting plans. Most of the Delta Caucus partners have concluded that the best plan would make certain that there is at least one Congressional District where the interests, characteristics and issues common to most Delta people are represented, and this District is one that will be fairly similar to the current First District, with some changes.

All the Delta states will probably have at least a few redistricting issues, so we are looking at Arkansas as a case study. We need to begin by saying that due to the large population growth in northwest Arkansas and the loss of population in many east Arkansas Delta counties, it is inescapable that there will have to be significant changes.

Two principles we tried to keep in mind for all the states were: diversity is beneficial and we would support a majority African American district if it were possible, but it is just not possible. Districts such as the main Memphis, Tennessee district or Congressman Bennie Thompson’s district in Mississippi are logical African American districts. It is not possible to create a similar district in Arkansas.

Secondly, there should not be a narrowly and exclusively partisan focus, but if redistricting totally ignores the realities of which areas are Republican and which are Democratic, that can inadvertently lead to a bias giving one party three districts. Since Arkansas is no longer heavily Democratic and is now a state where both parties are competitive, it is logical that there should be one solidly Republican district, one fairly solid Democratic district, and two districts where the outcome would be competitive and the outcome would depend on which party nominated candidates most likely to appeal to the majority.

It is not true that all Delta areas are Democratic. Rep. Jo Ann Emerson (R-Missouri) is a Republican district, as is the western Kentucky district of Rep. Ed Whitfield (R-KY). Even in Arkansas, some of the Delta counties have substantial Republican voting blocs and while they are usually Democratic, it is often close. It is true that many of the heartland Delta counties in Arkansas are solidly Democratic.

Arkansas has traditionally been strongly Democratic but in the last election moved much more for the Republicans. We do not want to get into a debate about whether Republicans who predict this will be the long-term trend or Democrats who say it was an unusual election and they will regain strength next year and over the long term are correct: we have to face the current reality that both parties are reasonably competitive in Arkansas now and can be expected to be that way for some time to come.

In short, it would be beneficial to have one Republican, one district that would be the predominantly Delta district and may be Democratic based on past patterns but could change given the Republican expansion, and two districts that were relatively even and competitive for both parties. This plan comes closest to avoiding a partisan bias. The Delta Caucus has both Republican and Democratic Members across our eight states and we value the participation from both.

The main point is to make sure that there is at least one full-fledged “Delta” district. It depends on the future actions of both parties as to whether that district will be Democratic or Republican.

Some alternatives are not possible upon close examination:

While we would have supported an African American district if it were possible, the reality is that it is impossible to create an African American majority district without drawing an impossibly gerrymandered district that would clearly lose a legal challenge.

At the opposite end of the spectrum, a map drawn by Republican Senator John Key of Mountain View in the hill country of Arkansas purports to be fair and nonpartisan but would in reality hand the Republicans three safe districts permanently. We are not questioning Sen. Key’s motivation and feel sure he is sincere in believing that this is a fair districting plan, but the result leads to a partisan Republican redistricting.

We also considered a plan that would have placed Jefferson County (including the fairly large city of Pine Bluff) and virtually all the Delta Regional Authority counties in the current Fourth District and move them into the First District, forcing the First to move virtually all the hill counties into either the Second or Third districts. This plan is overkill and would inadvertently lead to one district where the Delta would totally dominate, but also likely leave three other districts that would be clearly Republican and decrease diversity in them.

After having examined all the alternatives, the following plan is the one that comes closest to assuring that there is at least one “Delta” district, where the majority of the counties share common characteristics of high poverty and economic distress (in most but not all cases), fairly diverse populations (again in most but not all cases), largely rural and small to medium-sized communities. Such a plan involves the following characteristics:


1) The First District would no longer have Baxter County, which is a hill county near Missouri that has little in common with most of the Delta counties.

2) Part of eastern White County, which is relatively similar to and near many of the Delta counties, would be moved to the First District.

3) An area in the southeast Arkansas Delta including Desha and Chicot counties would be moved from the Fourth District to the First District. This would mean that all the counties that are next to the Mississippi River and are thus most accurately described as “heartland Delta counties” are in the First District. The southeast Arkansas area would include Desha and Chicot counties, and possibly somewhat more. But most Delta Regional Authority counties in the Fourth District would remain in the Fourth.

4) To get the population correct, there would still be a few hill counties in the First District, but it is basically not feasible to create a 100% “Delta” district.

This district would still have the great majority of its counties as either Delta counties or most of them would be fairly similar to the Delta characteristics noted above. With these changes, the First District would otherwise remain as it now is.


The changes in one district inescapably require changes in others. There is one point that every one needs to understand regarding the Fourth District, and that focuses on the reality that there are so many sparsely populated counties in the District that it will necessarily take up a huge geographical area. It is not possible to make that District focus on one area with identical characteristics.

1) First, Jefferson, Lincoln, Bradley and other counties that are close to the Delta and generally share a good many charateristics similar to the Delta, will remain in the Fourth. This is important, because this district has traditionally had an area similar to the district and the US Representative from that district has thus had to pay a significant amount of attention to that area, although not to the extent the First District does. It would be too radical a change to take Jefferson County and all of the Delta Regional Authority counties out of the Fourth District. Jefferson County includes Pine Bluff, which is similar to the Delta in having a highly diverse population and economic problems, but is an urban area larger than most Delta areas.

Even as the Fourth District is currently drawn, it contains many counties in the west, southwest, like Texarkana and Hot Springs in the Ouachita Mountains, and even goes up into northwest Arkansas up to Logan County. Many people in Arkansas do not think of the Fourth as going this far north, but it already does.

2) The Third District has to lose about 110,000 people because of its rapid growth. To get the population right due to changes in the Third and First Districts, the Fourth has to expand to include either Fayetteville or Fort Smith. It is true that both of these communities are substantially different from Bradley County or Jefferson County farther east. The question is, which one to put into the Fourth?

It is impossible to ignore the reality that Fayetteville is heavily Democratic and Fort Smith is heavily Republican. But whichever way it is decided, one Congressional district will have gains for one party and one party will have losses. Fayetteville and Fort Smith are unquestionably different from the more southern and eastern parts of the district, but which one is closer to the Fourth than the other?

Fort Smith is a heavily Republican area that shares many characteristics with the rest of the heavily Republican Third District that encompasses the heart of northwest Arkansas, an area growing rapidly in population. Many people in Fort Smith would not wish to leave the Third District and be placed in the Fourth District.

Fayetteville is much more Democratic and many people there would feel more comfortable in the Fourth District than in the heavily Republican Third, although certainly many Republicans in Fayetteville would prefer to remain in the Third. Certainly there would be exceptions to the rule. Any plan will not please everybody.

The First District would take Desha and Chicot counties, which are among the most “heartland Delta” counties in Arkansas. They are heavily Democratic and they will fit much better with the other heartland Delta counties in the First District. There may be additional limited areas in the southeast that would also go to the First, but not much.

Lee Powell, Caucus director, said “I do not for one moment criticize those who upon first hearing of Fayetteville being added to the Fourth District expressed great surprise and even were very puzzled. But upon further reflection, when I realized that the Fourth District already goes farther north than many people realize, and that the question is adding either Fayetteville or Fort Smith, it seems obvious that Fayetteville fits better in the Fourth than Fort Smith does.”

Desha County Judge Mark McElroy said “We in Desha County and other limited areas of the southeast Delta now in the Fourth District will have much more in commone with the Delta counties such as Arkansas, Phillips and other heartland Delta areas than we do with the majority of the Fourth District farther west in places like Texarkana, Hot Springs and places close to the Oklahoma border. We need to have a Delta district, and this plan will make the First District primarily the Delta district of Arkansas and provide an undiluted voice in Congress representing our interests.”


The Third District has to lose some geographical territory. This has nothing to do with partisan politics but is caused by the rapid growth in its population.

From the standpoint of Republicans, would they prefer to take in the Democratic and rapidly growing Democratic stronghold of Fayetteville and lose the Republican stronghold of Fort Smith? It can be argued either way.

From the standpoint of Democrats, would they rather add Democratic Fayetteville to the Fourth or add Republican Fort Smith to the Fourth? Most Democrats we know would prefer Fayetteville to Fort Smith.

There are two undeniable demographic trends in Arkansas, with one favoring Republicans and the other favoring Democrats:

First, northwest Arkansas is rapidly growing in population and east Arkansas is losing population in many counties, especially many of the heartland Delta counties. This trend favors Republicans.

Secondly, the Hispanic population is rapidly growing and is projected to continue this growth for many years to come. Most Hispanics tend to vote Democratic, so this trend tends to favor Democrats.

Arkansas politics is notoriously unpredictable. If anyone can predict exactly what will happen down the road, they have quite a crystal ball.


This district has gone back and forth between Republicans and Democrats for many years. It depends very much on whether either party nominates an able, appealing candidate. Rep. Vic Snyder, a Democrat, held the seat for many years, but Rep. Tim Griffin, a Republican now holds it.

The changes in the Second District should be kept to a minimum in this plan, so that this district will continue to be competitive for both parties.


THE FIRST DISTRICT WILL BE A PREDOMINANTLY “DELTA” DISTRICT: This plan will leave the First District in its traditional role as the main “Delta” district, so that the impoverished Delta can have a Representative who has undivided concerns about the unique issues of this region and the Delta’s voice will not be diluted. Which party would win the district remains to be seen.

THE FOURTH DISTRICT WOULD HAVE SOME DELTA INFLUENCE AND WOULD BE COMPETITIVE FOR BOTH PARTIES: The plan creates a Fourth District that has a significant component of Delta Regional Authority counties, but clearly a minority. The southwestern areas tend to be more conservative. Fayetteville is closer to being a logical choice for the Fourth District than is Fort Smith. This District is likely to be competitive for Republicans and Democrats, although it would likely require a Blue Dog Democrat to be viable.

The Third District would lose some areas due to its increase in population, but would keep Fort Smith, traditionally a bastion of the largely mountainous, Republican Third District. This district will clearly remain decidedly Republican.

The Second District would be competitive for both parties.

There are imperfections in all plans. What we would emphasize is that this one is the best one we have considered, given all the demographic, regional, diversity, economic and political factors that have to be taken into account. Thank you. Delta Caucus Contact: Lee Powell, director (202) 360-6347 Desha County Judge Mark McElroy (870) 877-2426