By Benjamin Bullard
The Cullman Times
The 25 people who turned out for an informal meeting with Alabama House district 9 Rep. Ed Henry got their chance to see the newest legislator in Cullman County’s reconfigured delegation — even if they couldn’t always hear him.
A loud, torrential rain storm that swept over the Vinemont scout center midway through Henry’s town hall meeting drowned out much of his discussion on the Republican legislative agenda in fighting Obamacare, as well as part of his explanation of how legislative redistricting will affect local representation in the State House.
Still, the Hartselle-based representative managed to put across a conservative message that focused on scaling back big government, finding ways to streamline costly and redundant state services, and previewing the coming struggle to either fund, or thwart, the state’s obligation toward supporting the president’s Affordable Care Act.
“Our government is a beast in itself,” said Henry at the meeting’s outset. “It’s going to take an effort from all of us to continually try to downsize the government, because it’s almost out of control.”
While the older district boundaries will remain in effect until the legislature turns over in 2014, Henry and other representatives are already introducing themselves to new constituents whom they’ll serve if reelected.
Henry, who already represented a small portion of northern Cullman County before the legislature redrew the state’s districts earlier this year, will have an expanded local constituency when the 2014 elections roll around. In addition to Vinemont, which he already served under the old district map, Henry also will represent residents of West Point and surrounding areas north and west of U.S. Highway 278, as well as a small arc of county residents who live near Lakes George and Catoma.
The Republican-led redistricting effort still faces a challenge from minority Democrats in the legislature, who are seeking to have the plan struck down by the U.S. Department of Justice. Democrats contend the new districts take votes away from racial minorities and poor voters while stacking voter demographics to favor incumbent Republicans’ chances for reelection.
Henry offered a different take, saying the legislative Republican class of 2010 had worked to eradicate most of the historical inequities built into Alabama’s Democrat-controlled legislative mapping process.
“We have to draw our lines every ten years following the Census, and we have to get it as close as we can to ‘One person, one vote,’” he said. “This year’s target number for each district was 45,521 people. And, this year, we allowed ourselves a one-percent margin of error in hitting that target.
“Compare that with the five-percent margin that our predecessors allowed. It allowed those in the [political] majority-controlled districts to hold more seats, by allowing those districts to have as few as 38,000 people — while, at the same time, you had [political] minority-controlled districts stacked up with far more people, to keep their representation limited in the legislature. That was disproportionately unfair to the districts that had more people, and we’ve done away with it.”
Visit http://policymaker.alabama.gov/Districts.aspx to view a map comparing the old legislative districts with the new.
* Benjamin Bullard can be reached by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org or by telephone at 734-2131 ext. 270.