John Howell Sr. 2/5/13

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Panola voters face unexpected election after loss on Monday

The sudden death on Monday of Representative Joe Gardner will no doubt create further confusion about Panola County’s representation in Mississippi legislature.

Gov. Phil Bryant will set a date for a special election to allow voters of House District 11 to choose his successor, but by the time the election is held, much of the 2013 regular legislative session will have transpired.

At present, Panola County is divided into three representative districts: Eleven, the post Gardner held until Monday, includes a swath from the northeast corner of the county, all of Como, much of Sardis, about half of Batesville and to the west county boundary and south to Crowder.

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Representative Clara Burnett’s District Nine includes the northwest corner of the county.

Representative Nolan Mettetal’s District 10 includes the southeast quadrant of the county, and almost to Crowder, all of Pope, Courtland, and the rest of Batesville and Sardis.

When new House districts drawn after the 2010 Census become effective in the 2015 elections, Districts 10 and 11 will remain roughly the same in Panola County except that District 11 will then include the portion of northwest Panola now in Burnett’s District Nine.

But the Senate Districts that will then be in affect leave the county skewed into three districts: Senate District 11, now represented by Senator Robert Jackson of Marks, will include much of the west part of the county.

Senate District Nine, now represented by Senator Gray Tollison of Oxford, will include most of the northeast quadrant of the county, including the east sections of Batesville and Sardis.

But the southeast corner of the county whose voters poll at the Pope, Eureka and South Springport precincts has been lumped with precincts from seven other counties, mostly straddling I-55, all the way to Attala County to comprise Senate District 14.

It’s bizarre.

As we anticipate a special election to fill the vacancy created Monday, we will begin to understand the extent to which our county has been sliced and diced.

The challenge to our city and county leadership will be to make five different members of the Legislature, whose districts also include large and small portions of many surrounding counties, understand what Panola County needs from state government.