Modley says Simmons ‘hoodwinked’ countyBy BY RECARDO THOMAS STAFF REPORTER,
Concerns from both candidates and citizens over the proposed splitting of Sunflower County into two senate districts prompted sitting District 13 Senator Willie Simmons, D-Cleveland, to address the Sunflower County Board of Supervisors during its regularly scheduled session on Monday.
Simmons came to speak on a recent lower court decision handed down by U.S. District Court Judge Carlton Reeves that required the Mississippi Legislature to redraw district lines for Senate District 22, because it was gerrymandered, and the redrawing affects District 13, which currently encompasses the entirety of Sunflower County.
Based on a lawsuit that was filed in May 2018, Judge Reeves, in March, determined that the lines for District 22 should be redrawn because they diluted the power of the black vote in that area of the state, which is a violation of the 1965 Voters’ Rights Act.
He gave the legislators until April 3 to submit a new plan or he would do it himself.
Even though he extended the qualifying deadline in those districts to April 12, because the March 1 deadline had passed, that still raised some concerns, especially with some of the candidates.
One such person is Indianola resident Charles Modley, an aspirant for the District 13 seat.
If Judge Reeves approves the submitted plan, Modley said he stands to lose most of his potential voting base. He was on Monday’s agenda to voice his concerns.
During his talk, Modley hurled an accusation of nepotism toward Simmons regarding Simmons’ daughter Sarita Simmons, who is one of five candidates vying for her father’s senate seat, since he announced his candidacy for Central District Transportation Commissioner.
“I think it’s personal, because everyone knows that your daughter is running. I’m running. I think that this went down in order to enhance your daughter’s chance of winning the election,” Modley said, “That’s my belief. It seems to me it was perpetrated for that reason.”
Simmons then expressed his objection at Modley’s insinuation that he orchestrated the move to give his daughter an unfair advantage.
“I did not file the lawsuit,” Simmons said.
He also suggested Modley contact the attorney in the suit to ascertain confirmation that he (Simmons) suggested that the attorney not file the lawsuit at this time.
“Because I thought that what we had was protecting the Delta with more representation,” Simmons said.
Simmons further explained that the legislators were operating under a court-ordered mandate.
Modley said he believes the citizens should have been notified and given a chance to respond. He also maintains that some of the persons who are in the senate race would likely not be in it if they had been notified of the change earlier.
Simmons reminded him that the individual counties are not called upon for input with regard to redistricting.
“We simply was trying to comply with an order that came down from the courts that I had nothing to do with,” said Simmons.
Modley’s contention was that the legislators’ submission shifted the southern part of Sunflower County from District 13 to District 22, thereby splitting the once undivided county.
“Since we are losing those people to 22, where’s 13 going to pick up those citizens that we lost?” Modley asked.
Senate District 22 stretches from Bolivar County to Madison County.
“If you have a district that long, Stevie Wonder could see that was wrong from the start,” said Modley.
Modley asserted that the judge did not specifically tell the legislature to redraw the lines so that they would affect Sunflower County.
“There were places you could have gone instead of Sunflower County,” Modley said.
Simmons maintained that the judge said, “fix it” and identified four senatorial districts that included District 13.
Modley continued to insist that there were other alternatives.
Simmons said, “But you had to go where the white and the black voters were and move them.”
Modley then alluded to a place the legislators could have gone, “past (U.S.) 49,” but never specifically said where.
He prodded Simmons to name other places they could have gone and Simmons queried if he meant the neighboring counties and then added, “You would have fragmented the Delta even more so.”
Simmons stressed that Sunflower and Quitman counties were the only other Delta counties that were not already split into multiple senate districts. “You almost have no alternative,” Simmons said.
Although there admittedly were other possibilities, other than the two affected districts, Simmons alluded to the complexity of involving too many counties in the change.
He asserted that because of dwindling populations they have to split the counties. “It takes at least two counties to elect a senator, no one county can elect a senator by itself,” he said.
Even if there had not been a lawsuit the redistricting would have taken place in two years anyway.
Simmons said the challenge in the suit was that in 2012, when the maps were redrawn, there was a Republican in office in District 22.
“So, they weren’t going to collapse Buck Clarke’s district, so in order to do that they went to where they needed to go to get it,” Simmons said.
Modley also questioned the timing of the move, because it was so close to the August primary. However, Simmons explained that the move did not involve any precinct changes and there was no difference to the voters. He added that no voters were disenfranchised.
Alluding to Modley’s association with the NAACP as local chapter president, Simmons reminded Modley that the state NAACP backed the lawsuit and he added that they should have pressed the attorney to wait until the next redistricting in two years.
Simmons said lines are always being moved and he maintains that all of the candidates will just have to get out and move among the constituents just as he has always done, since his district covers three counties.
Supervisor Riley Rice asserted too that one of the concerns was the lack of accessibility, since the three affected Sunflower County precincts are being joined with District 22.
Sunflower County Democratic Executive Committee Chairman David Rushing expressed his discontent with the proposed changes.
“What happened to Sunflower County was lowdown,” said Rushing.
He stated that changes that had nothing to do with ethnicity were made to the original plans to redraw the districts.
“Effectively, (it’s) made Sunflower County almost voiceless for senators. From now on our senators are going to be decided by Cleveland and by Yazoo City and Canton. They took our two biggest precincts and moved them out,” said Rushing.
He surmised that half of the population of Sunflower County lives south of U.S. 82.
Simmons stated that Sunflower County would now have two senators instead of just one, like the majority of the surrounding counties. He said he feels as though the plan is a good one and hopes Judge Reeves accepts it, because if not, it would be upon Reeves to draft a new plan.
Simmons has held the District 13 seat for 26 years.
He ended his session with the Supervisors on Monday by thanking the county for allowing him to serve them and presenting a “report card” of his accomplishments and actions during his tenure in office, including this most recent session.
Later, Modley told the Sunflower County Supervisors, “Two senators doesn’t matter, it’s the power that you have. They took the power away from Sunflower County and shifted it to Bolívar County. Senator Simmons came here and he hoodwinked everybody,” Modley said.
Modley also said that he had nothing personal against Simmons.