Arkansas: Modest Changes to Congressional Map
At first glance, Arkansas seems to have emerged relatively unchanged from the 2010 Census. With only a 9.1% increase in population, slightly lower than the 9.7% increase of the United States, Arkansas gained no new seats and continues to have four congressional representatives. Yet it is not a static, unchanging state. Arkansas experienced a substantial demographic shift in the last decade. Between 2000 and 2010, the white population, the large majority in Arkansas, increased by only 5.0%. Arkansas’s second largest demographic, African Americans, grew from 418,950 to 452,448 people, a 7.4% increase. Because both grew at rates lower than the overall rate of population growth, Arkansas’s two largest demographic groups saw a small decreased in their share of the overall population. In 2000, Arkansas’s total population was composed of 80% White and 15.7% African American; the population is now 77.0% White and 15.4% African American. By comparison, Arkansas’s other ethnic groups have seen their numbers increase.
In 2000, the proportions of the population composed of individuals who identified themselves within Asian American, multi-racial, and “Other” categories were .8%, 1.3%, and 1.8%, respectively. In 2010, those proportions have increased to 1.2%, 2%, and 3.4%. While these increases are across the board, the largest growth was among the Hispanic or Latino population, which has increased by 114% from 86,866 in 2000 to 188,031 in 2010. The Latino population, which composed only 3.2% of Arkansas’s total population in 2000, doubled to 6.4% of Arkansas’s population in 2010. While the state continues to be primarily White and African American, Arkansas’s Hispanic, Asian, and other minority groups are growing. Because the census mandates redistricting every 10 years, line drawers in Arkansas are now considering these substantial shifts while redrawing congressional districts.
Arkansas’s redistricting process is conducted by the executive and legislative branches. The Board of Apportionment, which consists of the Governor, Secretary of State, and Attorney General, is responsible for drawing legislative maps, while the legislature, referred to as the “General Assembly,” draws the Congressional map subject to the Governor’s signature or veto. Arkansas Democrats control this process, occupying the governor’s office and commanding narrow majorities in both houses. In the 100-person State House, Democrats represent 53 districts, Republicans 46, and one seat is vacant. The State Senate has a similar makeup with 20 Democratic senators and 15 Republican. Even though the executive and legislative branches are predominantly Democratic, Arkansas is the 7th most conservative state in the nation, having voted 27.7% more Republican than the national average in the 2008 presidential election.
On April 14, 2011, Arkansas became the first state to approve new congressional boundaries in this redistricting cycle. The final plan represents a compromise between two bills, which competed in Arkansas’ two chambers. Dozens of redistricting bills circulated the Arkansas’s state legislature, but only two were seriously considered by the House and Senate. The original house bill, derided as “Fayetteville Finger” by Republicans, accused the Democrats of plotting to move the liberal city of Fayetteville, home to the University of Arkansas and the state’s third most populous city, away from the staunchly conservative Third District and into the Democratic Fourth. To do so, the Fourth District intruded upon Washington County, where the city of Fayetteville resides, with a narrow boundary resembling a finger.
Another map that circulated the Arkansas Senate had a different approach. In this map, Fayetteville was not in the Fourth District. Additionally, the entirety of Drew County was drawn into the Fourth District while the Second District’s geographic size shrunk considerably. The map, considered a “compromise map” to the House, was nevertheless rejected by the House State Agencies Committee, mostly because of the controversy over Fayetteville.
For a short time, both houses of the legislature stood at an impasse, with neither agreeing to approve the other’s map. During the weekend of April 12-13, the legislature adjourned to negotiate a compromise. The final map keeps Fayetteville in the Third District but separates five different counties: Sebastian, Crawford, Newton, Jefferson, and Searcy.
The proposal won bipartisan support and easily passed the legislature. Both parties agreed that the changes themselves are not revolutionary. Each district kept its old number, and the new districts remain fairly close geographically to their predecessors. The maps, however, were not fully endorsed by Governor Beebe or party leaders, who commented that they merely maintained the status quo. Of the four redrawn districts, two are solidly Republican (CD-2 and CD-3), and one is significantly Democratic (CD-4). Arkansas has a population of 2,915,918 so each district should ideally have a population of 728,980. The four districts have stayed close to this number; the smallest district by population, District 1, has 728,765 residents while the largest, District 2, has 728,959. This difference is less than one percent. As noted above, Arkansas is largely Caucasian, with whites making up 74.54% of the population, African Americans making up 15.4%, and Hispanics or Latino’s making up 6.4%. However, the population and demographics of the four Arkansas districts vary considerably. Historical trends and current fundraising efforts suggest that the upcoming House races in three of the four districts may be competitive.
The First District is located in the northeastern part of Arkansas, and is the second largest district geographically. Between 2000 and 2010, nearly every county within the original first district saw population decreases, except for Green, Craighead, and Crittenden Counties. Because of this population loss, the district expanded and now includes Chicot County, Desha County, Lincoln County, and parts of Jefferson County. The First District lost a tiny, rural portion of the Searcy County. Indeed, the portion is minor enough to only contain one city, Pindall, which has a population of 93. By contrast, the district’s most populous city, Jonesboro, is the state’s fifth largest city and home to Arkansas State University Jonesboro, has 121,026 residents. The top 5 large cities, in descending order, are Jonesboro, West Memphis, Paragould, Blytheville, and Forrest City.
Economically, the First District is a major agricultural area, and houses almost all the counties considered part of the “Arkansas Delta” bordering the Mississippi River. A large African American population around the delta, who historically vote Democratic, is balanced by the conservative slant of some cities like Jonesboro. One notable example, Mountain Home, has a 97.69% white population and has been known to vote Republican in numbers exceeding 90%. The population of the new district is about .03% under the target at 728,765. In 2010, first-time candidate Rick Crawford won with a 51.8% majority, and became the district’s first Republican representative since 1891. Three candidates, Scott Ellington, Clark Hall, and Gary Latanich are competing in the Democratic primary on May 22, 2012. Pundits predict that because of the First District’s historic trend of electing Democrats and the incumbency advantage of Crawford, the coming race may be competitive. Fundraising numbers give the incumbent an advantage so far, as of April 28, 2012, the incumbent had raised $751,339 nearly three times as much as his closest potential Democratic rival, Clark Hall. The First District has only undergone minor modifications since the 2008 elections, when Republican candidate John McCain garnered 58.8% of the vote.
In contrast to the population dispersion of the First, every county within the Second District — already the most populous in the state — experienced steady population growth over the past decade. As a result, the geographic boundary has shrunk with the loss of Yell County, which housed 22,185 residents as of 2010. The district now encompasses Van Buren, Conway, Faulkner, White, Saline, and Pulaski Counties, which are some of the state’s most populous areas. Pulanski, the most populated county in Arkansas and home to the state capitol, Little Rock, has 382,748 residents. Additionally, the district is also home to Conway County, Arkansas’s fifth most populated county. Population is heavily saturated within cities. Of Arkansas’s 15 most populous cities, the Second District has six of them: Little Rock, North Little Rock, Conway, Benton, Sherwood, and Jacksonville. Demographically, the Second is relatively diverse, with a 21.34% African American population. Its Latino population, which stands at 5.39%, grew rapidly from only 2.4% in 2000. District Two has historically elected Democratic representatives, although this changed in 2010.
The Second District exceeds the target population by only 0.3%. The incumbent, Republican Tim Griffin, was a first-time challenger in 2010, defeating Democrat Vic Snyder. That election came as a shock to Snyder, who had held office for seven consecutive terms and handily won in 2006 with 60.5%. The district, however, was trending more Republican over time and supported John McCain in 2008. The Second District has undergone the least change of Arkansas’s four, losing only the left-leaning Yell County. Yell County is notable for having a high concentration of Latinos, as Latinos make up 19.1% of the county population, triple the state’s 6.4%. Yell County’s removal from the Second District makes the district more Republican. Republican Representative Griffin is currently running unopposed in 2012. In the 2010 election cycle, Griffin made headlines after polls found he had a 17 point lead over the longstanding Democratic Incumbent. Snyder eventually announced his retirement after his 2008-2010 term ended. Yet even without a competitor, Representative Griffin has raised$1,138,224 as of April 28, 2012.
Between 2000 and 2010, the Third Congressional District experienced considerable growth. Benton County, the second most populous county in Arkansas had a 44.3% growth rate. Additionally, Washington and Crawford Counties experienced double digit growth. The Third District contains portions of three of the five most populous counties in Arkansas: Benton, Washington, and Sebastian. In order to keep the population of each district equal, the state legislature had to shrink the boundaries of the Third substantially. After redrawing, the Third District lost Madison, Franklin, Johnson, and parts of Newton, Crawford, and Sebastian Counties to the Fourth District. The district has a sizable portion of Hispanics at 11.9%.
The Third District identifies itself as heavily Republican, and Benton County is seen by many as one of the conservative strongholds of the state. In terms of population, it is almost perfect, with a population of 728,959, only 21 people under the target. Republican Steve Womack is the incumbent. Even as a first time candidate, Womack’s victory in 2010 was not a surprise, as he represents one of the most conservative districts in America; it has been held by a Republican since 1967, and voted 64% for McCain in 2008. As of April 28, 2012, Womack has raised $388,607, dwarfing his Democratic competitor Ken Aden’s $33,748.
Arkansas’s Fourth District is geographically the largest and is located in the southern half of the state. It encompasses 30 complete counties and has portions of three more: Crawford, Sebastian and Newton. Each one of those three is shared with the Third. The Fourth District is geographically large and contains many of Arkansas’s most unpopulated counties. It does, however, include some relatively densely populated cities. Texarkana, Pine Bluff, and Hot Springs, Arkansas’s 6th, 10th, and 12th most populated cities, respectively, are in the Fourth district. Yet Texarkana, the largest city in the Fhird district, has a population of only 66,330, and most residents of the Fourth live in rural areas. The Fourth Congressional District is extremely close to the target population, exceeding it by only 23 people. Although the district has Sevier County, which has the highest proportion of Latinos in Arkansas, it is dominated by Whites at 61.63% and African Americans at 21.72%.
Currently, the Fourth is Arkansas’s only Democratic district. Longtime incumbent Mike Ross won with 57% of the vote in 2010. Although that victory was solid, it is a far cry from Ross’s resounding 74.4% victory in 2006. Because Ross has decided not to seek reelection in 2012, four Republican and three democratic challengers have emerged. The most likely candidate, Thomas Cotton, had raised $893,621 as of April 28, 2012. The most successful Democratic candidate in terms of financials, Gene Jeffress, has raise 102,489. Republican prospects were boosted by the inclusion of northwestern counties in redistricting; these counties are more Republican than other counties in the district. Madison County, which previously was in the Third district, voted 60.7% for Bush in 2004 and 83.8% for McCain in 2008. Johnson and Franklin counties, which voted for Bush and McCain by large majorities, also moved from the Third district to the Fourth. Given these redistricting changes and fundraising numbers, it looks increasingly likely that Arkansas is poised for a 4-0 Republican sweep in 2012.
 All data from http://quickfacts.census.gov/qfd/states/05000.html
 The Arkansas Board of Apportionment has a very colorful history. Please see http://www.redistrictinginamerica.org/arkansas.