Even as Republicans swept statewide offices in Mississippi on Tuesday night, Joseph Thomas, an African American Democrat in a district that stretches across six counties, narrowly ousted a Republican incumbent. Earlier this year, a federal court forced the GOP-led Legislature to redraw the boundaries for that district, Senate District 22, after finding that they had drawn it in a way that was intended to dilute black voting power.
"It was an exciting race. We did our best and we came out victorious. We're excited to serve all the citizens of District 22," Thomas told the Jackson Free Press Thursday morning, saying he wants to focus on job creation, advocating for the elderly, and working as "a champion for our schools."
When Judge Carlton W. Reeves ruled earlier this year, the district's population was 51% black, and GOP Sen. Buck Clarke, a white man, represented its residents in the upper legislative chamber. But the 100-mile-long district was comprised of black voters who were poorer on average than those throughout the state and white voters who were wealthier than average.
In his February ruling, Reeves pointed to 2010 Census data that showed Mississippi is 59.1% white and 40.9% non-white. Based on that data, he wrote, "one might have expected" redistricting to result in a Senate comprising about 31 white senators and 21 non-white senators.
"But there are only 15 majority-minority Senate Districts, and the Senate has never had more than 13 African-American members," Reeves wrote. "In plain English, Mississippi's Senate is much whiter than Mississippi."
Race-Linked Economic Disparities
Most of District 22 is in the Delta, which is majority-black and one of the poorest regions in the country. Before the 2010 Census, it also included majority-black areas of Madison County. But legislative redistricting in 2012 extended it into wealthy, majority-white parts of Madison County, too.
Statewide, about 13%