McGill: Fort Smith should remain in 3rd Congressional District

FORT SMITH, Ark – Mayor George McGill is intent on Fort Smith remaining in Arkansas’ 3rd Congressional District.

Fort Smith sits just north of the southern border of the 3rd District, which also includes northwest Arkansas, Harrison and Russellville. Members of the Arkansas General Assembly would redraw the four congressional districts after the state receives the official population counts and apportionment allocation from Washington in early 2021, according to Gov. Asa Hutchinson.

McGill said Fort Smith, which may have reached 100,000 people in the census count, needs to stay in the 3rd District because it’s “one of the most progressive, fastest growing regions in the United States.” He has thus spoken to Hutchinson about his desire for state officials to keep Fort Smith in the district.

“It’s very important that we understand the congressional district, its strength. Growth occurred in the River Valley first and foremost,” McGill said.

Congressional districts are “to be as equal in population to all other congressional districts in a state as practicable,” according to the United States Census Bureau. Approximately 99.9% of all households in Arkansas were accounted for in the 2020 census, McGill said.

Fayetteville and Bentonville, which sit at the northern and southern limits of northwest Arkansas and have become synonymous with growth, quality of life and business, are both estimated to have gained more than 10,000 residents since the last census. Sebastian County likely grew quite a bit, too — McGill said preliminary census estimates show the county to have about 171,000 residents.

But McGill said the census also revealed many people live in Fort Smith and commute up to northwest Arkansas for work because of the cheap cost of living in the River Valley. This falls in line with the vision of District 3 U.S. Rep. Steve Womack, R-Rogers, who said he views the Bobby Hopper Tunnel north of Mountainburg as the connecting point of the two regions.

Additionally, McGill noted the Fort Smith region will be at the intersection of interstates 40 and 49 and sits along the Arkansas River. He also noted the city has the most significant military presence in the district with the 188th Wing and 142nd Artillery Brigade at Fort Chaffee.

“As we move forward with highway funding to build the bridges and build the highways necessary, the military and commerce understands the importance of a combination of river, rail and highway. All of that intersects right here,” McGill said.

Although he’s from northwest Arkansas, Womack has spoken highly of the medical infrastructure and education system in Fort Smith. He has worked to sell these aspects of the city to the United States Air Force in the bid to bring a fleet of F-35 long-term Foreign Military Sales aircraft and F-16 aircraft for the Republic of Singapore to Ebbing Air National Guard Base at Fort Smith Regional Airport.

While Hutchinson is not in charge of redrawing the congressional districts, he said he is “a fan” of Fort Smith staying in the 3rd District. Hutchinson from 1997-2001 served as the U.S. representative for the 3rd District while he lived in Fort Smith.

“(The city’s) historic ties to the 3rd District are significant,” Hutchinson said in an email to the Times Record.

“I think he understands that it’s better we remain intact the way we are,” McGill said of Hutchinson.

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