New Ga. House Map Introduced

Posted March 5, 2003 at 6:15pm

Georgia Republicans have unveiled an initial proposal for new Congressional lines, although members of both parties concede that the reconfigured map has little hope of ever becoming a reality.

Republicans introduced a new Congressional map last Wednesday in the state Senate, making good on a campaign promise they had made during their march to historic victories in the state last November.

The proposal has been referred to the Senate Reapportionment and Redistricting Committee, but no action has been taken so far.

One official stressed that the proposed map is a starting point and not a final plan, adding the likelihood that the proposal will pass the chamber unchanged remains slim.

“This is just a proposal,” explained Gina Shelton, who works in the independent reapportionment services office. “There’s a lot of things that could happen. This is very, very tentative at this point.”

Even if the Senate does pass the plan, observers say it would likely end up dead on arrival in the state House, the only branch of state government where Democrats still wield power. Republicans narrowly control the state Senate after several Democrats defected to the GOP following last year’s elections.

State Rep. Calvin Smyre, chairman of the Georgia Democratic Party, said Republicans are “going to have a very difficult time passing anything in the House” when it comes to new Congressional districts.

“Reapportionment is behind us, especially Congressional reapportionment at this juncture,” Smyre said. “The election is over. The people have made their decision.”

One Democrat said that district makeovers are more likely in Texas or New Mexico, two of the other states where legislatures are considering altering Congressional lines, than in the Peach State.

In order for legislation to be passed through the General Assembly, it must clear at least one chamber by the 33rd day of the 40-day session. Today is the 26th day the General Assembly is in session and there is no clear timetable for when the proposal will be taken up.

New Congressional and state Legislature lines were promised by new Gov. Sonny Perdue (R) as he campaigned last year against then-Gov. Roy Barnes (D), who was the chief architect of boundaries drawn during the 2001 remap process. Perdue upset Barnes in November to become the state’s first Republican governor since Reconstruction.

Republicans say the new lines are an effort to piece back together communities and counties that Barnes and the then-Democratic Legislature carved up with Democratic gains in mind.

The current Georgia map splits 34 counties between two separate Congressional districts. Twenty-two counties are represented by two Congressmen and eight counties are divided between three Members.

Under the GOP proposal, 11 of the state’s 159 counties are split between two Congressional districts. Only one county would be split among three districts. The map features neatly drawn, compact districts, a stark contrast to the meandering lines drawn two years ago.

Democrats, however, say the proposed map would produce more than community cohesiveness. The GOP plan, while more aesthetically pleasing on paper, also benefits at least one vulnerable Republican incumbent and seeks to add at least one more seat to the party’s control.

Among the districts most altered under the proposal are the swing districts of freshman Reps. Jim Marshall (D), Max Burns (R) and Phil Gingrey (R).

Marshall’s 3rd district would move to the east and south, taking in Republican areas currently in the 1st and 8th districts.

“It would pretty much do him in,” observed one Georgia Republican aide.

Marshall narrowly defeated former Bibb County Commissioner Calder Clay (R) last year, and Clay is considering a rematch against Marshall next year.

Under the new proposal, the black voting age population in the 3rd would drop from 38 percent to 31 percent.

Gingrey’s 11th district, however, would see perhaps the largest change in black voting population under the new plan. The current 26 percent black voting age population would fall to just 10 percent in the proposed district. The district would also gain a higher percentage of Republican-leaning voters.

While the black voting age population in the 13th district would remain unchanged under the proposed map, the heavily Democratic district appears to be altered the most geographically. The current district, the most contorted of the state’s 13, protrudes south and east of Atlanta. Under the GOP proposal it would shift dramatically to the southwestern side of the state capital.

The plan would also shift Rep. John Linder’s (R) sprawling northern 7th district, geographically centering it more to the northwest of Atlanta.

The proposed map could also see some alterations because several current state Senators are among those eyeing the open 6th district seat of Rep. Johnny Isakson (R-Ga.), who is running for Senate. Those interested in running want the suburban Atlanta district to retain a strong base in Cobb County, something that is diluted under the plan.

Meanwhile, Burns’ 12th district would effectively double in land size under the current proposal, taking in rural, conservative areas currently in the 3rd.

One of the key changes in the proposed 12th district lines, is the removal of Athens and a portion of Richmond County, the area surrounding Augusta. However, the new district would retain a 39 percent black voting age population and a Democratic edge.

Members of the Georgia Congressional delegation appeared to have little input in the new map proposal.

“We have a dog in this fight but all we can do is watch,” said Brian Robinson, spokesman for Gingrey.