Fairer Lines for Ga. Districts Will Help All in State

Posted February 14, 2005 at 1:45pm

Republicans have promised Georgians for more than three years that, if given the chance as the majority party, we’d replace the current Congressional map with straight, fair lines that keep counties and communities together.

Now, for the first time, voters have entrusted Republicans with control of both houses of the General Assembly and the governor’s office. With strong leadership, we must turn campaign rhetoric into reality by passing a new Congressional map during this session.

In 2001, the Democratic power brokers in the Legislature and Gov. Roy Barnes drew new district maps for the state House and Senate and for our 13 Congressional seats. Splitting counties, cities, precincts and even neighborhoods, the Democrats sliced and diced Georgia’s communities to maximize partisan gain and squelch the state’s rising Republican tide. For years, Democrats maintained control, even though Republican candidates for the Legislature regularly received more votes total statewide.

The Democrats’ arrogant power grab repulsed fair-minded voters, who voiced their displeasure in 2002 by electing a fierce advocate for reform, Gov. Sonny Perdue.

While the Democrats have been thrown from office and their unconstitutional state House and state Senate maps eventually were tossed by the courts, their gerrymandered Congressional map survives — an ugly, squiggly lined reminder of the Democrats’ desperate attempts at survival.

The map “packs” as many GOP voters as possible into districts such as mine, the 8th district, while spreading out Democratic voters. This tactic maximizes Democratic strength while minimizing that of Republicans.

With a dwindling voter base, Democrats had to resort to creative and egregious means to achieve their ends in 2001. They split 34 counties into different districts. Seven counties — including Muscogee, Rockdale and Newton in my district — are split three ways. Gwinnett County is split four ways. Additionally, when the map was passed, it split 88 precincts, which is why voters in many urban or suburban areas find themselves in different Congressional districts than other families in their own neighborhoods.

The 13th district resembles an ink-spill stain, casting out long fingers to rope in Democratic precincts. To keep the 11th district contiguous, it is bridged in one place by West Point Lake, and at one point in Columbus, the 11th district is only 400 feet wide. (Despite these efforts to create a Democratic-leaning district, the 11th is represented by a second-term Republican, Phil Gingrey.)

While in the minority, Republicans spelled out their principles for redistricting:

• Districts should have low or no deviation in population.

• Maps must comply with the Voting Rights Act, the U.S. Constitution and the Georgia Constitution.

• Districts should be compact, contiguous and avoid bizarre shapes.

• Districts should unite communities of interest and keep counties intact, where possible.

I’m sure the Republican leaders in the Legislature will stay true to these principles as they look at redrawing the Congressional map.

When Georgia is put back together, the residents of the state will be better served. Yes, it’s also true that Republicans would probably benefit from drawing straight, fair lines, but that only makes sense in a state that has swung heavily toward the GOP in recent years.

Certainly, my colleagues and I are loyal to our present constituents, and we’ll continue to serve them to the best of our abilities regardless of how the Legislature seeks to move on redistricting.

But this issue isn’t just about those who serve in the delegation — after all, I would actually surrender some Republican voting strength in my district under any new map. This is about doing what is right for Georgia. And for Republicans, it is about keeping our word to the voters who supported our message of reform.

Rep. Lynn Westmoreland is a Republican from Georgia. This article first appeared in the Atlanta Journal Constitution on Feb. 11.