Georgia Remap Stings GOPers

Posted February 15, 2005 at 6:41pm

Republicans in the Georgia House and Senate introduced separate and vastly different plans to redraw the state’s Congressional districts Tuesday, removing any doubt about their intention to undertake a mid-decade redistricting certain to send a shock wave through the Peach State delegation.

The two plans will eventually have to be reconciled, but in the meantime the maps appear to set up a showdown between Republicans in Washington, D.C., and those at the state Capitol.

The map proposed in the state House, penned by House Reapportionment Chairman Bobby Franklin (R), could create as many as three Member-versus-Member contests and, at minimum, two new open seats.

Franklin’s proposal stunned the seven Georgia House Republicans on Capitol Hill, who had already drawn a map and were circulating their own ideas for what they hoped the new districts would look like.

The map proposed yesterday by the state Senate mirrors the version of the map endorsed by the seven Georgia Republicans known as the “G-7.”

“It’s the right thing to do for the people of Georgia,” Franklin said in an interview after his committee met Tuesday afternoon to adopt a resolution setting new guidelines for redistricting. “Looking at these [maps], it’s almost embarrassing that we were a part of the General Assembly that adopted it.”

Franklin also did little to hide his displeasure with the Congressional interference in the legislative prerogative to redraw district lines and his proposed map, later made public, further reflected that frustration.

“I actually got tired of hearing there was a map out there,” Franklin said, explaining one of his motives in crafting his own proposal. “I’d never heard from a Congressman or their staff or anything.”

Franklin’s proposed map would pair Rep. Nathan Deal (R) with Rep. Tom Price (R), Rep. Lynn Westmoreland (R) with Rep. Jim Marshall (D), and Rep. John Barrow (D) with Rep. Charlie Norwood (R).

While Deal would still likely run for re-election in the 10th district even if his home in Hall County remains in Price’s 6th district, the other Members could have little option than to face off, move or retire.

Under that scenario, two new open seats would be created: the 3rd district in middle Georgia and a totally reconfigured 12th district that would lie to the northwest of Atlanta. The new 12th would include Franklin’s Cobb County home, fueling speculation that the reapportionment chairman had penned a new Congressional seat for himself — not an uncommon practice in recent redistricting efforts in Georgia and across the country.

None of the state’s four black lawmakers is jeopardized politically under either of the proposed maps, and Rep. Phil Gingrey’s (R) swing 11th district would become more solidly Republican under both the House and Senate plans.

Because Georgia falls under the Voting Rights Act, any new map passed by the Legislature would have to be pre-cleared by the Justice Department before going into effect.

State Senate Republican leaders held a late afternoon news conference to unveil their proposed map, which would only pair Barrow and Norwood in a safe GOP district.

“Four years ago, the Democratic majority in the Legislature, with the full partnership of former Governor Roy Barnes [D], drew partisan gerrymandered legislative and Congressional districts. They did not try to hide it. They even bragged about it,” state Senate President Eric Johnson (R) said in a statement. “Today, the Legislature will begin considering redrawing the Congressional districts in an open, fair process. Our goal is to draw equally sized, compact districts that reunite Georgia’s communities.”

If both houses of the Legislature pass different versions of the Congressional map, state lawmakers will have to resolve the differences in a conference committee.

Franklin expressed confidence that the two chambers would be able to iron out their differences and pass a consensus map before the end of the legislative session.

“It’s just going to be real busy for [Senate Reapportionment Chairman] Chip Rogers [R] and myself,” Franklin said. “But I think there’s plenty of time.”

Today is day 19 of the 40-day legislative session. A new map will have to be passed by at least one of the two houses before the end of day 33.

Meanwhile, Democrats in the state have largely remained silent on the effort to redraw the lines penned by their party in 2001. They had little to add to the debate after the proposed maps were introduced Tuesday.

“There are much bigger problems in Georgia right now than redistricting,,” said Georgia Democratic Party spokesman Emil Runge.

Doug Moore, spokesman for Marshall, echoed that statement and called Franklin’s proposed map “interesting to look at.”

“It’s a difficult process and everybody’s got their own interests and they’re going to look out for those first, before looking out for someone in Washington,” Moore said, adding there were “definitely some messages that were being sent.”

The new 8th district proposed by Franklin would pit Marshall against Westmoreland in a seat with a 33 percent black population. Westmoreland, a former state House Minority Leader first elected to Congress in 2004, has been the leading proponent of redrawing the Congressional lines.

GOP lawmakers took the first step toward drawing a new map Monday night, introducing a resolution in both houses that sets new guidelines for reapportionment. Because it is a resolution and not a bill, the measure does not have to be signed by Gov. Sonny Perdue (R) and it is non-binding for future legislatures.

The co-sponsors of the measure include state House Majority Leader Jerry Keen (R), Senate Majority Leader Bill Stephens (R), Johnson and Franklin.

Among the standards the resolution lays out are:

• all districts shall be composed of contiguous territory. Districts that connect on a single point are not contiguous;

• all districts shall be compact in form. Bizarre shapes shall be avoided;

• no district shall be established with the intent or effect of diluting the voting strength of any person, group of persons, or members of any political party. Data reflecting past partisan voting behavior shall not be solely considered.

• No district shall divide a community of interest unless necessary to comply with federal standards. A community of interest may be defined by a variety of factors, including, but not limited to, economic, social, and cultural factors, government services, and location.

The resolution also states that all districts must comply with the Constitution and the Voting Rights Act of 1965 and that those requirements will be given priority in the event they conflict with any of the other criteria laid out.

The contorted lines of the current map, drawn by Democrats in 2001 with expressed partisan gains in mind, have been front and center in the GOP’s push to pen new Congressional boundaries.

The state House and Senate legislative maps, also drawn by Democrats in 2001, were deemed unconstitutional due to population deviations and redrawn by a court in 2004. The newly redrawn legislative districts helped produce a 22-seat gain for Republicans in the state House, giving them unified control of the state government for the first time since Reconstruction. The GOP won the governor’s office and a majority in the state Senate in 2002.

At the same time the legislative maps were deemed unconstitutional, the Congressional maps were upheld. Still, Johnson argued that the oddly shaped districts were an affront to Georgians.

“While the court did not find that the Congressional plan violated one person, one vote, the court recognized and commented on several occasions about the bizarre districts found in that map,” he said.

Tim Storey, a redistricting expert and fellow at the National Council of State Legislatures, said while the effort to redraw Congressional districts mid-decade has been rare in the modern era of redistricting, the practice is not unprecedented.

“There are examples in the last century of states’ adjusting plans and making changes, sometimes for political purposes, in the middle of the decade absent court order,” Storey said.

But sweeping changes to Congressional maps mid-decade have been a rare practice, Storey said.

“A more wholesale change of maps, it’s very uncommon,” he said. “And that’s why Texas and Colorado got so much attention two years ago.”

But what sets the current situation in Georgia apart from similar efforts to redraw lines in Colorado and Texas last cycle is that in those instances Legislatures were seeking to alter court-drawn boundaries.

While Democrats have threatened to retaliate by revisiting Congressional maps in other states where they have control over the process, Storey noted that there is only a small number of states where that would be feasible.

“I don’t see this as a big wave but I’m sure it will garner a lot attention,” Storey said.