Georgia Map All But Done

Posted February 25, 2005 at 6:34pm

Republicans in the Georgia Legislature have reached consensus on new Congressional boundaries, moving a proposed map forward that would shore up Rep. Phil Gingrey’s (R) swing district and potentially complicate the re-election efforts of Democratic Reps. John Barrow and Jim Marshall.

The state House and Senate redistricting committees passed the same version of a new Congressional map Friday, bringing an end to a week of behind-the-scenes wrangling over how to reconcile the chambers’ two competing plans.

In the end, the consensus version penned Thursday night more closely resembles the map first proposed by the state Senate, which also had the blessing of the state’s seven Republican Congressmen.

State House reapportionment Chairman Bobby Franklin (R) had drawn his own map, which he said was done without regard to partisan advantage or consultation with lawmakers on Capitol Hill. The original version of the Franklin map would have paired as many as six Congressmen and likely created two new open seats.

But the map Republicans cleared through committee Friday bears little discernable likeness to the lines Franklin drew, and instead improves the likelihood that all 13 of the state’s Members will run in separate districts, if they choose to seek re-election.

Michelle Hitt, spokeswoman for state House Speaker Glenn Richardson (R), said the Legislature’s tight time constraint expedited the production of the compromise map.

Friday was day 25 of the Legislature’s 40-day session. At least one of the two chambers must pass some version of a new map before day 33.

Hitt said the House plans to take up the map later this week and that Richardson wants to have open discussion — allowing for amendments and debate — when it reaches the floor.

“I think that the Speaker’s intention is to leave the process as open as possible to give people an opportunity to have their opinions and concerns heard,” Hitt said.

Republicans argue that the current Congressional map, drawn by Democrats in 2001, splits an egregious number of counties and communities of interest in an effort to make partisan gains.

“I think that most people who see this map would agree that these do put back together those communities of interest,” Hitt said.

Because Georgia falls under the Voting Rights Act, any changes to the state’s Congressional boundaries must be cleared through the U.S. Justice Department before going into effect.

“We also wanted to make sure that we had a map that would make it through the process intact,” Hitt said. “We didn’t want to get something that wouldn’t be pre-cleared by Washington, especially with the history this state has. We wanted something that was going to be viewed favorably by the judges. And we’re confident that this map will be.”

The newest proposal, like the two earlier Republican-drawn maps, does not politically endanger any of the state’s four black Members. In fact, the average black population (based on figures from the 2000 Census) is increased in all four of the districts represented by minorities under the proposed map.

State Democrats privately expressed relief after seeing the compromise map Friday, as they admitted that the redrawing of lines could have hit them much harder politically.

“It could be worse,” said a Georgia Democratic operative. “My guess is if everybody ran for re-election, we’d end up with the exact same delegation we’ve got right now.”

Still, Democrats are likely to mount legal challenges if the new lines are approved.

In an interview last week before the consensus map was released, state Rep. Tyrone Brooks (D) argued that the demographics of the state have changed drastically since the 2000 Census, and he called the redrawing of lines mid-decade “highly irresponsible.”

“I have a question about deviation. I have a question about the Voting Rights Act. I have a question about a lot of things,” said Brooks, who serves as president of the Georgia Association of Black Elected Officials. “I just think the leadership of the Republican Party should slow the train down and reconsider this. Wait five more years and if they’re in power they’ll have a chance to redraw the state.”

Because the proposed map does little to dilute the minority voting strength in majority black districts, one of the primary issues up for debate in a court fight could be the legal standing of so-called minority influence districts.

That is to say, if the black population is decreased in districts that have a large percentage of minorities, but are not majority-minority, is the overall voting strength of minorities being diluted?

The clearest example could be Marshall’s 3rd district, which currently has a black population of 40 percent. Under the proposed map, that number would drop to 33 percent, with 30 percent being of voting age.

Marshall’s district would also go from favoring President Bush with 52 percent of the vote in 2000 to a 58 percent Bush district.

Democrats have expressed confidence that Marshall, who won a second term with 63 percent of the vote last year, would win re-election under the new lines if he chooses to run. Marshall is also considering running for lieutenant governor.

Former Rep. Mac Collins (R-Ga.), who came in third in last year’s GOP Senate primary, is said to be interested in a political comeback, and the lines being considered could accommodate him. His home in Butts County is in Marshall’s district under the proposed map, but much of the district’s middle Georgia territory would be foreign terrain to Collins.

While Barrow’s 12th district would remain Democratic-leaning under the proposed boundaries, the freshman Democrat would be forced to move or run in a district that does not include his home.

Barrow’s home in Athens-Clarke County would lie in Rep. Charlie Norwood’s (R) 9th district, but much of the current district Barrow represents would still be in the reconfigured 12th district. The redrawn district would have a 45 percent black population and Bush would have received 48 percent of the vote there in the 2000 presidential election. The current district is 42 percent black and it gave Bush 45 percent of the vote in 2000.

Barrow would not have to move to the 12th district in order to run there. Neither Reps. David Scott (D) or Phil Gingrey (R) live within the boundaries of their current districts.

“If the state decides to pass redistricting the Congressman will run in the district that includes the largest portion of what is now the 12th district,” said Barrow spokesman Harper Lawson. “Those are the folks that elected him and those are the ones he’ll continue to work for serving in Congress.”

Former Rep. Max Burns (R-Ga.), whom Barrow defeated last November, is also eyeing the redrawn 12th district, which includes his Screven County home.

Burns, who recently became a government affairs consultant in the Washington, D.C. offices of Thelen Reid & Priest LLP, held the door open to another run but said he wouldn’t decide anything before a final map is produced by the Legislature.

“I’ve learned a long time ago you don’t make commitments you don’t keep, so you never say never and you never say always,” Burns said in an interview Friday. “But we’ll take a look at what comes out and if it makes sense then we’ll talk about it. But I think right now I think it’s certainly way too early for me to do anything.”

Meanwhile, the proposed map drastically improves the Republican performance in Gingrey’s northwestern 11th district. In the 2000 presidential election, Bush got just 51 percent of the vote in the 11th. Under the proposed map, Gingrey’s district would have voted 64 percent for Bush. The district’s black population would also shrink from 28 percent to 12 percent under the new lines.

Among the minor changes to the Senate map reflected in the compromise proposal is the inclusion of all of Laurens County in the 3rd district. In the first version of the Senate map the middle Georgia county was split between the 3rd and 12th districts. The county is home to state House Minority Leader DuBois Porter (D).

Also, the population center of Rep. Tom Price’s suburban Atlanta 6th district is shifted under the new map. While two-thirds of the residents in his current district live in Cobb County, the new 6th would shift northward to include all of Cherokee County, in addition to the northern part of Fulton County and only a small portion of Cobb. Price lives in northern Fulton County.