Atlanta Journal and
Constitution: "Redistricting debate bare-knuckle politics: Parties
fight to save, gain Assembly seats." July 29, 2001
This time around, it really is just about politics.
Unlike in 1991, when they met to redraw political boundaries based on the 1990 census, lawmakers coming to Atlanta this week won't have to focus solely on creating as many majority-black districts as possible.
So legislators can admit their intentions for the 2001 redistricting session are purely political: what's best for the party --- be it Democratic or Republican --- is best for Georgia.
"It's not realistic to take the politics out of the process," said state Democratic Chairman David Worley. "This is Politics 101. No map is adopted without political considerations on the part of one party or the other."
Also unlike in 1991, everything will be on the Internet for the whole world to see, that is, if you like studying Georgia maps in detail and watching lawmakers debating political boundaries.
"It's an ugly, boring process," said Rep. Ben Harbin (R-Martinez), a member of the House Redistricting Committee. "It's a lot of political infighting for turf. It's important, but it's less exciting than watching paint dry."
The General Assembly starts meeting Wednesday to redraw legislative boundaries to account for shifts in the state's population in the 1990s. It will come back later to draw congressional lines.
At its base, the once-a-decade process of redistricting is about power, about who, and which party, wields it. The right lines can make it much easier for one candidate to win and make it more likely another will lose.
Among political players, what most characterizes redistricting is the urge for self-preservation. Second comes the ability to reward friends and punish foes.
In redistricting, intentions are often veiled, albeit thinly.
In the maps proposed so far, protection has shown up as a multimember district in north Atlanta putting Rep. Kathy Ashe (D-Atlanta) and another House member in one super-sized district. Republicans say the purpose is to dilute the influence of the constituents Ashe now has by lumping them in with Democratic voters. Ashe switched from the Republican Party, and the GOP says Democrats are just trying to make sure she gets re-elected.
Other maps are drawn to get rid of legislators by putting them into districts they probably can't win. For instance, a Republican House member could be put into a district heavy with voters who usually cast ballots for Democrats. Or the lawmaker's home may be moved into the district of a popular colleague.
Some of the lines will move with the population because of the growth in metro Atlanta and the lack of gains in small-town Georgia. Estimates are that six or seven House seats and two Senate seats now in the southern half of the state will shift north to reach the desired size of 45,900 people in each House district and 146,000 people in each Senate district.
That shift --- from traditional Democratic strongholds in the south to GOP suburbs in North Atlanta --- may mean Democrats will have to do some fancy line drawing to keep their majority.
"Now that Republicans make up 40 percent, roughly, of the Legislature, I suspect both the Democrats and the Republicans feel there is more at stake," said University of Georgia political scientist Charles Bullock.
Some of those shifts might suggest the GOP stands a chance of controlling the Legislature, except the Democrats still hold the majority and will draw the lines.
"The trick for the Democrats is to hold their ranks," Bullock said. "If they can hold their ranks, they can draw their plans, and the Republicans will be standing on the sidelines screaming it's unfair."
The GOP is already doing that. "Democrats have become too focused on what is in their own best interests and not what is in the best interests of the people of Georgia," Senate Republican Leader Eric Johnson of Savannah said when he released his proposed map last week. "Redistricting should not be about political power or party control or revenge. It should be about creating fair districts using an open process."
While the legal climate has changed since 1991, lawmakers still have some restrictions.
Under the Voting Rights Act, Georgia is among 16 states and cities that must clear new political maps with the U.S. Department of Justice because of a history of disenfranchising minority voters. Ten years ago, legislators and the Justice Department worked under the assumption that the law mandated as many black-majority districts as possible.
But a series of U.S. Supreme Court decisions since then, including one based on a Georgia map, have reduced the importance of race in redistricting, experts say. The courts have said legislators cannot reduce minority voting strength, but race can't be the primary concern when deciding where to put the lines.
"It's entirely different," said William Boone, a political science professor at Clark Atlanta University. "Even though race can be one of the factors, it cannot be the predominant factor. But the courts say politics is politics and they can move in a way, rather blatantly, to protect incumbents. This time around, it does not appear that you'll get as much collusion between blacks and Republicans."
In 1991, Republicans and black Democrats worked together in developing legislative and congressional maps. While more blacks were elected than ever before, Republicans came out ahead. Once African-American voters were pulled from neighboring areas and packed into districts in an effort to maximize the number of black-majority seats, those "bleached" districts favored Republican candidates.
The result was that the GOP took control of the state's congressional delegation --- increasing the number of Republican congressmen since 1991 from one to eight out of 11 members. Republicans moved closer to parity with Democrats in the General Assembly. In the state Senate, the GOP increased its stake from 11 to 24 of the 56 seats. In the House, the gain was 35 to 73 of 180 seats
"Last time around, you had members of the (Legislative) Black Caucus . . . who did not particularly see any need to be loyal to the state Democratic Party," Boone said. "This time around, it seems to be a completely different ballgame."
Black Democrats say they're not falling for the Republican strategy this time.
"They're looking to increase their numbers," Rep. David Lucas (D-Macon) said. "They did that to us 10 years ago. We're a helluva lot smarter now."
ON THE WEB
Atlanta Journal and
The level of nastiness increased Friday as state legislators moved closer to the formal start of redistricting, a high-stakes process that could determine many political futures.
"Am I to assume it will be a map of the Democratic Party of a map for the people of Georgia?" House Minority Leader Lynn Westmoreland asked when four Democrats were chosen to draft a plan.
"I'm sure there will be some political interests," replied the group's chairman, Tommy Smith (D-Alma).
Westmoreland (R-Sharpsburg) said there should be a subcommittee composed only of Republicans, to counter the panel the chairman named.
Smith told Westmoreland to pick the subcommittee members, so he named all 11 Republicans on the 25-member House Legislative and Congressional Committee.
The full committee plans to begin putting together its proposed House map Thursday.
That is less than a week before the Aug. 1 start of the special legislative session to redraw the state's political boundaries.
Because the number of people in Georgia increased 26 percent in the 1990s, the state gained two additional seats in Congress.
The number of seats in the state Legislature remains the same, but growth patterns dictate that several South Georgia and Middle Georgia seats will shift to metro Atlanta.
Though the session hasn't started, the partisan bickering is well under way.
Rep. David Lucas (D-Macon) immediately shot down a congressional plan proposed by a Republican Friday.
"That plan has about as much chance of passing in the state of Georgia as you do for being speaker," Lucas said to Rep. Ralph Hudgens (R-Hull), who was trying to sell them on a map he said Democratic Gov. Roy Barnes had approved.
"This map accommodates the interests of your governor," said Hudgens, who said Barnes voiced his support in a meeting with Athens-area legislators.
Hudgens said Barnes was concerned with protecting at least two Republican congressmen.
"Apparently Mr. Hudgens was in a different meeting than the governor was," responded Joselyn Butler, spokeswoman for Barnes.
Republicans presenting maps to the committee have, during the past two weeks, suggested plans that included lines for the entire state.
Democrats, on the other hand, have made public maps that cover only portions of Georgia; one or two legislative districts or a portion of the state's congressional districts.
"Quite frankly, I don't think any of these maps will make it," Westmoreland said.
"Whether you're helping the Republican Party or
the Democratic Party, we ought to be helping the people."
In a process already widely expected to end up in court, Georgia Democrats in control of redrawing legislative boundaries will virtually assure litigation if they continue pushing multimember districts, Republicans charged last week.
GOP reaction since the first two maps were floated in the General Assembly late last month has ranged from skepticism that Democrats are serious about multimember districts to outrage over the potentially potent weapon.
Both proposals would create multimember House districts, one in Fulton County and the other in the Rome area.
Georgia lawmakers are called on after each decade's census to draw new congressional and legislative district lines to reflect changes in the population. The House and Senate reapportionment committees have begun meeting in advance of back-to-back special legislative sessions on redistricting due to begin Aug. 1.
Multimember districts had been a long-standing tradition in the General Assembly until the redistricting after the 1990 census. At that time, the Legislature switched to single-member districts to avoid diluting black voting strength in violation of the federal Voting Rights Act.
Instead of targeting black voters, at least one of the two new maps appears aimed at diluting Republican voting strength by flooding Republican-turned-Democrat Kathy Ashe's Atlanta House district with Democratic-leaning voters.
''The voters in District 46 chose to be represented by a Republican, not a Democrat,'' said Liz Hausmann, Fulton County's Republican chairwoman. ''(With) this transparent scheme to protect (Ms. Ashe) ... the Democrats have already begun the ridiculous shenanigans that will no doubt dominate this redistricting season.''
The proposal is supported by black lawmakers from Fulton County, who say it won't have any effect on black voting strength.
Still, it could run afoul of the federal law for racial reasons, said Senate Minority Leader Eric Johnson.
''Republicans are not a protected class, but everybody's vote is diluted in multimember districts,'' said Mr. Johnson, R-Savannah, ''If a minority voter brings a case ... it's going to call additional attention to Georgia's entire process unnecessarily. It may put at risk all the other work we'll do.''
But Democrats argue that no court would strike down redistricting decisions based on political considerations.
''The courts have accepted partisan reasons for drawing districts from time immemorial,'' said David Worley, Georgia's Democratic chairman. ''Multimember districts are perfectly legal as long as they're not used to dilute the voting strength of a minority group.''
Georgia is not alone in having abandoned multimember districts in the wake of Voting Rights Act restrictions. While most state legislatures had multimember districts during the decades before the law took effect, the number now is down to 17, said Tim Storey, a redistricting expert with the National Conference of State Legislatures.
''There's a clear connection between the gradual elimination of multimember districts and the implementation of the Voting Rights Act,'' he said.
Of the 17 states that have kept multimember districts, seven ''nest'' their multimember House districts inside single-member Senate districts so that each voter chooses two House members and one senator. As a result, multimember House districts are in place throughout those states.
Rep. Ben Harbin, R-Martinez, said mixing mostly single-member House districts with a few multimember districts, as envisioned in Georgia, also could lead to a legal challenge. While some voters would get to choose two House members to serve them, others would get to vote for only one representative, he said.
''I think we could lose on the fact that it's not consistent,'' said Mr. Harbin, a member of the House Legislative and Congressional Reapportionment Committee.
At this early stage, it's uncertain whether the two maps proposing multimember districts are the beginning of a trend or an anomaly that quickly will be superseded by other strategies. Democrats weren't tipping their hands last week, leaving Republicans to speculate.
''This may be an attempt to cause confusion. I'd be surprised if they pass a plan that does it,'' Mr. Johnson said. ''I don't see why you put the state's entire redistricting process at risk with something states have been forced away from in the past.''
Mr. Johnson said he doesn't expect any multimember-district maps to turn up in the Senate, because Senate districts already are large, serving about 145,000 constituents on the average.
Rep. Lester Jackson, D-Savannah, said multimember-district proposals could crop up in a number of House districts in urban areas across the state, including Macon and Columbus.
''I don't see it happening in Savannah because Chatham County has really different communities,'' said Mr. Jackson, also a member of the House's reapportionment panel. ''I think the concept is interesting when you find similar communities.''
Mr. Worley hinted that there might be more multimember districts, if Democrats conclude it would help their chances in other parts of Georgia.
''They're a tool, like any tool, to be used to achieve a purpose,'' he said.
Some of the focus will shift from legislative redistricting to Congress when both legislative reapportionment committees meet again this week.
Lawmakers are expected to get a first look at several proposed congressional redistricting maps, including plans to draw a new district anchored by Athens and a second district serving the Augusta region.
Reach Dave Williams at (404) 589-8424 or [email protected].
Very, Very Special.
Georgia will take up Congressional redistricting in one of two special sessions beginning Aug. 1, Gov. Roy Barnes (D) announced last week.
The state Legislature traditionally has dealt with both Congressional and state legislative plans in a single session. A Barnes spokeswoman said the governor hatched this plan to allow legislators to focus exclusively on legislative districts in one session and Congressional lines in the other.
However, state Senate Minority Leader Eric Johnson (R) said Barnes' decision to separate the two was designed to prevent the Legislature's two minority groups, African-Americans and Republicans, from joining forces to barter their votes on one plan for concessions on the other.
Redistricting insiders expect the state to undergo a particularly interesting remap in which Democrats who control the process will try to stem the dramatic growth of Republicans in most suburbs. Georgia gained two House seats in reapportionment.
The remap could affect more than the state's House Members. Some House Republicans, bracing for a "Democratic gerrymander" that would force them into hostile new districts, say such a scenario may prompt them to challenge Sen. Max Cleland (D) or Barnes in 2002, rather than face tough re-election contests.
Atlanta Journal and Constitution
Atlanta Journal and Constitution
Georgia Parties Will Probably Split New Seats
by Jim Wooten
April 8, 2001
It's no surprise, but the most vulnerable of Georgia's congressional representatives is U.S. Rep. Charlie Norwood (R-Evans). If the Democrats --- or more precisely, the ambitious state Senate Majority Leader Charles Walker (D-Augusta), wants his current district, they've got it. Effectively drawing Norwood out, by packing his 10th Congressional District with Democrats, will be child's play when new districts are drawn by the Georgia General Assembly in August. How? First, anchor a congressional district in the east with 100,000 blacks in Augusta/Richmond County, more than 90 percent of whom vote Democratic, and on the west with 100,000 blacks in Macon/Bibb County. Then, take in Athens/Clarke County, which went 3-2 for Al Gore, on the north and sweep up predominately black and Democratic counties in east central Georgia.
Bingo: Georgia's fourth Democrat in the House. Norwood need not roll over, of course. Creating a Democratic district with an Augusta base results in a solidly Republican district to the north and west. Norwood would have the option of running there --- or of running against Gov. Roy Barnes or U.S. Sen. Max Cleland, both of whom are on the ballot in two years. Norwood is unpredictable and, drawn out of familiar territory, is equally liable to pursue any of the three options. Two other Republican congressmen are subject to district manipulation: Saxby Chambliss of the 8th, which runs from Barnesville through Macon and to the Florida line, and Mac Collins of the 3rd, which encompasses rapidly growing Republican territory on the south side of metro Atlanta. Neither can be defeated at the drawing table, but with a stretch, it may be possible to force one or the other to buy a mobile home. Collins, too, has made noises about running statewide. Playing games with his district could launch him into a statewide race, while still leaving a Republican district on the ground. As for Chambliss, Democrats have taken two good shots with candidates from central casting in an existing district that a Democrat should win.
In both cases, Chambliss won handily. The pickings here are unpromising. Besides, U.S. Rep. Sanford Bishop of southwest Georgia's 2nd District has some base erosion problems that require him to swap Republicans for Democrats, most likely with Chambliss. Dylan Glenn of Albany, who is now an aide to President George W. Bush, got 47 percent of the vote last November. Glenn's a real comer: an attractive and articulate young Davidson graduate with deep Washington connections. Bishop cannot survive the decade in this district, where every hearse deposits a Democrat, every moving van a Republican and every bus a Hispanic agricultural worker (who counts for census purposes but doesn't yet vote). All other members of the congressional delegation are safe.
The coast is trending GOP, which will make Jack Kingston's swing district more reliably Republican. Bishop's 2nd can be made secure for Democrats, but isn't now. Mac Collins' 3rd is safely Republican, even if the Democratic line-drawers under the Gold Dome play games with him. In the 4th, Cynthia McKinney's DeKalb district is safe for the decade. So, too, is John Lewis' 5th. The most solidly Democratic area of the the entire state is the territory extending from Lithonia through the Emory University area and Midtown to Bankhead Highway and then south to Jonesboro in Clayton County. That's the core of the 4th and 5th. Johnny Isakson's 6th is a 10-year lock. Democrats can game Bob Barr's 7th, but they can't get him. Chambliss is the 8th. Nathan Deal's mountain 9th is safe and will be a lock before the decade is out. Norwood is the 10th. John Linder's Gwinnett-based 11th is also a lock. While another Democratic district can and will be drawn, the other will be due north of Atlanta, and it is most definitely Republican. The outlook: One new Republican and one new Democrat in Congress, with at least three new faces.
Jim Wooten's column appears
Sundays, Wednesdays and Fridays. Editor of the Journal editorial pages
e-mail: [email protected]
The snapshot of Atlanta provided by the 2000 census shows the city stepping like Dorothy in the Wizard of Oz out of a black-and-white world into a rainbow of new political interests. The city's political map is about to undergo its most dramatic changes in years. The census showed the city has lost a small but significant number of blacks, while gaining whites, Hispanics and Asians. And that has members of the Atlanta City Council looking for the yellow brick road to re-election. Today, three maps of proposed council districts will be introduced to the council. The council will consider the proposals and hold public hearings before approving one of them as the city's new official map in May. The map then goes to the U.S. Department of Justice for final approval.
While the districts on the city's west side will change little, the reshuffling of overstuffed and underpopulated districts in the city's northern, eastern and central locations could produce considerable friction over the next few weeks. Explosive growth in Buckhead and other North Atlanta neighborhoods caused by the return of middle-class whites to the city will cause the three current majority white districts to shrink geographically. Other districts that have lost population will enlarge to reach the target number. As a result, the city will gain another majority white district. The racial composition of the council is harder to predict. Depending on which map is chosen, it could shift from majority black to majority white. Currently, the council has eight black and seven white members. Redrawing districts is more easily said than done. Every shift carries political consequences that could threaten incumbents running for re-election.
Nobody is feeling the pinch more than Councilwoman Debi Starnes, who represents council District 2 and plans to run for re-election. "I'm in the middle and I've got too many people," Starnes said. Currently, District 2 includes Inman Park, the Old Fourth Ward, downtown and the neighborhoods surrounding Turner Field in southeast Atlanta. Starnes, a white woman who represents a majority black district, lives in Inman Park. Her district contains 5,854 more people than the optimum number, 34,706, being used to guide the redistricting. Starnes' district is certain to become majority white as she loses the neighborhoods near Turner Field. "I don't want to lose all of the people I've worked with and have to start all over," Starnes said. Councilwoman Sherry Dorsey, who represents District 5 on the council, is also in a tough spot. Her district will have to gain about 6,500 people. Dorsey's district has become the city's petri dish for demographic change as incoming middle-class whites poured into East Atlanta, Kirkwood and Cabbagetown. Newcomers have transformed the neighborhoods of southeast Atlanta with persistent demands for better city services. Simultaneously, the redevelopment of public housing in East Lake replaced 650 units occupied by people paying little, if any, rent with 542 units, 276 of which are being leased at market rates.
Laura Crawley, 32, joined the East Atlanta Community Association as soon as she had settled into her new home in 1996. At the time, she said, the organization's meetings at the local library branch drew between 20 and 40 people. "When I first went, it was all about crime. Five years ago, that was what everybody talked about," Crawley said. "Now, when you go to a community association meeting, it's all about zoning." The meetings now regularly draw more than 100 people and had to move out of the library because there wasn't enough space. Dorsey, who won her last race by just 240 votes, has been at odds with white and black newcomers in her district for most of the past three years. Dorsey's district is 80 percent black. But redistricting could change that. One of the proposals would make her district 66 percent black. Dorsey could not be reached for comment on the redistricting proposals. William Boone, professor of political science at Clark Atlanta University, said the city's changing racial and socioeconomic composition, also will influence the mayor's race this year. "What you are introducing back into the city is more affluent people, black and white, and they are going to color the election," Boone said.
The new census shows Atlanta has begun to resemble Los Angeles in its multiethnic melting pot, according to Boone. And that will give rise to a new kind of politics, because neither black nor white voters will be able to effectively dictate the outcome of an election. Wise politicians will be the ones who reach out and link new constituencies, Boone said. In Los Angeles, Boone said, "in order to win, you have to form coalitions. In the city of Atlanta, you are fast approaching that situation." Hispanic and gay voters will begin to make their presence felt in this year's election, Boone said. In a close election, they could hold the key. Previously, candidates have counted on get-out-the-vote efforts in the city's public housing developments to provide an edge. Mayor Bill Campbell relied heavily on votes from public housing precincts for his victory over challenger Marvin Arrington in 1997. But seven Atlanta public housing clusters have been redeveloped since 1995, shrinking the number of housing units from 4,500 to 3,982 and renting a substantial number of those to tenants paying market-rate rents. Many of the former residents of these communities have been dispersed to other parts of the city and beyond with almost 1,500 housing vouchers, according to Rick White, spokesman for the Atlanta Housing Authority. As a result, areas that once housed thousands of potential voters with common political goals now contain fewer people and a far more diverse collection of political interests. Mayoral candidates instead will be turning to newly identified voter blocs that are organized and easier to reach.
The Georgia Equality Project, a political action committee for gays and lesbians, recently held a mayoral forum. Harry Knox, the project's executive director, said the organization has 12,000 constituents statewide, about half of whom live in Atlanta. "Our greatest strength used to be in Council District 6. There's still a significant number of people there, but increasingly East Atlanta, and of course, Grant Park and that area of the Oakland neighborhood around the cemetery, are all places where largely white, gay and lesbians have displaced many older black residents," Knox said. Knox said he expects as many as a half-dozen openly gay candidates in this year's city elections, which is likely to bring gay voters to the polls in record numbers. The city, Knox said, has "never had more than two gay candidates running in a cycle before. Certainly, it means that Atlanta has come of age from our standpoint. People are more concerned about potholes and sidewalks and infrastructure and police protection and those kinds of isssue than they are about who somebody loves. That shows real maturity on the city's part. These candidates will not be elected because of sexual orientation, but if they're perceived to be the best people for the job."
City Planning Commissioner Michael
Dobbins said he sees the passage of two bond referendums in the past seven
years as evidence of middle-class values creeping into city politics. As
evidence of the change, Dobbins also cites increased neighborhood activism
on zoning decisions and the public groundswell that reformed the city's
tree ordinance and prodded city leaders to increase the number of staff
The picture of Georgia politics that emerges from the just-released census count may explain the nervousness that characterized this year's General Assembly. The numbers pose significant problems for ruling Democrats. The elusive two-party system is not preordained. But the growth that has occurred in counties trending Republican and the disappearance outside the cities and shrinking rural areas of the traditional yellow-dog Democrat suggest that the state Senate, at least, is on the verge of change. Democrats now control it, 32-24. Redistricting will occur in August for the 2002 elections. If Republicans were in control of redistricting (they aren't; they're crumb-takers), they could draw 30 Republican districts. Even with Democratic dilution, though, the trend is GOP. An analysis of census winners and losers in the battle for control of the state Senate: The winners: all Republicans north of downtown Atlanta and the Senate's 11 African-American Democrats. Population growth in outlying areas protects Republicans; the Voting Rights Act makes it unlikely any minority Democrats will lose out. But none of the state's urban areas outside metro Atlanta --- not Macon, Savannah, Augusta or Columbus --- has kept pace with outlying growth.
To protect state Sen. Robert Brown in Macon, for example, the logical expansion would be into the district of fellow Democrat Faye Smith of Milledgeville, thereby putting her more at risk. Adjoining areas on the west and north are Republican, or trending that way. The options for adding Democrats are few --- and at another Democrat's expense. Throughout the state, that's the pattern. By the time African-Americans in the cities and the movers and shakers in the country are protected, Democrats run out of voters and territory before they're out of politicians. The most vulnerable of the Senate Democrats: Peg Blitch of Homerville, whose district hugs the Florida line from the coast to just east of Tifton. Either Harold J. Ragan of Cairo or Rooney Bowen of Cordele, whose districts are on the west side of I-75. Together they represent 15 mostly rural counties. The bigwig in that region is George Hooks of Americus, chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee. It's the one place in the state where another African-American district might be drawn, starting in Albany. But Ragan, Bowen or Michael S. Meyer von Bremen of Albany is gone.
By the time the bigwigs push, problems develop for Democrats in east central Georgia. Faye Smith of Milledgeville could find herself in a swing district. More likely, though, the loser in the squeeze will be Don Cheeks of Augusta, who is a bit too independent for fellow Democrats. My best bets among Democrats to bite the dust: Blitch, Ragan and Cheeks. In the metro area, white Democrats Greg Hecht of Morrow and Terrell Starr of Jonesboro have serious problems. Starr is the president pro tem of the Senate, the No. 2 job, but his county now has a black majority and both he and Hecht are vulnerable to primary opposition. Outside the metro area, the at-risk Democrats, by my reading of the numbers, are: Rene D. Kemp of Hinesville, whose coastal district drifts Republican. Faye Smith, depending on encroachment by more powerful Democrats. Dan Lee of LaGrange, who just dodged defeat in his current district and has no new Democrats close by. Richard Marable of Rome, who is in a shrinking box with metro Republicans headed up I-75, a craftier Democrat in Nathan Dean on the south side, Alabama to the west and hard-core social conservatives to the north. Carol Jackson of Cleveland, who might be protected if Democrats are willing to concede the mountains. At least three Democratic seats, I'm betting, change parties. And if Democrats are not both lucky and careful, even more. A real two-party system is a-coming.
Jim Wooten's column appears
Sundays, Wednesdays and Fridays. Editor of the Journal editorial pages
e-mail: [email protected]
When Democratic Party Chair David Worley says, "We'd like to see (Democrats success in statewide races) reflected in the maps," he betrays the real purpose to which the reapportionment process has been put in this country. Reapportionment is that process where incumbent elected officials select their voters, before the voters have an opportunity to elect their representatives. For once, I must agree with GOP Chair Chuck Clay's remark that, "They want to draw lines to benefit the Democratic Party." The question is, though, would the Republican Party do anything different were they to hold a majority in the Georgia Assembly.
If the Democrats are to live up to their name, if the Republicans are to "accommodate the voters", as Mr. Clay spoke of, then we would have universal and bi-partisan support for establishing a system of Proportional Representation (PR) in Georgia's election process. In a system of PR, the right to govern still belongs to the majority, but the right to representation belongs to all voters -- not just the ones who live in districts drawn to be safe for their candidates of choice. In a proportional system, the size of the party caucuses would reflect their support among the voting populace, in proportion to that support.
We live in a state where election turnout hovers at just shy of 50% of the registered electorate, in statewide races, and where fewer voters still, participate in electing their state legislators. If we are ever to see voter participation grow instead of decline, we will have to make every votes count, not just those in districts drawn to be competitive between the parties.
The United States is now the only nation in the world which dares to call itself a democracy without the widespread use of proportional representation in its elections. For further information on these more democratic ways of conducting elections and counting the votes, please see http://www.fairvote.org/ - the web site for the Center for Voting and Democracy. If we as voters don't educate ourselves about democracy, our elected officials will not do so, either. What the Assembly does or doesn't do on this issue in this August's Special Session will define the political landscape for another decade. It is up to us to insist that those actions further democracy and not merely partisan advantage.
-- Hugh Esco
A study released today by the Presidential Members of the U.S. Census Monitoring Board found that minorities in Georgia lost voter representation in DeKalb County when corrected census data was not released from the 1990 census. The study can be viewed at http://www.cmbp.gov. The study, conducted by Dr. Allan Lichtman, one of the nation's preeminent election experts, analyzed the ten states with the largest undercount in the 1990 census to find if the use of corrected census data would have affected the opportunities for minority voters to fully participate in the political process and elect officials of their choice.
Given the history of the undercount, the study could indicate a significant loss in minority voter representation if adjusted census data is not released in 2001. "The implications of these findings speak directly to the future voting opportunities for minorities in Georgia. Without the most accurate picture of the state, equal representation is much harder to achieve," said Gilbert F. Casellas, Presidential Co-Chair of the Monitoring Board. "Georgia is among the most affected states because of the tremendous undercounting of minorities," said Lichtman. "Minorities comprised 56 percent of the state's undercounted population, and unlike any other state, consists of mainly African Americans." Lichtman said the use of corrected data would have enhanced minority voter opportunities by increasing the baseline of majority-minority districts against which the next redistricting plan will be measured. The U.S. Census Monitoring Board, established by Congress in 1997, is a bipartisan board that monitors the Census Bureau's conduct of the 2000 Census. Its findings are reported every six months to Congress.
For more information on the Board,
visit: http://www.cmbp.gov .
More political clout, federal money and a larger slice of the local option sales tax are likely on their way to north Fulton based on the 2000 Census count, according to political observers. The official head count of the past decade reflects what Alpharetta and Roswell officials have long observed --- a dramatic population shift to the metro area's northern suburbs, which have generally been underrepresented and underfunded. Alpharetta Mayor Chuck Martin says his city's population has increased substantially since 1990, according to preliminary census data.
The city's growth spurt, from roughly 13,000 to 27,000 residents, makes Alpharetta the state's third fastest-growing city, he says. Martin is taking that information to the bargaining table this year as the mayors of Fulton County's 10 cities sit down to negotiate shares of the penny local option sales tax. The cut is based on population, services provided by cities to county residents and other guidelines. Martin complains that Alpharetta's share --- some $ 3.5 million --- has not been adjusted upward since 1980, while cities of similar size are getting three times as much. Martin says if those negotiations aren't satisfactory, he'll ask the Legislature to allow Alpharetta to impose its own local option sales tax and not support renewal of the county one.
Roswell Mayor Jere Wood says the big
census story for cities in north Fulton is the sales tax split. He says
Roswell should benefit in the upcoming talks because of its growing
population. "We have to work something out, if not, then everybody loses,"
Wood says. " There's a lot of money at stake." The 10-year national head
count also will bring overdue changes to north Fulton's political
landscape, says Fulton County Republican Party Chairman Hans Von
Spakovsky. He predicts the north Fulton area will gain a larger voice in
Washington by picking up Georgia's two new congressional seats. The county
GOP party chairman anticipates that Democrats will attempt to gerrymander
as many Republicans out of office as possible, triggering legal challenges
from the state GOP. "When the dust settles and the lawsuits are over, I
think north Fulton will end up with the two new congressional seats," he
says. Most certainly, he says, the 6th District, Newt Gingrich's old seat
now represented by Republican Rep. Johnny Isakson, will be divided in two.
Georgia has gained two seats in the U.S. House of Representatives based on newly released 2000 census figures. That means Cobb County's two congressional districts could change shape as the state grows from 11 representatives to 13. Cobb County could gain one or two state representatives and perhaps one state senator, political observers say. U.S. Rep. Bob Barr wants to stay ahead of any changes to his sprawling 7th Congressional District, which includes about 28 percent of Cobb County and parts of 10 more counties west of Atlanta. The Smyrna Republican put his four-bedroom house on the market Dec. 10, asking $ 319,750, according to a sales associate with Coldwell Banker Buckhead Brokers.
Members of Congress don't have to live in the district they represent, but a Barr spokesman said Barr wanted to give himself "the maximum amount of flexibility with the upcoming reapportionment." "From a practical standpoint, politically, they should live in the district, " said Linda Meggers, state director of legislative redistricting. "But the rules are controlled by federal guidelines," she said. No state requires its congressmen to live in their districts, she said. The state Legislature will meet this summer to begin the often contentious task of redrawing congressional districts as well as the current 180 state House and 56 state Senate districts. "Reapportionment is kind of survival of the fittest," state Sen. Steve Thompson (D-Mableton) said. "You're out there late at night and they're messing with your district. It's the kind of thing where you take your brother to the top of the cliff and kiss him before you push him off."
Chuck Clay, a Marietta lawyer who heads the state's Republican Party, says Cobb will definitely benefit from the new census count because the population has increased, especially in west Cobb. "You'd like to see us gain two (state House seats)," Clay said. As for the state Senate, he expects Sen. Phil Gingrey (R-Marietta, District 37) will be able to chop off the Cherokee portion of his district and concentrate more on Cobb County. Another state senator may also get a portion of Cobb County, Clay said. "Every time, there's a great hue and cry about all these radical changes that are going to occur," Clay said. "But it works out a lot less than everyone thinks. Once you start drawing lines, you'd be surprised at how little flexibility there is." Each congressional district must contain 627,000 people. It's unlikely that Cobb County will reach that figure and thus qualify to become its own congressional district, Meggers said.
The Census Bureau is to release county- by-county population figures in March. Even if it did make the mark, it's debatable if becoming a single congressional district would help Cobb County. Sometimes it's better for several representatives to claim a piece of a county; that way, the area has more voices in Congress. One section of Cobb that will likely come up for discussion is the central and south part of the county, including Marietta, Austell, Mableton and Powder Springs. Barr fared poorly there in November's election, and it's possible some legislators will want to try to take that area out of the 7th Congressional District and pair it with bits of other counties to make a new district, possibly a Democratic one, Thompson said.
Other possibilities for new
congressional districts are the Athens area, and the Douglas, Carroll and
Coweta areas, Meggers said. "The Democrats are out to draw two additional
Democratic districts, which they haven't been able to do, and the rest of
the state be damned," Clay said. Those redrawn districts are supposed to
create geographically compact districts that keep communities with common
interests or socio-economic bases intact. But a crop of ambitious
legislators, seeking to move onto the federal level, will almost certainly
influence the process, Thompson said. "That will be a big battle --- of
people wanting to draw themselves a congressional district to run in,"
Thompson said. Georgia's phenomenal 26.4 percent population growth in the
last 10 years is twice the national average and has made it one of only
four states in the country to grab two new congressional seats. The others
are Florida, Texas and Arizona. The state invested $ 3 million in a
campaign to count every person in the state, Meggers said, and it paid
off. "It's a big coup," Meggers said. In addition to the two extra
congressmen, Georgia will benefit from more federal dollars doled out
according to population.