Georgia's Redistricting News
Call: "Between the Lines."
September 10, 2001
Georgia Odd Couples
No one ever said redistricting in Georgia would be pretty.
Dumping a state House map that was approved with support from a coalition of Republicans and black Democrats, the state Senate last Friday gave the green light to a plan that would give Democrats a good shot at regaining the delegation's majority for the first time since 1994.
Georgia now has 11 seats in the House, eight of which are held by Republicans and three by Democrats. The state gained two more seats in reapportionment.
It was the second state Senate map floated in this year's round of Georgia redistricting. The first plan, which, like the second one, had the support of Gov. Roy Barnes (D), was pulled after Rep. Sanford Bishop (D) complained it would have encouraged nearby Rep. Saxby Chambliss (R) to challenge him in a new, GOP-leaning district.
Within days, state House Speaker Tom Murphy (D) introduced his own proposal, which immediately drew fire from African-American lawmakers, who were unhappy that, among other things, Rep. John Lewis' (D) Atlanta-based district would lose Hartsfield International Airport and Rep. Cynthia McKinney (D) would lose Emory University. Both facilities are major employers in those members' districts.
In response, state Rep. Ben Allen (D), an African-American, met with some conservative Republicans in Atlanta to draft a map that would create a fourth majority-minority district for Allen to run in.
The oddball coalition of state House Republicans and about 17 black Democrats teamed up last Wednesday to overthrow the Murphy map and pass a plan that would bode well for House Republicans, including Rep. Bob Barr.
Notably, the Senate map could cause headaches for Chambliss and Rep. Jack Kingston (R) by extending Chambliss' district along the coast into Kingston's base of Savannah. The plan could force a primary between the two House Republicans, or prompt one of them to retire and run to challenge Sen. Max Cleland (D).
Reps. Mac Collins (R) and John Linder (R) have also been thrown into the same district under the Senate plan. Barr and Deal appear safe.
A conference committee composed of a handful of Senate and House leaders will negotiate the final House map.
But Atlanta insiders said that because Murphy's influence in the redistricting process was undercut by the Allen-led rebellion, the Senate map is likely to be enacted.
The Democratic-controlled Alabama House adjourned Thursday after failing to pass a new House map that would turn retiring Rep. Bob Riley's (R) district into a Democratic stronghold. Lawmakers will take up the plan again today.
The plan, sponsored by state Rep. Ken Guin (D), would increase the percentage of black residents in Riley's eastern 3rd district from 25 to 37 percent. Otherwise, it would preserve most existing district lines.
Riley, who's retiring after three terms to run for governor, has won re-election by increasingly wide margins. He didn't even draw a Democratic challenger last year.
State legislators voted 46 to 42 for the plan, but the margin fell short of the three-fifths majority needed to pass a measure over the objections and delaying tactics of opponents.
"We needed some time. It looked like it was a ... Mexican standoff out there today," state Rep. Tim Parker (R) told the Birmingham News. "Really, it's going to be who does the best persuasion in the next 72 hours."
The state Senate, also controlled by Democrats by a wide margin, has approved a plan that would increase the Democratic strength in the 3rd, but not as substantially as would the House plan.
Chandra "Sighting" Interrupts S.C. Redistricting. A state lawmaker created a minor stir in South Carolina's redistricting debate last week when she informed her colleagues that Chandra Levy had appeared to her in a psychic dream.
Veering off course from prepared remarks on the state House floor, state Rep. Dorothy Pelote (D) alerted legislators debating an override to Gov. Jim Hodges' (D) veto of a GOP House map that she frequently has contact with the dead and that she recently had a vision of Levy, the 24-year-old missing intern who was romantically involved with Rep. Gary Condit (D-Calif.).
"The last person who visited me was ... I don't know if I need to call her name," Pelote said last Wednesday from the Speaker's rostrum. "Maybe I should not, because it's a controversial death now. She's missing. You know who I'm talking about. She has visited me - she has."
Pelote did not mention Levy's name on the House floor, but confirmed later to the Macon (Ga.) Telegraph that her comments referred to the California woman who has been missing since April 30.
"When I saw her, she was lying in a ditch and her eyes were closed," she said. "She was in a wooded area in a ditch."
It's unclear whether Pelote's comments had any impact on the GOP-controlled state House's subsequent failure to override Hodge's veto. South Carolina's House map will now be drawn by a federal court.
The state Senate approved a ban on video poker Friday and passed a congressional redistricting plan that sets the stage for final passage of a map next week.
Sen. Steve Thompson (D-Powder Springs) urged senators to accept minor changes made by the House to the video poker ban. Thompson said all lawmakers had worked hard to pass a bill that will "protect people's hard-earned dollars."
In part, Thompson was referring to the relentless campaign by Gov. Roy Barnes to ban the game. But 19 Republicans streamed to the well to praise the freshman Republican who first called for a ban --- Sen. Mike Beatty (R-Jefferson).
"If it hadn't become an issue for the administration, we wouldn't be here," said Sen. Billy Ray (R-Lawrenceville). "But without the efforts of Sen. Beatty, we wouldn't be here."
Barnes has not decided when he expects to sign the bill. Some operators have threatened to file lawsuits against the ban.
On the redistricting plan, Senate Democrats held together to pass their map by a one-vote margin. That improves their record from last week, when leadership yanked a previous version from the floor because it was headed to defeat.
"This Senate plan is a much better plan that reflects the diversity of the state, the political makeup of the state, and certainly meets the requirements of the Voting Rights Act," said Sen. David Scott (D-Atlanta), one of at least four black senators who opposed the Senate's first proposal.
The Senate plan would create at least six Democrat-leaning seats in a delegation that will grow to 13 members, up by two, because of the state's population growth during the past decade. The delegation now has three Democrats and eight Republicans.
Sen. Sonny Perdue (R-Bonaire) criticized lines drawn for several districts in Middle Georgia before highlighting a controversial Atlanta district that runs along the outside of much of I-285.
"It looks like the blood splatter from the entry wound through the heart of Georgia," Perdue said.
The Senate plan Tuesday is headed to a House-Senate committee, which is to resolve differences in maps each chamber has approved. If a compromise is reached, that plan will be sent to the governor. Then, the federal Justice Department or a federal court will be asked to accept or reject the plan.
The Georgia Senate showed Rep. Ben Allen on Thursday just how fleeting a victory over legislative leaders can be.
A day after a political map drawn by Allen, an Augusta Democrat with congressional aspirations, won surprise approval from the House over a proposal from Speaker Tom Murphy, the Senate Reapportionment Committee ignored it and voted for its own redistricting map.
The full Senate is scheduled to vote on the plan today.
If it passes, then a conference committee composed of a handful of Senate and House leaders will negotiate what the final congressional map will look like.
So what had been an extremely rare victory over the House leadership became, as Senate Majority Leader Charles Walker (D-Augusta) put it, "a bump in the road caused by people with an objective."
That objective, critics say, was to draw a map that would help state Rep. Allen become Congressman Allen.
The Senate committee, on a 16-4 vote, approved a plan that lawmakers say gives Democrats a stronger chance of regaining the majority in the congressional delegation they lost in 1994.
"We believe the Senate maps achieve the political objectives better than the House plan," said Sen. Robert Brown (D-Macon), vice chairman of the committee.
Namely, in six of the 13 congressional districts under the Senate map, the percentage of voting-age residents who are African-American exceeds 35 percent. Sen. Rusty Paul (R-Atlanta), former state GOP chairman, said that's significant because no Republican congressional candidate nationally has won a race in such a district.
Add one more district and Democrats could have a majority.
The Senate map would still provide a district for Allen, although it wouldn't include as much of the surrounding area. Allen did not comment Thursday.
The only sign of defection among Democrats on the committee came from Sen. Jack Hill (D-Reidsville).
Hill said he voted against the plan because many of the South Georgia counties he represents wanted to remain in the coastal 1st District. Instead, they were moved into districts that run into the center of the state.
Also, Sen. Vincent Fort (D-Atlanta), who is not a member of the committee, said, "I still have some issues with it."
Among concerns some black lawmakers want to address is keeping Emory University in the 4th Congressional District with most of DeKalb County and Hartsfield International Airport largely in the 5th Congressional District represented by U.S. Rep. John Lewis.
Fort said black lawmakers also essentially want to keep Clayton County together in one congressional district. Most of those issues appear to be handled in the Senate map.
A redistricting plan drawn to help Democrats regain control of Georgia's congressional delegation cleared the state Senate Friday as Democrats successfully resisted GOP efforts to split them along racial lines.
Democrats have a slim majority in both houses of the Legislature, but only if blacks and whites vote together. They opened the current special session determined to avoid a racial split.
By and large, that coalition has held, but a split occurred this week when some black Democrats in the House joined forces with Republicans to pass a redistricting plan drawn by Rep. Ben Allen, a black Democrat who wanted to create a black-majority district that he could run for Congress from.
According to analysts, Allen's map would give the state four or five Democratic-leaning districts, with eight or nine GOP-leaning districts.
The Senate plan would create seven districts where a Democrat could win, and six where the GOP should win.
Next week, a House-Senate conference committee will meet to reconcile differences between the House and Senate plans.
Democratic Rep. Calvin Smyre, the House's highest-ranking black, said he has talked to blacks who voted for the Allen plan and ``they have seen the light'' and will now support a plan that more closely resembles the Senate map.
Georgia has 11 congressional districts now, with eight seats held by Republicans and three by black Democrats. The state gains two seats because of population growth from 1990 to 2000.
In the Senate plan, most Republican incumbents are inconvenienced to some degree.
The plan also creates a spidery district encircling much of Atlanta - a district denounced by white Republican Sen. Sonny Perdue of Bonaire as ``the blood splatter from the entry wound through the heart of Georgia.'' The district would have a black voting population of 38 percent.
Republicans charged the plan dilutes black voting strength - an argument they hope echoes with the U.S. Justice Department, which must approve election law changes in Georgia and 15 other states to ensure black voting strength is not diluted.
But Sen. David Scott, a black Democrat from Atlanta, argued the plan is Fair and ``reflects the clear diversity of this state.''
Only one Democrat - a white lawmaker - joined the Republican side in voting against the Senate plan.
A quiet, middle-aged David out of nowhere toppled one of the state's Goliaths on Wednesday.
Or at least, he made the giant stumble. The question now is how much the man with the slingshot will pay for the honor.
In a surprising pair of votes, the state House rejected a map of 13 new congressional districts hand-carved by its powerful leader, Speaker Tom Murphy.
Blame it on Rep. Ben Allen (D-Augusta), who admits to eight years of invisibility at the State Capitol.
The proprietor of a one-man law firm, Allen got his own congressional map approved instead, via a brief alliance of black Democrats and white Republicans eager to make House leaders squirm.
It was a day's worth of glory, but perhaps not much more. The Senate is expected to scrap Allen's map. That would allow the final congressional map to be drawn by a small committee of House and Senate leaders --- and Allen has already been told he's not invited.
Allen, 47, said one goal was to create a district for the Augusta area and the African-American voters surrounding it. Another, Allen admits, was his own Washington ambitions. "I . . . told the speaker that I'm interested in running for Congress," he said.
Presumably Allen can scratch Murphy from any list of campaign contributors.
Black Democrats in the state House emphasized their concerns over congressional redistricting Wednesday by joining Republicans to defeat a map crafted by House Speaker Tom Murphy.
The surprising vote is the second time in days that black Democrats broke from their party. Last week, up to four black senators refused to support their party's Senate congressional map, forcing the leadership to take it off the floor before it was defeated.
But Wednesday's House action was made moot today when a quick vote in the Senate Reapportionment Committee banished the map drawn by Rep. Ben Allen (D-Augusta).
Allen's map was replaced today, on a 16-4 vote, with a Senate version, which lawmakers say gives Democrats a stronger chance of regaining the majority in the congressional delegation they lost in 1994.
"What happened Thursday in the Senate and (Wednesday) in the House is part of a whole," said Sen. Vincent Fort (D-Atlanta), who led a movement to boost the Legislative Black Caucus' role in redistricting.
"African-Americans were frustrated at the process and how their points of view were not taken into account," Fort said. "There are expressions made, but they are not being listened to."
In the House, a cadre of 17 black Democrats voted with Republicans to toss out Murphy's map and replace it with one drawn by Allen, an African-American who said he plans to run for Congress.
Oddly enough, Allen's map was similar to one presented by House Minority Leader Lynn Westmoreland (R-Sharpsburg), barring variations in North Georgia. Both seem designed to send nine Georgia Republicans to Congress in a delegation that will grow by two members, to 13, because of the state's population growth in the 1990s.
A stunned Murphy said he did not know what caused his proposal to fail. Speaking from the well of the House, the speaker said he had tried to build a district that suited Allen. Murphy said in the end he could not do it, because it would have robbed neighboring districts of likely Democratic voters.
"I wanted to help Mr. Allen, but he wants to eat up everybody's district to make his and we couldn't do that," Murphy said.
After Wednesday's vote, Murphy speculated that Republicans may have duped black Democrats into partnering with the GOP in a move reminiscent of 1991. Then, black Democrats and the GOP worked together to pack black voters into districts to boost the chances of black candidates. Three black representatives were elected, but the GOP took over the congressional delegation.
"I think the Republicans played them," Murphy said. "It's the same thing that happened 10 years ago. . . . I don't think they realized they were creating (so many) Republican districts."
But the black Democrats knew exactly what they were doing, said Rep. Carl Von Epps (D-LaGrange), chairman of the black caucus.
Von Epps said members of the caucus derailed the speaker's plan to get the ear of House leaders and to help Allen craft a district more favorable to black candidates than the one provided by Murphy's plan.
"Some members felt that the best way to affect these changes was to vote as they did today," Von Epps said.
Von Epps repeated three concerns he had raised Tuesday in a meeting of the House Redistricting Committee. Several black lawmakers said the remarks were not taken seriously by ranking Democrats.
The caucus wants to restore the Emory University area to the DeKalb County-oriented district served by Rep. Cynthia McKinney (D-Ga.). Both the House and Senate proposals would move it to Rep. John Lewis' Atlanta district. The issue, Von Epps said, is jobs. Emory is a major employer in DeKalb.
Jobs are the root of another caucus concern, this time in Lewis' district. The House plan would split Hartsfield International Airport between Lewis and a new seat serving Clayton and other counties outside I-285. The caucus wants only one member of Congress to have a say over those jobs, Von Epps said.
The last concern involved Murphy's proposed 8th District, which sweeps from Middle Georgia to the Florida border and serves a portion of all the coastal counties. Von Epps said the district has no "community of interest," which is a term for putting like-thinking people in a district.
Von Epps said it would be incorrect to interpret Wednesday's vote as the start of a relationship between Republicans and black Democrats.
"Today's vote is not the final vote. We have several more steps in the process," he said. "As the speaker said, we're just in the first inning."
Charles Bullock of the University of Georgia pondered the reasons behind the recent movement from the black caucus.
"What struck me (was) an indication of unrest, not necessarily that people were in rebellion, but there was a degree of unhappiness," Bullock said. "It was the first real crack in what seemed like a monolithic Democratic Party. My guess is that it has to be an awful lot harder for the speaker to keep this group together now than it was 10 or 20 years ago."
More than a dozen black Democrats teamed with white Republicans in Georgia's House to pass a redistricting blueprint that could give Republicans a better chance to win seats in Congress.
The plan, drawn up by Democratic state Rep. Ben Allen, passed on Wednesday despite the objections of powerful House Speaker Tom Murphy, also a Democrat. It still must go through the state Senate.
"I can't help but believe the African-Americans will see what they've done and wake up. I don't think they realized they were joining the Republicans so thoroughly,'' Murphy said.
Georgia now has 11 seats in the U.S. House of Representatives, eight held by Republicans and three by Democrats. The state will gains two more seats in the next election because of its population growth.
Murphy had offered his own plan on how to redraw Congressional district lines, one that some Democratic leaders said would give Democrats a strong shot at taking a majority of the state's seats in the U.S. House. But 18 Democrats -- 17 of them black -- supported Allen's substitute plan instead. They were joined by most of the Republicans.
Allen's plan draws the House districts in such a way that a majority of the seats become GOP strongholds, many legislators said.
Allen, a 47-year-old attorney from Augusta, admitted his map was crafted to give him a good shot at winning a planned congressional race in 2002. But he made no apologies, saying that -- unlike Murphy's map -- his doesn't intentionally create heavily minority, Democrat-leaning districts for the purpose of putting Democrats in Congress.
"Our party should be strong enough that we don't have to force people of color into all different districts because without them the Democrats won't win,'' Allen said.
The proposal now goes to the state Senate, where Democratic leaders plan to substitute their own map for the House plan. Then a House-Senate conference committee will try to resolve differences.
The posturing is almost over and the real map work set to begin on Georgia's congressional districts.
Both the state House and Senate on Tuesday presented redistricting plans that agree on one basic point --- sending six or seven Democrats to Congress. Georgia now is represented by three Democrats and eight Republicans, and two new districts will be created because of the state's population growth in the past decade.
But there are crucial differences in how the two chambers want to reach that goal.
The House, whose redistricting committee approved its first congressional map Tuesday, would make it hard for U.S. Rep. Bob Barr (R-Ga.) to keep his seat by creating a predominantly Democratic district in his area of northwest Georgia.
Two incumbent Republicans would be placed in the same district --- North Georgia representatives Nathan Deal and John Linder --- and Republican Rep. Saxby Chambliss (R-Ga.) could find himself campaigning in a vastly different south-central Georgia district.
The Senate plan, a revamp of a previous version, would leave Barr and Chambliss in heavily Republican districts. It would challenge Rep. Charlie Norwood (R-Ga.) and Rep. Jack Kingston (R-Ga.) by creating two Democratic leaning districts for them.
Kingston said he prefers the House plan. "I'd say the House put more effort and less politics into it," he said.
Barr decried the entire process as back-room politics at its worst. "It is an unfortunate reality these maps are being drawn by a select few Democratic operatives, with virtually no input from citizens or local communities," he said.
Both the House and Senate plans would have a new district run around the outside of I-285, with its population base being all of Clayton County. But the chambers disagree over its boundaries.
The Senate plan would have the 13th District serve more minority voters than the House plan, thereby increasing the chances of a black candidate. The Senate proposal addresses concerns raised last week by some black senators, who said the previous version of the Senate map diluted the voting strength of black voters in metro Atlanta to bolster districts for white Democrats.
"I made my concerns clear and I had some input on this map," said Sen. David Scott (D-Atlanta). "I'm taking a 'wait and see' attitude at this point."
The points of disagreement are to be resolved in a conference committee composed of three senators and three representatives. Behind the scenes, the real heavyweights in the battle will be Gov. Roy Barnes, House Speaker Tom Murphy (D-Bremen) and Lt. Gov. Mark Taylor.
Murphy drew most of the House plan, said Rep. Tommy Smith (D-Alma), chairman of the House redistricting committee. Murphy and the governor already have crossed swords over the redistricting map the House drew for its members, with Barnes refusing to sign the original plan and sending it back for more work.
Taylor raised questions about both plans having just two districts touching the Florida border, instead of the three districts that he said have served South Georgia for the past four decades. "That will be a sticking point that I'll have to take a good look at," Taylor said.
The conference committee could begin meeting as early as Friday, but most likely will wait for the weekend to begin work. A few more housekeeping measures are required, and the process starts today in the House.
The House is expected to pass its plan. The Senate is slated to substitute its plan onto the House bill and pass it as early as Friday. The House will vote to disagree with the Senate's changes, and the Senate will insist on its position. Then the measure will be assigned to the conference committee.
Trying to reverse Republican gains over the past decade, Georgia Democrats unveiled a congressional redistricting plan Tuesday that features several winding districts connecting far-flung Democratic areas. Although Georgia Democrats have controlled both houses of the state Legislature and the governor's mansion since Reconstruction, Republicans took eight of the state's 11 congressional seats in the 1990s. With two seats being added because of population gains, Democratic leaders want new lines that will give the party a chance to win six or seven seats. Republican state Sen. Tom Price called the map an unprecedented example of partisan gerrymandering and "an embarrassment to the state."
Democrats have acknowledged they are trying to turn the clock back on GOP gains in the last decade, but said the map reflects the state's population and voting patterns.
The Legislature is meeting in special session to redraw legislative and congressional districts, as required after every census.
The map, unveiled and quickly approved Tuesday by the Senate Reapportionment Committee, would create three new Democratic-leaning districts: one in western Georgia, one encircling metropolitan Atlanta and a third that stretches nearly 200 miles, connecting Athens and Augusta with a thin tail extending to Savannah.
"My 4-year-old nephew can draw lines straighter than this," said Republican Jack Kingston, the congressman who represents most of coastal Georgia.
Kingston and John Linder are the GOP incumbents hurt most by the plan.
Kingston, overwhelmingly re-elected last year, would have to campaign in middle Georgia and in Macon, a majority black city where the white Republican is a virtual unknown. Linder's district was split between two other Republican incumbents, but he said he is not too worried because the map still could be changed.
The remaining Republican incumbents may have an easier time. Democratic estimates say many of the GOP-leaning districts are now 60 percent to 70 percent Republican.
The Justice Department must review the plan to ensure it does not dilute minority voting strength. Redistricting plans in the South are subject to department approval because of the region's history of discrimination.
Three black Democrats represent Georgia in Congress, but all the other seats in the state are held by white Republicans.
As lawmakers prepared to approve new state political boundaries, Gov. Roy Barnes looked at the lines and saw another decade of Democratic control in the Senate. For the House, the picture was more cloudy.
And with good reason, state Democratic Party officials said.
Based on computer models that include past election results, party officials said last week, the House could have created 116 seats with 54 percent likely Democratic voters, rather than the 81 seats House leaders included in their map, and 123 with more than 50 percent likely Democratic voters, as opposed to the 103 in the plan approved.
The numbers tell Democratic strategists that the party could lose control of the House this decade.
"It's going to make it tough to hold it for 10 years," said John Kirincich, the state Democratic Party's executive director. "That's an understatement."
Such numbers helped explain why Barnes and some of his legislative allies wanted to take another look at House political boundaries during the second special session, which opened Wednesday. Many lawmakers expressed shock at Barnes' call to make alterations to the legislative maps, but House leaders said when their negotiations with the governor ended during the first redistricting session, which closed out Aug. 17, he still wanted some changes.
A lot is at stake politically. Democrats owned the Statehouse during the 20th century, but Republicans started moving into the neighborhood in ever greater numbers after lawmakers began redrawing boundaries in 1991.
Republicans took over the congressional delegation, won some statewide offices --- although not the top jobs --- and increased their stake from 11 to 24 of the 56 Senate seats, and from 35 to 74 of 180 seats in the House.
Although Democrats say GOP gains have slowed, Georgia's population growth has continued to be strongest in Atlanta's suburbs, where voters have been electing Republicans for more than a decade.
So Democrats had to do some creative line drawing. Computer software allowed them to plug in partisan voting records from any number of past local and statewide elections to give them districts that would lean toward electing Democrats.
The party's goal was to create as many districts as possible that lean Democratic. But Barnes allies said the top priority of House leaders, led by Speaker Tom Murphy (D-Bremen), was to protect incumbent Democrats. Those incumbents didn't want to run in districts that, in some cases, were narrowly Democratic. They wanted more of a guarantee that they'd have an advantage.
"The members told us, in light of the number we took them, they know their districts better. And from their perspectives, we had to weigh out on the side of the incumbents," said House Majority Caucus Chairman Calvin Smyre (D-Columbus).
"From day one, I've always said we welcomed the Democratic Party's and the governor's recommendations," he said, but added, "I have had to take under consideration how the members of the caucus feel."
Some argue that the party's formula won't assure future success anyway.
Jim Coonan, an Atlanta political consultant who has crunched numbers for legislative campaigns since 1986, said lawmakers are being misled into believing that a 54 percent Democratic vote, for instance, is a guaranteed win.
"You can't say 54 percent is a magic number and draw all your districts that way," he said. "It's a performance number that provides an incomplete picture of voting behavior, and yet, we're basing the decision on redistricting on that incomplete knowledge."
Kirincich said the plan to greatly increase the number of Democratic seats would have put nearly half of the General Assembly in super-sized, multimember districts. The proposal also would have created more black-majority seats, he said. In the plan House members approved, he said, "There are a lot of incumbents in 51-52 percent (Democratic) seats. In the short term, we'll pick up seats in this map."
The long term may not be as bright, as marginal Democratic districts bump up against Republican districts with spreading populations.
"I think the House map, as drawn now, will place power into the hands of the Republicans within the next four years," said Rep. Earl Ehrhart (R-Powder Springs), House minority whip. "Georgia is changing; it's becoming more and more Republican. As clever as they want to be, I think they are going to outsmart themselves."
House Minority Leader Lynn Westmoreland (R-Sharpsburg) said the GOP may have a more difficult time recruiting candidates in some heavily Democratic districts. But he added, "We are going to do everything we can to beat them with their own map."
That map will change somewhat during the second redistricting session. Concerned that the House map might have problems complying with the Voting Rights Act, Barnes said he wanted to focus on three areas where minority voting districts could be created or strengthened. But Barnes also said he did not expect to push for wholesale changes.
Kirincich said lawmakers could tweak the boundaries on other districts, but none of the changes would nudge the trend of the seats more than one percentage point.
"This session is really about fixing the legal problems," he said.
Staff writer David Pendered contributed to this article.
Gov. Roy Barnes insisted Thursday he is not challenging House leaders or their duty to draw their own redistricting map. He just wants to make a few changes to their plan to make sure it's legal.
Barnes, in his first public statements on the topic since he ordered legislators to redraw parts of the political maps they approved last week, said he did not expect to push for wholesale changes in the maps. Concerned that the House map might have problems complying with the Voting Rights Act, he said he wanted to focus on three areas where minority voting strength could be enhanced.
"There are two or three . . . areas that trouble me (concerning) the Voting Rights Act," said Barnes, who previously commented on the subject through a spokeswoman.
Speculation that the governor might push for big changes in the House map followed his surprise announcement that legislative redistricting would be on the agenda for the summer's second special session. The Legislature passed its legislative maps Aug. 17, and members were expecting to put their energy into drawing congressional lines when they came back to the state Capitol Wednesday.
The governor also dismissed any suggestion of tension between him and the House leadership --- a day after Speaker Tom Murphy and House leaders asserted their independence in redistricting.
"I think I have a good relationship. Any time we have a legislative session, there's always some give and take," he said, speaking briefly at a news conference on another topic, video poker.
The governor's comments Thursday seemed a step toward easing the rhetoric of the day before, when the powerful Murphy told his chamber that the House, not the governor, would fix any problems in its map.
The governor's concerns with the House map, as expressed by spokeswoman Joselyn Butler, center on two districts in Atlanta and a district near Augusta that may not maximize black voting strength.
House leaders said the state's attorneys had told them initially that the plan they had adopted was fine and should satisfy the requirements of the federal Voting Rights Act, which says Georgia, among other states, cannot change election laws in a way that dilutes minority voting strength.
In a separate technical problem, a computer glitch excluded 32 Troup County residents from any Senate or House district. Lt. Gov. Mark Taylor said the Senate map will be fixed by allowing for an automatic correction of errors; the overlooked census tract will be attached to the closest district.
No other changes will be made, he said.
Staff writers David Pendered and James Salzer contributed to this article.
Republicans can hang out on the sidelines. This big legislative redistricting fight is between Democratic heavyweights.
A day after Gov. Roy Barnes stunned lawmakers by telling them they'd have to fix the political boundaries they had approved Friday, House leaders asserted their independence.
House Speaker Tom Murphy (D-Bremen) said he'd listen to Barnes' suggestions, but he assured colleagues in the chamber, "When we leave here, this House is going to reapportion itself." The comment won applause.
Barnes has also vowed to ban video poker during the second special session, which began Wednesday. But House Majority Caucus Chairman Calvin Smyre (D-Columbus) said, "We will probably land on the side of limiting video poker." As far as a ban on the games, "I would be surprised if that would happen."
While they supported Barnes' election in 1998 and have generally sided with him on legislation since, House members say the leadership wants to maintain independence from the executive branch.
"I don't think we've ever had a governor this involved in redistricting," said Rep. Ben Harbin (R-Martinez), a member of a House Redistricting Committee. "The battle is not just about Roy Barnes, it's about checks and balances in government."
Barnes' call for the second redistricting session also thinly masked a philosophical difference on redistricting with Murphy and his House leaders that could take weeks to resolve.
Barnes has concerns that House leaders missed an opportunity during the first redistricting session to create more Democratic House seats, his allies say. The governor sees redistricting as a chance to cement Democratic control in the General Assembly for the next decade, and he doesn't want to miss any opportunity to make that happen.
Murphy and his leadership team, critics argue, merely wanted to protect Democratic incumbents and weren't looking as far ahead.
So now lawmakers are back in Atlanta, taking another look at the maps they had hoped were old news, while also facing congressional line drawing, Barnes' video poker bill and a slew of other issues.
Throughout the first day of the second session, legislative leaders chose words carefully, while everybody else just speculated on what had happened. Some lawmakers pointed the finger at Barnes, saying he was trying to dictate political boundaries.
"We were in special session for 11 days at a cost to the taxpayers of about a half-million dollars and yet we have no map,'' said House Minority Leader Lynn Westmoreland (R-Sharpsburg).
Barnes has said little publicly --- and all of it through a spokeswoman --- about why he wants lawmakers to reconsider the House and Senate maps. In the House, he said, state attorneys contend that Georgia might have trouble getting federal approval because lawmakers created two multi-member districts in Atlanta that could have produced additional black-majority districts, and that the seat of black Rep. Alberta Anderson (D-Waynesboro) had effectively been turned into a white-majority seat. In the Senate, he said 32 voters in Troup County were accidentally left out of a district because of a computer glitch.
Barnes declined Wednesday to say more.
Senate Majority Leader Charles Walker (D-Augusta), a Barnes ally, said the governor is concerned that the House map missed opportunities to create black districts. Walker also said, "The House Speaker is trying to protect rural legislators."
Instead of lawmakers in rural districts with little population growth losing their seats, district lines were shifted to keep them in office. But some black lawmakers said that worked against African-Americans because many of those protected legislators were rural whites. Some lawmakers say Barnes wanted the House to create about 125 seats that would elect a Democrat most of the time. The House formed about 105 such districts.
Smyre, who was involved in the negotiations with the governor during the first redistricting session that ended Friday, said the House is willing to consider making changes in the districts Barnes has mentioned. But he added that the governor "has made suggestions for other areas to look at. We may not have gone as far as some may have liked."
The potential for a bloody political battle between the Barnes administration and one of the legislative bodies has been talked about since shortly after the governor took office. Republicans dubbed Barnes "King Roy," saying he exercised too much control over everything from education to local property taxes. Harbin noted that Murphy, who has piloted the House since 1974, has been through these kind of political poker games for decades. "If they are battling each other in the House over redistricting, I think most people feel Murphy will be the winner," Harbin said.
The question is, how long will it take. "I think the next few days will tell if we're going to be here until October or if it's going to get over quickly," Harbin said.
Gov. Roy Barnes stunned state lawmakers Tuesday by instructing them to take another crack at drawing the district maps for the House and Senate --- the same ones they just spent 17 days fighting over.
"This is too bizarre," said House Republican Leader Lynn Westmoreland of Sharpsburg.
Barnes spokeswoman Joselyn Butler said lawyers for the governor spotted both major and minor "legal concerns" in the legislative maps that the Legislature approved Friday, the day the first special session ended. The major issues dealt with concerns over what the maps do to black voting strength in certain House districts.
Even the leaders of Barnes' own Democratic Party were surprised. Lt. Gov. Mark Taylor had held a joint news conference with Barnes on Tuesday morning, but he knew nothing about the governor's decision to re-examine legislative maps.
"I was not aware of anything wrong --- unless there's some sort of legal discrepancy. I'm a little bit at a loss as to why this is happening," Taylor said. "But I'm ready to learn what the issues are."
The decision heaps more on an already loaded agenda the Legislature must tackle in a second special session beginning at noon today. In addition to redrawing House and Senate districts, the General Assembly also will take up political boundaries for Georgia's congressional delegation, video poker and straight-ticket voting.
"Wow. This is not going to be a short session," said Senate Republican leader Eric Johnson of Savannah.
The most serious problems with the legislative maps appear to be in two House districts --- the four-member District 41 in Fulton County, with an overall black population of 23 percent, and the three-member District 52 in DeKalb County, with an overall black population of 29 percent. Butler said a majority-black, single-member district could be drawn from each of the two multi-member districts.
Evidently, Barnes' legal staff is concerned that not drawing those majority-black districts might risk Justice Department rejection of the maps --- as Republicans argued during last week's debate.
But reworking those two multi-member districts would mean refiguring the places of seven House members in metro Atlanta, and that could create a ripple effect that would spread across the new maps.
It also has the potential for creating a confrontation between the governor and House Speaker Tom Murphy.
"Wouldn't it be interesting if the governor asks the chambers to relook at the plans, and the House said, 'No, we've done enough. We looked at it, and we're happy with the plan we approved,' " said Charles Bullock, a University of Georgia political scientist. "There may be lots of fireworks. This could be more exciting than a lot of general sessions."
The minor concern with the legislative maps was a "software glitch" that caused the omission of 32 voters in Troup County. Lawmakers said that kind of error is not uncommon, and would usually be fixed when the Legislature holds its regular session in January.
In addition, the black voting population in the Augusta-area House District 100 of Rep. Alberta Anderson, a black Democrat, dropped below the 50 percent mark, Butler said. That could violate U.S. Justice Department prohibitions against diluting the black vote.
Throughout the first special session, which ended Friday, some lawmakers had complained about the governor's active role in drawing the maps.
With computer data, Barnes showed wavering members --- especially those in the House --- the voting trends statewide, district by district, precinct by precinct. He proposed ways to stop, and hopefully turn back, Republican gains at the Statehouse.
In the House, the governor's goal was to create 140 districts in which more than half the voters had proven Democratic leanings. The plan the House drew only had 105. A key unanswered question is whether Barnes and Murphy will revisit the issue.
On Tuesday, Murphy said he had expected to "revisit" the maps to make minor adjustments. "I knew we were going to look at it in January, but it suits me to look at them now," Murphy said.
Murphy and Taylor weren't the only ones caught off-guard.
"What does this really mean?" asked Rep. Calvin Smyre (D-Columbus), a leader in the House and chairman of the Democratic Caucus. "It's something we have to swallow. I think we've got to look at areas that everybody has in mind and start tweaking. This is tough. It's going to be more like a regular than a reapportionment session."
Staff writers David Pendered and Jim Galloway contributed to this article.
Congressional redistricting did not go so well for Georgia Democrats 10 years ago.
They entered the process holding 9 of the state's 10 seats, with Newt Gingrich as the lone Republican. They ended it with three seats ó all held by blacks ó and watched helplessly as eight Georgia Republicans trooped to Washington. When it was over, anyone looking to document the role of redistricting in the partisan realignment of the South needed look no farther than Georgia.
As they gather for a special legislative redistricting session that begins on Wednesday, Georgia Democrats hope this year will be different. The state, along with Arizona, Florida and Texas, will gain two seats in Congress through reapportionment, and its Democratic governor and legislative leaders clearly intend to draw lines that will help elect their partisans to the new seats.
But they also must decide how aggressive to be. If they create maps that not only maximize Democratic chances in the two new districts but also threaten any of the eight Republican incumbents, they may encourage one or more of the Republican congressmen to run for governor or United States senator next year.
Gov. Roy Barnes and Senator Max Cleland, both Democrats, face re- election in 2002. Mr. Cleland, who won a close race in 1996, is likely to be singled out by the Republicans, who are only one seat from a majority in the Senate.
Republican leaders in Georgia have become explicit in recent days in suggesting that any incumbent congressman who is drawn into a disadvantageous district will have to take a hard look at a statewide race.
"We've got eight Republican members of Congress from Georgia, all of whom are pretty satisfied with their districts," said one of the eight, Representative Charlie Norwood. "And if the governor or the Legislature tears up our districts, they've got eight candidates potentially waiting to run against him. And if they do it too bad, there will be plenty of us left over to run against Cleland."
Ralph Reed, the state Republican chairman, said the story of redistricting, in Georgia and elsewhere, was often one of unintended consequences.
"In reapportionment, as in all politics, sometimes you have to be careful what you wish for," Mr. Reed said. "They may bring quite a U.S. Senate or governor's race down on their head if they mess around with this."
But Robert S. Kahn, Mr. Barnes's chief of staff, said the governor and Democrats in the Legislature could not allow themselves to be intimidated by Republican threats.
"It could be that they want to use this to bluff us into creating safe seats for them," Mr. Kahn said. "Then there will be safe Republican seats, and they might still run against us. So I don't put much stock in these conspiracy theories."
Mr. Kahn said the governor's goal would be "to insure that the process is fair." But he also said that "there's a chance" both new seats could be drawn to favor Democrats and that "there's a shot" one or more existing Republican districts could be redrawn to make Democrats more competitive there.
With Republicans holding a majority of only 10 House seats in Washington, redistricting could have a significant impact on Democratic chances to regain control in 2002 after eight years in the minority. Redistricting is expected to help Republicans in several other states, so the Democrats' ability to pick up seats in states like Georgia could be critical.
The Democrats may have an easier time controlling their fate this year than a decade ago. At that time, the Justice Department under President George Bush essentially instructed states to maximize minority voting strength by concentrating black voters in a few districts, which then left other districts with majorities of white Republican voters. And Democrats in the Georgia House of Representatives made things worse for their party by drawing Mr. Gingrich out of his district, a move that backfired when he simply moved to another Republican-leaning district.
"They became fixated on trying to cut Newt out of the political scene and in so doing laid the groundwork for several more Republican seats," said Representative Bob Barr, a Republican from the northwest Atlanta suburbs.
The last redistricting in Georgia, along with those in several other states, generated a decadelong series of Supreme Court cases about the role of race in legislative mapmaking. The most recent rulings by the court dictate that race cannot be a predominant factor in the drawing of district lines, but that redistricting plans may be defended on purely partisan grounds, which are often indistinguishable from racial ones.
Several of Georgia's incumbent Republican congressmen have suggested that they would explore a race for governor or United States senator if they felt they could not win in their redrawn Congressional districts. They include Mr. Norwood, Mr. Barr and Representatives Saxby Chambliss and Jack Kingston.
Mr. Chambliss said that he had been considering a race against Mr. Cleland and that "redistricting will be a strong consideration in my mind."
Mr. Norwood, who recently led the Congressional battle for a patients' bill of rights, said he hoped to continue serving the 10th Congressional District. "If they make it just impossible," he said, "I've got to go to church and pray."
And Mr. Barr said redistricting "certainly will be a factor" in his own deliberations. Meanwhile, he is taking no chances. Earlier this year, he sold his house in Smyrna, the heart of his district, and rented a townhouse in nearby Vinings. Once redistricting is completed, he said, he will have the flexibility to move into a new district if necessary.
"It will be impossible," Mr. Barr said, "for them to draw me out of a district."
No one can predict what will happen when state legislators convene Wednesday for their second summer session, this time to redraw the state's congressional map.
The only sure thing is that by the end of the process, lawmakers will have drawn lines for 13 congressional seats. That includes two new seats that Georgia earned because of population gains in the past decade.
Much is at stake. Those two new seats create a singular opportunity for Democrats, who, despite controlling the Legislature and governor's office, are dominated by Republicans in Georgia's congressional delegation. They hope to regain some of the ground lost in the 1990s.
But Republicans see this as a win-win situation for them, too: either existing GOP districts will be shored up to create Democratic possibilities elsewhere, or they will be designed in such a way that high-profile Republican congressmen may decide they are better off running for statewide office.
Gov. Roy Barnes is widely viewed as a powerful force in deciding where political boundaries are drawn. "It depends on what the governor wants," said Emory University political scientist Merle Black.
But the desires of the two chambers also weigh heavily. Both are led by Democratic Party stalwarts who would take pleasure in defeating Republicans, who now sit in eight of Georgia's current 11 congressional seats.
Conventional wisdom holds that the Democrats will keep the three seats they now control --- U.S. Reps. Sanford Bishop in the 2nd District, John Lewis in the 5th District and Cynthia McKinney in the 4th District --- and they stand to win the two new districts, though that depends on where the lines go.
"I would be comfortable with maintaining the three Democrats and trying to draw something where we would have an opportunity to elect (Democrats in) these two new ones and go after another," said Rep. Calvin Smyre (D-Columbus), who also serves on the National Democratic Committee.
Democrats are not discussing their strategy in public. The GOP is left to speculate.
"The Democrats, from what we surmise, are kind of torn between two strategies," said Georgia Republican Party Chairman Ralph Reed.
One, Reed said, is to ward off potential challengers to Barnes, Lt. Gov. Mark Taylor and U.S. Sen. Max Cleland by drawing safe districts for Georgia's Republican congressmen. The other is to reduce Republican members of Congress, which Reed said might divert the affected congressmen --- speculation centers on Charlie Norwood of Augusta and Saxby Chambliss of Macon --- to run for statewide office.
"I think they've got a conundrum," Reed said. "Either way they go, Republicans can potentially benefit."
Rep. Tyrone Brooks (D-Atlanta), a 20-year legislative veteran, said the priority will be to protect incumbent Democrats. Then Democratic map designers will try to create districts which favor the election of Democrats. Finally, he said, Democrats may try to unseat Republican incumbents. Brooks sees no reason to draw districts for Republicans in hopes of keeping them in Congress and out of next year's statewide campaigns.
It's an oddity that Georgia has a Republican-dominated congressional delegation, even though Democrats control the Statehouse and redistricting. Experts say it's because of the Voting Rights Act.
In 1991, lines were drawn under the belief that federal law mandated that minority voting strength had to be enhanced at every opportunity. Districts were drawn with larger percentages of black voters in them. With those African-American voters, who historically select Democratic candidates, packed into three congressional districts, that "bleached" other districts, leaving behind strong chances for white Republicans.
The strategy spurred a court battle that lasted until 1995, when three federal judges drew the existing congressional districts, after the Legislature failed to come up with a plan. By that time, Georgia's delegation had shifted to the current makeup of eight Republicans and three Democrats.
In the past decade, a series of U.S. Supreme Court decisions, including one involving Georgia, have reduced the role of race in redistricting. At the same time, the courts have approved a partisan approach to redistricting as long as minority voters are not harmed.
A possible starting point of two new congressional districts expected to be created in metro Atlanta could be in Lewis' Atlanta-based district. Election after election, Lewis, one of Georgia's three African-American Democrats in Congress, has defeated challengers by taking at least 60 percent of the vote. According to the 2000 Census, 63 percent of the people in his district are black.
Lewis said Friday he is willing to give up some of his base to two new congressional seats if it would help the party.
"I hope all of the city remains in my district," Lewis said. "But it is important for this congressional delegation to be balanced. It is not balanced, it is not fair, and with two new seats coming to Georgia, there is an opportunity to balance the delegation."
Other opportunities for Democrats exist on the edges of McKinney's district. Some lawmakers have suggested that her district could be reduced to include all or part of DeKalb County, allowing the Gwinnett County area of her district near Norcross to be shifted to a new, Democrat-leaning district.
"There's a lot at stake now," Black said. "If you set back the Republican trend . . . they aren't going to go quietly into the night. And certainly you will have court challenges. They (Democrats) want a big win so Gov. Barnes stands out at the end of the evening as the guy who brought the Democrats back to Georgia. And that would make him a national (figure)."