New York Times: "In Georgia, a
Shot at Congress for Five Blacks." September 24, 2002
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New York Times
In Georgia, a Shot at Congress for Five Blacks
By David E.Rosenbaum
September 24, 2002
If Democrats in Georgia have drawn the new lines for Congressional districts as cleverly as they think they have, the party will win four additional seats in the House in the November elections, and the state's delegation will include five African-Americans, the most ever from any state.
"It is amazing to me," said Representative John Lewis of Atlanta, a hero of the civil rights movement in the 1960's and an influential voice in mapping the new districts, "that a state where just a few years ago blacks couldn't even register to vote may now send five African-Americans to Congress."
This is one of the few states where redistricting in line with the 2000 census may lead to a big change in representation in Congress. In most other states, governors and legislatures chose to protect incumbents rather than shake up the delegations.
Nonpartisan handicappers who track the races for House seats say that nationwide the parties basically broke even on redistricting this year, a big difference from the situation after the 1990 census. Then, Republicans probably gained 25 or 30 seats from the new district maps, an important factor in the party's winning control of the House in 1994.
But here, Gov. Roy Barnes, a Democrat, and the Democrats who control the State Senate and House set out with a vengeance to reverse the gains Republicans had made in the 1990's. Then, they joined forces with black politicians to create three districts where black voters were a heavy majority � a tactic called "max black" that had the effect of making the state's other districts safely white and Republican.
The Georgia delegation in the House now has eight white Republicans and three black Democrats. The state gained two seats as a result of the 2000 census. If all goes the way the Democrats have planned, the delegation in the next Congress will have five black Democrats, two white Democrats and six white Republicans. (New York and California now each have four African-Americans in Congress, the most any state has ever had.)
The four additional Democrats here could be essential if Democrats are to pick up the net of six seats they need to win control of the House.
The Democratic strategy in Georgia was to concede six seats to Republicans and draw boundaries that packed white voters into those districts, a tactic called bleaching. Black voters were then spread more evenly than they had been among the remaining districts. In Congressional races here, 90 to 95 percent of blacks usually vote Democratic, while 65 to 75 percent of whites vote Republican.
The Democrats' strategy was based on the conclusion of Mr. Lewis and other black political leaders in Washington and the Georgia Legislature that blacks could win even if they did not make up the overwhelming majority of voters in a district, and that white Democrats needed black votes to win.
Elsewhere, Republicans could pick up at least two seats from new district maps in Michigan, Pennsylvania and Florida, states with Republican governors and legislatures. Other than Georgia, the Democrats' best prospects are in Maryland, where the party could gain two seats.
But both parties dropped the ball in some large states, where they did not exercise their control of the redistricting process to make big changes in the composition of the Congressional delegation.
In California, Democrats are expected to gain one seat. The party's leaders in Sacramento decided to concentrate on protecting incumbents.
In Ohio, internal disagreements prevented Republicans from making big gains.
Twelve seats shifted as a result of the 1990 census. Arizona, Florida, Georgia and Texas gained two seats each, and California, Colorado, Nevada and North Carolina gained one. New York and Pennsylvania lost two seats. Connecticut, Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Mississippi, Ohio, Oklahoma and Wisconsin each lost one.
Republicans were encouraged when the redistricting began because the shift in seats was largely from the Rust Belt to the Sun Belt, where Republicans are strong.
But that advantage was offset by another phenomenon, said Representative Martin Frost of Texas, who was in charge of the Democrats' redistricting effort nationwide: much of the growth in the Sun Belt came from blacks and Hispanics. As a consequence, Mr. Frost said, new seats in Arizona, California, Colorado, Nevada and North Carolina could go to Democrats.
Representative Thomas M. Davis III of Virginia, chairman of the National Republican Congressional Committee, said he was standing by the prediction he made at the beginning of the redistricting process last year that Republicans would gain at least eight seats.
But Charles E. Cook Jr. and Stuart Rothenberg, who publish competing nonpartisan political reports, say that Mr. Davis is probably too optimistic and that Republicans should pick up no more than a couple of seats from redistricting.
In New York, which has a Republican governor and Senate and a Democratic Assembly, one of the seats that was lost was Democratic and the other was Republican. Representatives John J. LaFalce, a Democrat, and Benjamin A. Gilman, a Republican, decided to retire rather than run against another incumbent.
In Connecticut, which has a Republican governor and a Democratic Legislature, the lost seat was resolved by pitting incumbents from opposing parties � Nancy L. Johnson, a Republican, and Jim Maloney, a Democrat � against each other. Ms. Johnson may have a slight edge in a very close race.
New Jersey's new map was drawn by a nonpartisan commission and is not much different from the old one.
The most important development in redistricting this time is the decision of Democrats here in Georgia to redraw the districts so more of them have high percentages of black voters, to improve Democratic prospects statewide.
When the redistricting began after the 1990 census, Democrats held a 100-seat advantage in the House. But despite large black populations, there was only one black representative from Georgia, Mr. Lewis, and none from Alabama, Florida, Virginia or the Carolinas, a situation that Democrats found embarrassing and that the Republican Justice Department found did not comply with voting rights laws.
To change the situation, the legislatures in these states created a few districts with high concentrations of black voters to guarantee that African-Americans would be elected. The rule of thumb was that 65 percent of the voting-age population needed to be black for a black to be elected.
Blacks were indeed elected to Congress in all these states � the number of black Democrats rose to 39 from 26 � but a byproduct of the concentration of black voters was many overwhelmingly white districts that proceeded to elect Republicans.
Before the previous redistricting, there was only one Republican in the Georgia delegation, Newt Gingrich. By 1995, there were eight.
Now Democrats, black and white, have decided that their only hope of regaining control of the House is to dilute the black vote in the heavily black districts in order to increase it in others. Federal courts have held that this does not violate voting rights laws.
"All members of the Congressional Black Caucus would have more influence if Democrats were in the majority," said David A. Bositis, senior political analyst for the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies, a research institute that focuses on issues facing African-Americans.
If the Georgia experiment is successful, Democrats are sure to try it elsewhere. But it could backfire.
The white Republicans in the bleached districts will now be solidly entrenched. For example, Representative Charlie Norwood's old district was 38 percent black, and his seat was never safe. His new district is only 13 percent black.
While the Democrats running for the four open seats in Georgia, two whites and two blacks, are favored, they are by no means sure bets.
One of them, Charles W. Walker Jr., is running in an oddly shaped district that meanders to pick up black precincts in Savannah and Augusta and liberal white precincts here in Athens, home of the University of Georgia. The district, 42 percent black, was designed by Mr. Walker's father, the majority leader of the State Senate. Questions about the father's sharp elbows could hurt the son's chances.
But if Mr. Walker loses, it will not be primarily because white Democrats will not vote for a black candidate.
"We have seen," said Charles S. Bullock III, a political scientist at the University of Georgia and an expert on redistricting, "that black candidates can count on 25 to 35 percent of the white vote."
Every little edge helps maintain the one-party monopoly in Georgia
August 15, 2002
Democrats, knowing their statewide nominees would face no significant challenge, delayed the primary runoff until Sept. 10, thus assuring that Gov. Roy Barnes' opponent would be both broke and essentially out of time. The runoff is barely 10 weeks before the general election.
That's one example. Another is the slicing and dicing of Georgia's communities during redistricting, the effect of which is to transfer the corpus of power to party.
A grand example is no farther from the Gold Dome than Douglas County, a fast-growing Republican county of 92,174 on metro Atlanta's west side.
Prior to redistricting, Douglas County was represented by four state legislators, two of whom lived in the county. Henceforth, it will have seven -- but only one will actually live in Douglas. Local legislation in the House will be under the control of representatives who don't live in the county and, furthermore, may represent only a handful of Douglas County's residents.
In the state Senate, the county is now represented by two senators, one of whom lives in Douglasville. Come next year, it will be represented by four, none of whom lives in the county, though incumbent state Sen. Bill Hamrick, a Republican, did before moving to Carrollton.
In all likelihood, local legislation will be controlled by Democrats. Three of the seven state representatives who will now reign over Douglas come from a newly created multimember district in Cobb County.
The three-member district has about 135,000 people. Maybe 200 of them live in Douglas County. But because it includes at least one precinct in Douglas, the three Cobb County legislators will pass judgment on whether citizens in Douglas should, for example, get a chance to vote on exempting homeowners over the age of 62 from school taxes, something that's on the ballot there this November.
The three-member district in Cobb is a separate but related story of how Democrats under the Gold Dome have manipulated the system to maintain complete control. In that instance, three separate House districts, at least one of which would be Republican, were combined.
As combined, the multimember district will have a Democratic majority of 55-57 percent. As a result, Democrats should be able to win all three seats.
A state representative's district is about 45,000 people. But when three are combined, as the General Assembly did last year in redistricting Georgia, voters cast ballots in three separate "posts." It's a control tool. When three are combined, the result is that two Democratic voters can steal all three posts.
In Douglas, then, three of the seven will most likely be Democrats from Cobb. One will most assuredly be a Republican from Douglas, probably the four-term incumbent, state Rep. Bill Hembree of Douglasville. The others are likely to be Democrats from neighboring counties.
Not only are Douglas County's representatives outsiders, but they also are often philosophically at odds with the people they represent.
Some measure of that philosophical misalignment has always existed, but was tolerable when state legislative districts were drawn to honor communities of interest. Last year districts were redrawn with the assistance of highly sophisticated computer programming to achieve the greatest degree of one-party control. City and county boundaries cease to have meaning.
Until now, Democratic and Republican voters in the minority could at least count on their elected officials knowing the community. They could count on seeing them at the Rotary Club meeting on Tuesday, in church on Sunday or out mowing the lawn on Saturday.
No more. You may still see them occasionally, though chances are it won't be at the weekly Rotary Club meeting or at church or in the neighborhood. And, even if you do see them, their representation may have been computer-programmed into irrelevancy. Such was the gift of redistricting.
Democrats Fight to Represent New Ga. District
By Mary Clare Jalonick
July 19, 2002
The shape of Georgia's new 12th District has been compared to that of the Statue of Liberty. The district touches three of Georgia's largest cities, with Athens at the "torch," Augusta at the "head," and Savannah at the "feet" of its Lady Liberty profile.
The district covers the southern half of Georgia's border with South Carolina, extending from Augusta south into Chatham County to take in most of Savannah. The district's arm travels through agricultural communities to reach Athens and the University of Georgia's main campus.
This imaginatively designed district is one of two the state gained in reapportionment, and was drawn by the Democrats who dominated the redistricting process last year with the intent of electing a Democratic representative.
In fact, some observers say the Democratic-controlled legislature drew the district with one particular Democrat in mind: entrepreneur Charles "Champ" Walker Jr., son of state Senate Majority Leader Charles Walker.
Yet Walker is just one of seven Democrats who filed to run for the party's 12th District nomination in the Aug. 20 primary.
And because the district sprawls among three metropolitan areas -- and because racial politics are sure to come into play in the Democratic primary -- guessing who is going to make it past the primary is mainly a numbers game.
The three front-runners in the Democratic contest are Walker and two lawyers, Chuck Pardue and Tony Center.
Walker -- from Augusta, which contains the district's largest Democratic voting base -- is African-American. Pardue, who also is from Augusta, and Center, who is from Savannah, are white.
The other four candidates in the race are black: state Rep. Ben Allen, minister Denise Freeman, congressional aide Merwyn Scott and former state House aide Robert Finch. Finch is from Athens, while the rest are from the Augusta area.
If no candidate receives 50 percent of the primary vote, the two top vote-getters will advance to a Sept. 10 runoff.
Though none of the leading candidates is making an overtly racial appeal, historic voting patterns suggest the likely trend. "As a practical matter, this race will break down on racial grounds," Pardue posited. "Ninety percent of the African-American community will support African-American candidates, and 90 percent of the Caucasian community will support Caucasian candidates."
Walker is considered the primary front-runner. The big question is how much of the black constituency, which makes up 39 percent of the district's voting-age population, he will be able to secure for himself.
It would work to the advantage of both Pardue and Center if the four black candidates besides Walker could pull off a significant share of the black vote.
But none of them had raised enough money to file a campaign finance report with the Federal Election Commission (FEC) for activity through June 30, the end of the year's second quarter -- a requirement only for candidates who have raised $5,000 or more.
Each of the top-tier candidates claims particular advantages in the contest.
Walker lays his out on his Web site, in a section called "The Champ Advantage." He gives four reasons why he will win the race: a fundraising advantage, the media exposure he has received, a "blend of business acumen and community activism," and "the Walker name."
Through June 30, Walker had raised $347,164 from individual donors, while Pardue had raised $31,720 and Center had raised $47,961, according to their FEC reports.
Center, however, has loaned his campaign $255,000, a cash infusion that some say could hinder Walker's chances of staying out front.
Much of Walker's campaign strategy is focused on the media advantage he claims. The campaign hopes Walker will be the only one to afford television air time in Augusta, which it hopes would give Walker enough name recognition to win the primary outright and avoid a runoff.
"In a district that is as big as this, it doesn't matter where you are from, it matters how much money you've raised and how well you can communicate your message," said Doug Moore, a strategist for the Walker campaign.
Walker does not hesitate to remind voters who his father is. "Let's take this head on," says his Web site. "Although he is most definitely his own man, Champ Walker is proud of where he has come from ... Champ's father, state Senate Majority Leader Charles Walker Sr., has represented the 22nd state Senate district for over a decade."
Walker will be in the best position to win the nomination if he avoids a runoff, Democratic sources say. Like primaries, runoffs tend to be racially polarized in Georgia, and Walker would have to garner a significant number of white votes to win a runoff against a white opponent.
One of his top rivals has congressional campaign experience. Center was the Democratic nominee against Republican Rep. Newt Gingrich (1979-99) in 1992 and lost with 42 percent of the vote in the current 6th District.
That district, in suburban Atlanta, was far to the north of his present home base in Chatham County, which includes Savannah.
"I am the only Chatham county candidate [in the Democratic primary], and people down here want to vote local," he said. "Savannah is a very parochial city, with the port and tourism, and they don't want to be controlled by someone who is 120 miles away."
Pardue said he will gain more recognition because of the endorsement he just received from the state AFL-CIO. The organized labor giant decided to endorse him Friday after interviewing all of the candidates in the race.
Pardue said the group has pledged to supply his campaign with workers and money. "I think this will be a huge plus for me," he said. "I have the most significant endorsement."
Though the district was drawn with Democrats in mind, Republicans are refusing to be counted out.
Two Republicans are facing off in the Aug. 20 primary.
Barbara Dooley, a former morning talk show host who is the wife of legendary former University of Georgia football coach Vince Dooley, has made some waves with her impressive fundraising. In the filing period that ended June 30, she reported having raised $235,244 in individual contributions.
Her rival, college professor Max Burns, may have a geographic advantage, however. While Dooley is based in Athens, Burns is from the southern part of the district, which holds more Republican votes.
Redistricting muddles map, doesn't limit candidates
By Jim Galloway
June 23, 2002
The good news: Now we know who the candidates are in nearly every political contest in Georgia.
The bad news: Because of the massive redrawing of district lines, many of the state's 3.6 million voters don't know which candidates to pay attention to. And many candidates don't know which voters are theirs to court.
The good news: The widespread confusion could significantly reduce -- at least for the next six weeks --the amount of junk mail that lands on your doorstep.
This weekend marks the beginning of a brief twilight period in the state's election year. Nearly 650 candidates trooped to the state Capitol last week to sign up for races ranging from governor to state court judge.
Thousands more declared for county races.
This is the first election to follow the 2000 census. And that means nearly every political district in Georgia -- whether for Congress, school board, county commission, city council or other office -- has been altered to adjust for population shifts.
County election workers throughout the state will spend the next weeks trying to match voters with the right districts. Until then, many voters will be in a fog.
Consider Robin Anderson of Marietta. She's an intelligent, stay-at-home mother of two who keeps up with community issues. She's pretty sure of her school board and city council candidates.
But right now, she's not sure which congressional district she's in -- or whether she can vote for the man who lives across the street.
"To be honest, I don't. I know our street divides everything. I have no idea who I'd be voting for at this time," she said last week.
On her section of South Woodland Drive -- and only her section -- this is the rule: If you water your lawn on odd days, you're in the 11th Congressional District. If you water on even days, you're in the 6th.
Anderson waters her lawn on odd days.
But complicating matters is that man who lives across the street. Buddy Darden, an attorney, waters his lawn on even days, so he lives in the 6th Congressional District. But he's a candidate in the 11th, running against Roger Kahn for the Democratic nomination. (There is no residency requirement.)
Confusion isn't limited to Marietta, and part of the reason is the highly partisan climate in the Democrat-controlled state Capitol, where boundary lines were drawn for Congress, state House and state Senate.
Throughout the state, mapmakers armed with computers drew lines that zigged and zagged through individual precincts, creating as many Democrat-friendly districts as possible. That's added to the load that election workers carry.
Computers on overtime
In the last election, Henry County had to produce ballots in six different combinations, once workers matched voters to the right county commission, legislative and congressional districts. For example, two voters in the same congressional district, but different state House districts, would require two different ballots. This year there'll be 26 combinations.
"The computers are up 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. every day," said Janet Shellnutt, chief registrar in Henry County.
The chief culprit in Henry is the 13th Congressional District, which wraps counter-clockwise around Atlanta from south Fulton County to Gwinnett, with legs stretching along Interstates 85, 75 and 20.
But it's not the only problem. Fulton County has 362,818 active voters. "All but about 100 voters got new [state] House districts," said John Sullivan, chief registrar in Fulton County.
Fulton, Gwinnett and many other counties still don't know the shape of all their districts -- they're waiting for the U.S. Justice Department to approve new ones for boards of education and county commission.
"People call, but we just can't tell them where the new districts are," said Lynn Ledford, Gwinnett's chief registrar. Gwinnett, by the way, had about 60 ballot combinations in the last primary. This time she expects 200.
Voter lists scarce
One of the first moves a political candidate makes is to obtain a list of all the voters in his or her district -- something that, right now, doesn't exist in many cases.
That's slowed many campaigns down. The new district of Augusta-area state Sen. Joey Brush (R-Appling) snakes 175 miles across 12 counties, from the South Carolina border to Griffin.
No roads tie the district together. "You've got to kind of wander in and out of it," Brush said. Up-to-date voter lists are his only option.
"In a district like that, the only way you can campaign is by direct mail," he said. Brush has the option of hiring a private company to build a list of voters, but it's more expensive.
"You don't want to spend money needlessly. That's particularly important for me," Brush said. Which means he -- and many other politicians like him -- won't be mailing brochures to voters until late July.
That's when most county election officials say they'll be mailing out cards to inform every voter in the state of the proper polling place, and which races he or she should pay attention to.
There is a shortcut: The secretary of state's office has a Web site that allows any Georgia voter to enter his or her name, birth date and county. It responds with the proper polling place, and all the races in which the voter is eligible to cast a ballot.
That site is currently outdated, said spokesman Chris Riggall. But it should be updated within the next three weeks.
Senate map passes muster
June 4, 2002
A federal court in Washington on Monday approved Georgia's Senate redistricting map, clearing the way for the districts to be used in this year's round of elections.
Russ Willard, a spokesman for Georgia Attorney General Thurbert Baker, said the ruling of the three-judge panel was unanimous.
Qualifying opens June 19. All 180 House seats and 56 Senate seats are up for election.
Joselyn Baker, spokeswoman for Gov. Roy Barnes, a Democrat, said Barnes "is pleased that the court has made a decision and that the elections will go forward with the new maps this year."
Sen. Robert Brown, D-Macon, who played a key role in drawing the new Senate map, said the court ruling is likely the final word on the subject.
"I think that's the last step on the ladder to the top," he said. "While I would have preferred the original Senate map, I'll take this one and I believe we'll win with it."
Georgia's redistricting plans for the state House and for Congress had already been approved by the court April 5. But in the same ruling, the court held that some districts of an earlier proposed state Senate plan illegally reduced minority voting strength.
The Legislature, kept in session to await the court's decision, cobbled together a new Senate plan in five days and returned it to the court for review.
Democrats, who control both houses of the Legislature, argued that their new Senate plan corrected the flaws found by the court in several districts, including one each in Macon, Albany and Augusta. Republicans countered that the plan divided communities and twisted election districts into strange shapes, including one they said resembled a DNA strand.
The U.S. Justice Department announced in late April that it had no objection to the new Senate plan. All three redistricting plans were originally drafted in a special session last fall, where majority Democrats made it clear their objective was to craft new districts to elect more Democrats and fewer Republicans.
Unable to stop any of the plans in the Legislature, Republicans warned that voters will repudiate the plans by voting GOP in the fall elections.
"While you may have been successful in accomplishing this dirty deed, there's going to be a judgment day on Nov. 5 when voters are going to have their say," Senate Republican Leader Eric Johnson of Savannah said in April as the revised Senate plan won passage.
While Monday's ruling represents the final step in an approval process known as "preclearance," it does not necessarily close the door to future legal challenges by private citizens. Republicans, in fact, have said that is likely.
Brown, however, said the Republicans will face a steep challenge, particularly because their own party has supported highly partisan maps that favored Republican candidates in other states. But he added, "Republicans have a tendency to shoot themselves in the foot, so they may indeed shoot off four or five toes and decide to go forward with this."
Redistricting is required after every census to adjust election districts so they all contain roughly the same number of voters. States like Georgia with a history of racial segregation must obtain preclearance from either federal judges in Washington or the Department of Justice to assure redistricting plans they adopt do not have a discriminatory effect.
New Senate map approved
By James Salzer
April 11, 2002
The last major roadblock to ending the 2002 legislative session -- a state Senate redistricting plan -- cleared the Legislature Wednesday, five days after an earlier version had been thrown out by federal judges.
The vote came over continued protests by Republicans as well as House members from Albany, who argue the plan still may be rejected by the three-judge panel because it dilutes the voting strength of African-Americans in Dougherty County.
With the 2003 budget and redistricting out of the way, lawmakers decided to take today off to negotiate a few remaining bills, then adjourn by 3 p.m. Friday, ending the longest session in decades.
They still must address two issues bound to surface during this year's campaign season: natural gas deregulation and predatory lending. But those measures should be wrapped up in time for House Speaker Tom Murphy (D-Bremen) to attend the dedication of a new technical college facility in his home Haralson County Friday evening.
Passing the budget was relatively routine Wednesday, but redistricting once again produced passionate speeches and vows of electoral retribution, as it did Tuesday when Republicans filibustered and debated it for nearly nine hours.
"There is going to be a judgment day on Nov. 5, 2002," promised Senate Minority Leader Eric Johnson (R-Savannah), citing the next general election. "You picked the side you're on, and it ain't the people of Georgia's side."
The Senate gave final passage 31-23 to a new map of political boundaries designed to answer the criticism of a plan drawn last year that federal judges said diluted black voting strength in three main areas -- around Savannah, Albany and Macon. The new map increased the black voting population in each of the questioned districts. A few hours later, the House passed it 95-74 after voting down about a dozen amendments.
Barnes will sign
Last week, the federal judges approved the U.S. House and state House districts passed by legislators last year, but rejected the Senate map. Gov. Roy Barnes said Wednesday that he will sign the new Senate plan, and it will then be sent back to the same three-judge panel in Washington for it to decide whether the map is legal under the Voting Rights Act. The judges may hold a hearing on it by early May.
They will likely hear from black Albany leaders who are angered by the fact that Dougherty County is still split into three Senate districts, all currently represented by white lawmakers. Rep. Lawrence Roberts (D-Albany) said about 65,000 of the county's 97,000 residents are black. "In our opinion, the Senate plan will not cut the muster on several fronts," said Roberts, who failed in an attempt to change the map.
House members faced a delicate situation. Whether they liked the Senate map or not, the two chambers have traditionally not altered the political boundaries drawn by the other body.
"If you start amending the Senate plan, we will have chaos," said House Majority Leader Larry Walker (D-Perry).
It also might have meant another special legislative session, since holding the fragile Senate Democratic coalition together to vote on another plan before the session ended Friday could have been difficult. Roberts predicted lawmakers may be back for a special session anyway because the new map will be rejected by the courts.
Republicans are also expected to continue fighting the districts in court, and they have already filed one lawsuit. "I don't think it's over yet," said House Minority Leader Lynn Westmoreland (R-Sharpsburg). "I think there are some people who are going to fight .... until the fat lady sings, and the fat lady hasn't sung."
Still, many Democrats were elated to get it through the General Assembly just five days after the court ruling. Following the vote, Sen. Tim Golden (D-Valdosta) took off the badge identifying him as Senate reapportionment chairman and playfully tossed it to reporters in the press gallery, indicating he's ready for a new chairmanship.
If they are cleared by the judges, the new voting districts will be used in this year's elections.
Lawmakers had more than 100 bills up for vote Wednesday, and the Senate worked into the night. The House adjourned by 8 p.m.
Negotiators will work today to come up with compromise legislation on several other measures, including Barnes' bills dealing with the problems caused by gas deregulation and high-cost loans.
Those bills will then be up for a vote Friday, the final day.
Lawyers debate Georgia district maps
By Melanie Eversley
February 6, 2002
Competing lawyers tried to prove to a federal district court judge Tuesday that Georgia's proposed redistricting maps either are legal or are unfair to voters.
Last year, the Democratically-controlled Georgia General Assembly drew federal and state legislative maps that added pieces of suburban communities to majority black districts.
But the Voting Rights Act stipulates that states such as Georgia, with a history of voter discrimination, must submit their redistricting plans for federal approval.
As a result, the Justice Department has expressed concern about the fairness of three state Senate districts. Also, lawyers for four African-American Georgia residents --- two Democrats and two Republicans --- have said the proposed changes encroach on minority voting rights.
A lawyer for the state of Georgia tried to discredit an expert witness for the Department of Justice. The witness, Richard Engstrom, a political scientist from the University of New Orleans, had offered deposition testimony saying voting generally tends to be polarized: African-Americans tend to vote for African-American candidates and whites tend to vote for whites.
The attorney for the state, David Walbert, asked Engstrom why his analysis did not include a mid-1990s Dougherty County race for Superior Court judge in which an African-American candidate beat a white candidate. The voting population in that race was about 60 percent white, Walbert said.
"Wouldn't you have wanted to see an election in which an African-American won so handily over a white American?" Walbert asked.
Engstrom responded that his analysis did not include judicial races because judicial ethics limit what can be said or done during campaigns. He also said that he had enough data to study from political races.
A lawyer for the four black residents questioned expert witness David Epstein, a professor of political science at Columbia University, about how effective the representation is for constituents in districts with more than one elected official.
"Multimember districts have the power to submerge minority groups," lawyer Mark Braden said during a break in the trial, which resumes today.
Democrats nationally are watching the case that could set a precedent for how other states handle potential problems with redistricting.
Georgia is the first state to seek pre-clearance on its redistricting map from a federal court, said Jeffrey Wice, legal counsel for the redistricting project of the Democratic National Committee. States usually allow the Department of Justice to review their maps first and go to court only if the Justice Department has a problem.
This pre-clearance could speed up the redistricting process and put maps in place for the November general election.
Redistricting map for Georgia goes to court in D.C.
By Melanie Eversley
February 4, 2002
Georgia's war over its legislative districts comes down to political party and race.
The parties battling over how those districts should be shaped and who will be living in them get their chance in court today.
A three-judge panel in U.S. Circuit Court in Washington is scheduled to begin hearing arguments this morning in State of Georgia vs. U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft and others. The case came out of the once-a-decade redistricting sessions that Georgia and the other states conducted last year based on 2000 census figures.
Under the 1965 Voting Rights Act, Georgia and others states with histories of voter discrimination must have federal approval of redistricting plans.
Because redistricting controls, indirectly, how many representatives the two political parties get, the process is tense and tough.
Last year, the Democrat-controlled state General Assembly drew new districts around Georgia cities that included a larger proportion of whites and suburbanites in the outer rings of those cities. Democrats said they had to do so because inner-city populations were shrinking.
But Republicans argued the action diluted African-American voting strength.
The Justice Department, headed by Republican Ashcroft, has no problem with plans drawn for Congress or the Georgia House, but it questions whether the Georgia Senate plan hurts African-American voting strength in Albany, Macon and Savannah.
However, four African-American residents claim the Georgia House and congressional plans also encroached on their voting rights. Last week, U.S. District Judge Emmet Sullivan ruled those four would be allowed to take part in the case.
The four are Patrick Jones of Atlanta; Roielle Tyra, a Columbus native who is a student at the University of Georgia; and Fort Wentworth residents Georgia Benton and Della Steele.
They will be represented by Frank Strickland, the former general counsel for the Georgia Republican Party.
It will be up to the state, represented by Attorney General Thurbert Baker, a Democrat, and a team of lawyers, to prove their maps do not hurt African- Americans. Testimony will reflect Democratic claims that voter dilution --- also known as district "bleaching" --- actually helps Republicans.
"To them, the more African-Americans that they can place in districts with substantial African-American concentration, the more Republican the overall plan becomes, as the remaining districts would be 'bleached,' i.e., become whiter," lawyers for the state of Georgia wrote in their pretrial brief.
"Such a strategy aids Republicans' electoral chances because African- Americans in Georgia predominantly vote Democratic and virtually all Republican voters in Georgia today are white," lawyers wrote.
In a deposition to be used during the trial, Rep. John Lewis (D-Ga.) testified that this kind of dilution does not have the effect on minority candidates that it once would. More people are tending to cross over and vote for candidates of other races, Lewis said.
"The state is not the same state it was," he testified. "It's not the same state that it was in 1965 or in 1975 or even in 1980 or 1990. We have changed. We've come a great distance. It's not just in Georgia, but in the American South, I think people are preparing to lay down the burden of race."
Lawyers representing all sides in the case declined to comment for this story.
Among the attorneys for the state is David F. Walbert, an Atlanta lawyer and special assistant attorney general for the state from 1988 to 1998 who has written about the Voting Rights Act.
Redistricting: All three remapping plans now set for trial
By Associated Press
January 30, 2002
A federal judge in Washington has thrown a new wrinkle into the state's effort to win approval of its redistricting plans for the state House and Senate and for the U.S. House.
U.S. District Judge Emmet Sullivan, in a conference call Monday with attorneys, agreed to let four voters represented by Republican lawyers argue against all three plans when the case goes to trial.
Sullivan also postponed the start of the trial from Friday to Monday.
The plans were adopted by a Democratic-dominated Legislature during a special session last summer, but cannot take effect until a three-judge federal panel in Washington determines they do not reduce minority voting strength.
Under the 1965 Civil Rights Act, Georgia and other states with a history of discrimination cannot change their election laws without federal approval.
The Justice Department already has told the court it has no objection to the redistricting plans for the state House or congressional seats, but contends the state Senate plan unnecessarily reduces the black voting-age population in districts in Savannah, Albany and Macon.
The four Georgia voters seeking to intervene in the case previously won permission from Sullivan to present arguments against the state Senate plan. His ruling Monday allows them to argue against the state House and congressional plans, as well.
The voters --- Patrick Jones of Atlanta, Roielle Tyra of Columbus and Della Steele and Georgia Benton of Chatham County --- are represented by Frank Strickland, the state Republican Party's former general counsel and a longtime GOP activist.
Republicans oppose all three plans, arguing that Democrats who control the Legislature purposefully used redistricting to reduce the number of black voters in Democratic districts to strengthen black votes in Republican districts and thereby help Democratic challengers unseat GOP incumbents.
Senate Republican Leader Eric Johnson of Savannah said the ruling is ''good news. We believe the Department of Justice had failed to consider the retrogression in the House and in the congressional plan. It'll be tough for the interveners to make the entire case without Justice Department help, but at least we'll have an opportunity.''
Rep. Tommy Smith (D-Alma), chairman of the House Reapportionment Committee, said lawmakers ''were very careful to follow all the legal advice'' they received in drawing the plans. ''I'm confident the plans will be approved.''
GOP loses in Senate map
By Associated Press
January 30, 2002
After working in secrecy for weeks, Senate Democrats took the wraps off their redistricting plan Monday and pushed it through committee after giving minority Republicans just 15 minutes to study it.
The plan makes Republicans bear the brunt of the population decline in south Georgia, shifting north the seats of Sens. Tommy Williams of Lyons and Susan Cable of Macon.
Mr. Williams would find himself in a new district with Democratic Sen. Jack Hill of Reidsville. Ms. Cable's new district would pit her against Democratic Sen. Robert Brown of Macon, who helped draw the map.
Senate Republican Leader Eric Johnson's 1st District would be stretched over much of the coastline, from Effingham County to Camden County.
Republican Sen. Joey Brush of Appling would find himself in a dogleg district stretching from east Georgia to middle Georgia via a narrow corridor.
"It's the worst excuse for a map I may have ever seen," said Republican Sen. Rusty Paul, who still was trying to figure out what the Democratic map would do to him. It appeared he would be in a district with another Republican, either Sen. Charlie Tanksley of Marietta or Bart Ladd of Doraville.
"I see this as Exhibit A," said Senate Republican Whip Tom Price of Roswell. Republicans have threatened to file suit if the plan is drawn for overtly partisan reasons.
Sen. Tim Golden, D-Valdosta, the committee chairman, offered no words of comfort to the casualties.
"There are winners and there are losers in this process," he said. "One person's gain is going to be another person's loss."
Senate Majority Leader Charles Walker of Augusta said the plan would go before the Senate when he was assured he had the 29 votes necessary to pass it.
The plan won committee approval in just 25 minutes on a 14-5 vote, with one Democrat - George Hooks of Americus - voting "present" and several Democrats away from the floor.
Republicans could do little more than shout questions at the chairman and question the impact on minority voting.
The proposal creates one additional seat - in Clayton County - that would be majority black, for a total of 13. Currently, 12 districts are majority black and 11 of them are held by black lawmakers.
Much is at stake in remap trial
By Walter C. Jones
January 27, 2002
The power of Georgians to select their leaders and keep track of them goes on trial Friday in federal court.
That's when a three-judge panel of the U.S. District Court in Washington will consider legal challenges to new maps of voting districts drawn by the General Assembly during special sessions last year. The maps are like none Georgians have ever seen - with oddly shaped districts that snake and entwine and some districts that contain more than one legislative seat - and they are getting unusual scrutiny.
Critics complain that the maps divide too many counties, cities and neighborhoods. The result of all those divisions, they say, is confusion that prevents average citizens from knowing who their representatives are.
If neighbors have different state senators, the reasoning goes, they'll be less likely to compare notes when one of the senators makes them angry. Even local newspapers will be less likely to follow the voting records of legislators because a given reporter will have to divide attention between more lawmakers who govern a smaller slice of a newspaper's readership area.
Defenders of the maps argue that few voters know who their representatives are under the existing districts. By grouping people according to their political preferences, the new maps actually are less arbitrary than district lines drawn to conform to city limits or county borders, they say.
On one side of the debate are lawyers for the federal government. They are charged with reviewing every change that affects voting in Georgia and 15 other states.
Of the three Georgia maps in question, they found nothing to object to in the maps of congressional districts or the boundaries for the state House of Representatives. But they say three state Senate districts dilute the voting strength of blacks in Albany, Macon and Savannah.
On the other side of the case are lawyers for the state of Georgia, representing Gov. Roy Barnes and the Legislature. They argue the maps are proper and don't violate any laws designed to protect voters.
There is a third group of lawyers trying to persuade the judges that all three of the maps should be thrown out. Technically, they represent four black voters, but it's no secret they are really speaking for the Georgia Republican Party.
Mr. Barnes and the leaders of the Legislature are all Democrats who see the new maps as benefiting their party. Naturally, the Republicans don't want their rivals to get that benefit.
Though President Bush is a Republican, the federal attorneys from the Department of Justice must follow guidelines that prevent them from making the range of disagreements over the maps that the Georgia Republican's legal team will make.
But the most crucial issue before the court revolves around race, as posed for the past three decades by the Voting Rights Act.
That law prohibits changes in voting districts if the changes could prevent blacks from exercising their power to elect a representative number of black politicians. Courts have devised several complex tests to determine that, such as whether the number of majority-black districts shrink after redistricting.
The Justice Department lawyers say the lines defining three Senate districts could reduce the number of black majority seats. The state's attorneys say they won't.
The Republican Party's attorneys say more districts dilute black voting strength.
Since blacks tend to vote for Democrats, political strategists figure bunching them together where their strength is magnified keeps them out of surrounding districts where they would vote against GOP candidates. Spreading them out often helps get their votes for white Democratic candidates.
Consider three fictional districts. In the current maps, the lines were draw to include most of the blacks in one district where a Democrat would be expected to win, possibly a black Democrat. The other two districts were ripe for Republicans to take.
But the approach to the new maps led to drawing the lines so the black voters were more evenly distributed, improving the chances of Democrats in all three districts.
In reviewing the real maps, the judges, two appointed by Democrat President Clinton and one by Mr. Bush's father, could toss out one or more of the maps and order the Legislature to draw them again. Or the judges could do the redrafting themselves.
Because the trial is expected to last five days, it could end while the General Assembly is still in session.
Mr. Barnes and the legislative leaders might
postpone a second round of
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