published Sunday, July 31st, 2011

Georgia redistricting may target isolated Democrat


by Andy Johns
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The Northwest Georgia political scene already has more R's than a pirate ship, but some political observers believe Republicans may be preparing to plunder the last Democratic district north of metro Atlanta.

Rep. Barbara Massey Reece, D-Menlo, could see her district splintered or stretched to make re-election more difficult once legislators begin redrawing political boundaries in two weeks.

"It's going to be tough for her and any other isolated Democrats," said Ken Ellinger, a political science professor at Dalton State College. "It wouldn't surprise me if none of them were left standing at the end of 2012."

Elected in 1998, Reece represents Chattooga County and part of Floyd County. On a state political map of blue and red counties, her district -- along with Rick Crawford's, D-Cedartown -- looks like two drops of blueberry jam on a crimson tablecloth. And because Republicans control the Legislature and the governor's office, some look for one or both districts to be broken into other districts with enough GOP voters to oust the Democratic lawmakers.

"I would not be surprised if her district was targeted," said John Hickman, a professor of political science at Berry College in Rome, Ga.

Traditionally, members of whichever party is in power during redistricting try to draw lines to maximize their clout, said Tom Hunter, professor of political science and redistricting expert with the University of West Georgia. Usually that's done by either adding an area of majority-party voters to overwhelm a minority district or by chopping up the area of opposition voters so it can be absorbed into adjacent strong majority districts, he explained.

In Northwest Georgia, Republicans could either add Republican voters from Walker, Floyd or Gordon counties or disperse Reece's pieces into districts of nearby legislators such as Jay Neal, R-LaFayette; Martin Scott, R-Rossville; or John Meadows, R-Calhoun.

"I think the Republicans statewide will go after any vulnerable Democrat," Hunter explained.

For her part, Reece is not overly concerned, but acknowledged that no one is safe.

"I'm not real antsy or real concerned that these terrible things are going to happen," she said. "If they do decide to slap me and put me in a district with someone else, we'll just have to see where the chips fall. I'm not getting any vibe that that's happening."

Neal said he didn't want to speculate on what could happen, but he acknowledged that population changes would probably mean new lines for his territory.

"There's going to have to be some shifts in those areas that may affect my district," he said. "I'm not sure what those changes are going to look like."

He vowed that, wherever the new lines were, they would be "fairly drawn."

Reece, who sits on the House Reapportionment Committee, which plays a key role in redrawing district lines, said her conservative reputation should help her as the lines are drawn.

"I'm quite possibly more conservative than many in the majority party," said Reece, who has been endorsed by the odd pairing of the National Rifle Association and the Sierra Club.

Her conservative stance could pay off, according to Tom Crawford, editor of The Georgia Report, an online political news service.

Speaker David Ralston, R-Blue Ridge, came to power with support of moderate Republicans and conservative Democrats, Crawford said. Though Reece didn't vote for him in the speaker race, Ralston could try to protect districts like hers if he thinks he could get support from there, Crawford suggested.

But once the pushing and shoving starts, it's anybody's guess, Reece said.

"It's like a game of marbles," she said. "I wouldn't say that anybody is safe."

The House and Senate convene for the special redistricting session Aug. 15.

about Andy Johns...

Andy began working at the Times Free Press in July 2008 as a general assignment reporter before focusing on Northwest Georgia and Georgia politics in May of 2009. Before coming to the Times Free Press, Andy worked for the Anniston Star, the Rome News Tribune and the Campus Carrier at Berry College, where he graduated with a communications degree in 2006. He is pursuing a master’s degree in business administration at the University of Tennessee ...

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