Georgians get first look at new political maps

Georgians get first look at new political maps

August 13th, 2011 by Andy Johns , Mariann Martin in News

Charlie Bethel

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Georgia Legislative and Congressional Reapportionment Office: www.legis.ga.gov

Some districts grew and some shrunk, but most Northwest Georgians will remain in the same state House and Senate districts they're used to if a proposed legislative map is approved.

On Friday afternoon, the Legislature released its first official draft of a map that will determine who represents whom for the next 10 years. Legislators will refine the proposed state districts as well as a U.S. congressional map in a special legislative session starting Monday. The proposed congressional map was not released Friday.

Northwest Georgia lawmakers praised the state maps for achieving the stated goals of keeping communities together where possible and presenting a logical, legal map.

"It looks like an excellent map from my perspective," said Sen. Charlie Bethel, R-Dalton. "They are very fair and legally compliant. They seem to honor the purpose of reapportionment."

Districts must be redrawn every 10 years based on U.S. census figures to maintain population densities and protect minority voting strength.

The 2002 map designed by a Democratically led Legislature was taken to court and overturned because districts did not follow guidelines.

But that's not to say the newly drawn map won't help the Republican-led legislators' cause. Under the proposed House map, 12 incumbent Democrats will face off against each other to keep their seats during the next round of elections.

Bethel, who served as secretary of the Senate's Reapportionment and Redistricting Committee, would see his district change slightly under the plan. He would keep his core of Murray and Whitfield counties, but trades a section of eastern Catoosa County for a slice of Pickens County.

The district of Sen. Jeff Mullis, R-Chickamauga, would gobble up Bethel's sliver of Catoosa County, but Mullis' territory would be scaled back to cover only northern Chattooga County. Sen. Barry Loudermilk, R-Cassville, would gain Mullis' constituents in Chattooga County as well as a few residents of Gordon County from Bethel.

Georgia State Rep. Jay Neal, of LaFayette

In the House, Districts 1 and 2, currently occupied by Rep. Jay Neal, R-LaFayette, and Martin Scott, R-Rossville, would be flipped and reshaped as much as any in the region. Neal would lose some of his northern Walker County precincts to Scott's district but pick up some constituents in Whitfield County and southern Walker.

Neal said he was a little surprised to pick up part of Whitfield County and said it adds "a little bit different dynamic" to his territory. But overall he said he's "not too picky" so long as the lines are reasonable and responsible.

"It's a balancing act between all of those districts," he said. "Ultimately, it's population-driven."

Some political observers had speculated that Neal's district might dip south into Chattooga County to disrupt lone Democrat Barbara Massey Reece's district. Reece, from Menlo, is the only Democratic legislator north of metro Atlanta, and some political science professors thought she might be targeted in the redistricting, but her district remained intact in Chattooga and expanded into a few precincts in southern Floyd County.

The changes to Neal's and Bethel's districts made it easier for Catoosa County to simplify its representation, which county leaders have wanted.

Instead of being divided between two senators and three representatives, Catoosa now has Rep. Tom Weldon, R-Ringgold, and Sens. Neal and Mullis. Weldon said that's a plus for everyone.

"When you have a very small part of a county, it's hard for those few precincts to feel like they're being represented," he said. "When it comes to Whitfield, they have a lot of different issues than Catoosa County."

On the flipside, Murray County will be divided into three districts instead of two with the southeastern part lumped into the boot-shaped district of Rep. Rick Jasperse, R-Jasper. Rep. John Meadows, R-Calhoun, and Rep. Tom Dickson, R-Cohutta, also share Murray County.

"I think Murray County is very fortunate to have the three legislators with a pretty broad spectrum of experience," said Jasperse. "The most important thing is that these districts aren't drawn as much for the representatives as they are for people."

The Associated Press contributed to this story.

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