Panels move forward on Georgia redistricting

Panels move forward on Georgia redistricting

August 17th, 2011 by Andy Johns in News

Document: Proposed Georgia Senate districts

Proposed Georgia Senate districts.

Document: Proposed Georgia House districts

Proposed Georgia House districts.

ATLANTA - Committees in Georgia's House and Senate voted to move forward with their original redistricting map, despite the introduction of a new map drawn by Democrats late in the day Tuesday.

Reapportionment committees from both houses convened for hours, listening to arguments for and against the district lines on maps released to the public Friday.

Republicans touted the process of drawing the maps as being "historically transparent," but some Democrats said they were excluded and others said they didn't have enough time to review the plan before the committees voted.

"Whispering a little louder than the time before is not the same as making sure everyone can hear you," said Minority Leader Stacey Abrams, D-Atlanta.

Tom Dickson, R-Cohutta, defended the process.

"Any member of the house could have come in and said I'd like to talk about my district," Dickson said after the meeting.

In the other chamber, subcommittee members heard from a couple of South Atlanta Democrats unhappy with the Senate map, which political observers have deemed the less controversial of the two.

Sen. Donzella James, D-Atlanta, accused the committee of taking away the core of her West Atlanta district and swapping it for a part of Douglas County "where some of those people will never vote for a person who looks like me."

Committee Chairman Sen. Mitch Seabaugh, R-Sharpsburg, explained that several South and West Atlanta districts were changed because of population loss. He also lamented the lack of participation from Democrats, some of whom he said "threw their hands up" and left his office without listening to explanations.

During the House hearing, Abrams revealed an alternative map to correct what they see as problems with the Republican-dominated body's initial draft.

The Democrats' proposal keeps most Northwest Georgia close to their current to be more North-South than East-West.

The map, posted on the wall during the meeting, would have expanded District 11, held by Rep. Barbara Massey Reece, D-Menlo, from Chattooga County north into Walker County. Reece is the only Democratic representative north of metro Atlanta and Abrams' staff said they relied on the veteran lawmaker to help lay out the lines in Northwest Georgia.

The committee also heard from two Southeast Georgia lawmakers who pleaded that the board redraw their districts. Near the Florida line, the map lumps incumbents together in two wide districts with one spanning six counties. As Rep. Mark Hatsfield, R-Waycross, pointed out, one representative would have to drive into Florida to get from one end of his district to the other because no roads cross through the Okefenokee Swamp.

In the end, however, the committee was not impressed and voted in the original map along party lines.

When asked after the meeting why he voted for the original map rather than postponing a decision until the suggestions could be entertained, Dickson said he voted because Chairman Roger Lane, R-Darien, called for a vote.

During the House meeting, committee member Rep. Wayne Howard, D-Augusta, asked Lane for more time to discuss the maps with his constituents.

"It feels like a freight train running down a hill and I don't know if it's going to run over us," Howard said. The east Georgia Democrat said he had heard the maps could be approved by Friday.

Lane reminded the committee of the dozen community input meetings held around the state before the map was released and said it was time to move forward.

"They elect us to pass these laws and make these decisions," Lane said.

Connect with the Times Free Press on Facebook