ATLANTA - A proposed congressional map that targets the Deep South's last white Democrat in the U.S. House flew through a state legislative committee Wednesday over the objections of a leading civil rights figure and congressman who said it resegregates the state.
Republicans defended the plan, which adds a fourth district with a majority of black voters and also creates a new district fueled by population growth in the conservative northeast corner of the state.
"This plan does not retrogress, it progresses, in my opinion," House redistricting committee chairman Roger Lane said. He added that the districts with a majority of black voters would be protected under the Voting Rights Act in the next round of reapportionment a decade from now.
But U.S. Rep. John Lewis said that by carving up Democrat John Barrow's district along the coast, the state was diluting minority voting strength in the region. The Republican map redraws Barrow's 12th Congressional District so the Savannah Democrat no longer lives in it. The new district also has 8 percent fewer African-Americans than his current district. Blacks have provided the base of Barrow's support.
"These maps resegregate the state," Lewis told lawmakers on the House redistricting panel Wednesday.
Lane argued that because Barrow's district falls short of having a majority of black residents, it is not protected under the Voting Rights Act.
But Lewis and other Democrats countered that the landmark civil rights law prevents the minority vote from being diluted, which is precisely what Republicans are trying to accomplish.
Lewis also expressed reservations about his own new district. Under the proposal he would lose part of Buckhead, in Atlanta, to U.S. Rep. Phil Gingrey. It would mark the first time in recent history that a Republican would represent a portion of Atlanta.
House Majority Whip Ed Lindsey, an Atlanta Republican, said the city's clout in Washington would improve with bipartisan representation.
Georgia is gaining a congressional seat - its 14th - because of its increasing population. The district would be placed in northeast corner of the state and is widely expected to be a Republican gain.
The House Redistricting panel approved the map by a voice vote. It now heads to the Rules Committee, which must send the proposal to a vote by the full House.
Gov. Nathan Deal, a former congressman, must also sign the map. Under the Voting Rights Act, the U.S. Department of Justice or the federal courts must approve, as well.
Lawmakers must adjust political boundaries every 10 years to conform to new U.S. Census data.
There were a few changes made to the original proposal unveiled on Monday:
- Moody Air Force Base was moved into the 1st congressional district represented by U.S. Rep. Jack Kingston, who sits on the military subcommittee of the House Appropriations panel.
- Some precincts in Fayette County were shifted from the Democratic 13th congressional district to the 3rd district, which is Republican.
- The 2nd congressional district represented by U.S. Rep. Sanford Bishop picked up some additional precincts in Muscogee County.
- There was a swap of some precincts between the new 11th and 6th congressional districts. The 11th district picks up some parts of Sandy Springs and the 6th inherits some parts of east Cobb County.
Georgia Legislative and Congressional Reapportionment Office: www.legis.ga.gov/Joint/reapportionment