Buckhead and Sandy Springs voters are telling state lawmakers they want to live in election districts that will strengthen representation of their neighborhoods.
Legislators listened to residents at a public hearing June 30 in preparation for the upcoming special session of the Georgia General Assembly in which the state’s legislative and Congressional districts will be redrawn to reflect changes in population.
Many of the speakers expressed hope that “communities of interest” – areas which share common beliefs and lifestyles – would be kept intact during the process.
Brad Carver of Buckhead made two suggestions to legislators that were echoed by several of his neighbors.
“One is to strongly support and endorse the recreation of the old Sandy Springs/Buckhead state senate district that Sen. Paul Coverdell used to sit in,” Carver said. “Secondly, to strongly encourage the movement of the 6th Congressional District south into Buckhead.”
Buckhead resident Sue Certain said she would like to see Buckhead have a more unified voice in state government.
“For Buckhead, we’re represented by three different representatives, but clearly we’re a community of interest,” Certain said. “Communities that fit together should be treated that way.”
Rep. Edward Lindsey, who represents Buckhead and Sandy Springs, said he understands his constituents’ concerns. “Buckhead and Sandy Springs had a unified State Senate district for about 30 years,” Lindsey said. “Having someone with sort of a unified voice is often helpful to communities.”
Lindsey said that senate district was “pulverized” during redistricting in 2000, splitting it into several pieces.
“The drawback is you don’t have anyone in the Senate who is focusing on Buckhead and Sandy Springs,” Lindsey said.
Brookhaven residents expressed a similar desire at the public hearing to see their community in a more compact district.
Jim Eyre of Ashford Park said his community is currently split between two districts in the House of Representatives.
Sen. Fran Millar, a Dunwoody Republican, said he would like to see the Sixth District move south to encompass more of DeKalb County, including Brookhaven and the Smoke Rise community. The 6th District is represented by Republican Rep. Tom Price of Roswell and the Fourth by Democrat Rep. Henry Johnson of Lithonia.
“I think those areas are predominately Republican still and I think a lot of those people would appreciate having representation from the 6th instead of the 4th,” Millar said.
Speakers from around the Atlanta area spoke out at the meeting. Some were critical that the committee did not include women or minority members. Many were skeptical of the process, which has been heavily political in the past.
Jim King of Buckhead said the way the districts have been drawn up disenfranchises Buckhead voters.
“Both state (senators) don’t live in our community, they live far south of here,” King said. “We’re just not their top priority. … Their priority is going to be the area they live in. We need somebody representing our issues in the state senate.”
But Sen. Vincent Fort, who represents a portion of Buckhead, said, “Buckhead/Sandy Springs is not a community of interest,” Fort said. “Community of interest could lead to Balkanization of interest. We need to understand what true communities of interest are.”
The meeting, held at Georgia Tech, was the last of 12 public hearings held around the state. On Aug. 15, the Legislature will hold a special session to redraw legislative and Congressional districts to reflect population changes in the 2010 Census.
Lindsey said politicians have a tough road ahead of them. Aside from communities of interest, they will also try to make sure districts are compact and comply with the Voting Rights Act, which requires states like Georgia with a history of disenfranchising minority voters to submit district maps to the U.S. Department of Justice for approval.
“We’re not necessarily looking at how lines would be drawn now. We’re listening to constituents. Our concern is making sure the lines are fairly drawn through an open and Democratic process. No decisions have been made at the present time,” Lindsey said. “It’s always a difficult process. You’ve got to weigh a lot of different factors and I encourage people to pay attention.”