New election districts created by the state Legisalture may shake up political representation in metro Atlanta while creating a state senate seat grounded in Buckhead and Sandy Springs.
Members of the Georgia Legislature approved new election districts for House and Senate seats following a brief but highly partisan debate during the special session that began Aug. 15.
Legislators voted for the districts along party lines, with Democrats in both the House of Representatives and the Senate in opposition to the new maps.
In the House, 108 voted to approve the new districts and 64 voted against the map drafted by the Republican-led House Reapportionment and Redistricting Committee.
In the Senate, the district map was approved by a 35-18 vote.
The Aug. 18 votes came on the fourth day of a special legislative session for redistricting. The House and Senate voted in favor of the other’s maps the following day.
Republicans lauded the maps as fair and logical based on changes in population. But Democrats argued that the maps were drawn to eliminate incumbents and create a Republican super-majority in the Georgia Legislature.
Rep. Elena Parent of north DeKalb could face a fellow incumbent Democrat for reelection in 2012 because both now are in the same district. She urged other lawmakers to vote against the map.
She said the drafters of the map were using the Voting Rights Act “as an excuse to re-segregate this state along political racial lines: a white Republican party and a black Democratic party.
“On the face of the map it appears the majority-minority districts in Fulton and DeKalb counties were gerrymandered based on race,” Parent said. “The undeniable consequence is that the drawing of these districts results in the probable elimination of nearly half the white members of the Democratic Caucus by pairing, packing and increasing their Republican populations.”
Buckhead Republican Edward Lindsey, the Majority Whip, responded that the new districts reflect changes in population, not partisan politics.
Lindsey said that eight of the 10 least-populated districts in the state are inside the Atlanta Perimeter highway.
“It should be no wonder that a great many of our pairings lie inside the Perimeter,” he said. “It doesn’t mean people were targeted, it just means people moved away from their districts. That doesnt make it wrong, it makes it fair.”Rep. Mike Jacobs, who represents Brookhaven, saw his district grow to include some of Sandy Springs.
“Its a fair map. Its worth noting that every district in DeKalb County had to grow. When the maps were released I discovered where it was growing to and I very much look forward to representing constituents in Sandy Springs,” Jacobs said.
Some Fulton County Democratic senators were unhappy with the way the map divided the county into more districts that would be represented by senators from outside the county in Republican-leaning areas.
“The map that has been drawn is a map that creates seven Republican performance seats. The number of Republicans has not jumped to double,” said Sen. Nan Orrock. “Why would we have a senator from Sharpsburg and a senator from Woodstock deciding the fate of Fulton County?”
But Mitch Seabaugh, chairman of the Senate Reapportionment and Redistricting Committee, said the committee drew the map based on the desires of legislators and Georgia residents.
For example, Buckhead residents told the committee during public hearings that they wanted Buckhead to be represented by a single senator, rather than being split between three districts as the community is now.
The map was drawn so that Senate District 6, a Cobb County seat currently represented by Sen. Doug Stoner, will extend into Fulton County to pick up Sandy Springs and the majority of the Buckhead area.
Gordon Certain, president of the North Buckhead Civic Association, said the senate district is a step in the right direction.
“I’d really hoped they’d have more consolidation of Buckhead under a single district, but this is progress,” Certain said.
Jim King, president of the Buckhead Council of Neighborhoods, said sharing a Senate district with Sandy Springs and Cobb County could benefit Buckhead.
“The Cobb County portion, those folks impact us on daily basis commuting to work. Maybe if we have state senator, not only would we get things done but maybe we’d have better cooperation between the communities,” King said.
“I think there’s a strong chance we’ll elect someone from our community to that post. We have as good a chance as anybody and that would be great.”
The Legislature is also considering a new congressional map, which will draw new election districts for seats in the U.S. House of Representatives and create a new seat to account for growth in the state.
Redistricting and reapportionment take place every 10 years in response to data collected by the United States Census. The maps must now be approved by the U.S. Justice Department.