Republican proponents claim the new map offers fairer representation and divides fewer counties than the current Senate map. Democrat critics claim the new map is solely a measure for Republicans to retain recently-won control of the Senate.
Reaction from Catoosa County’s local delegation in the legislature is overwhelmingly positive for the redrawn map.
“The redistricting that the Democrats did in special session in 2001 is a political crime,” said Sen. Jeff Mullis, R-Chickamauga. “The Republicans in the state Senate have passed a measure that would require strong and legitimate guidelines in whichever party was in charge, to redraw political lines. That would be for whoever is in charge to keep districts as compact as possible and respect county lines and communities of interest as much as possible.”
The state is required by law to redraw Congressional, House and Senate district maps every 10 years following each census to ensure an equal number of voters per district.
Republicans, with a Senate majority and governor in place because of the Nov. 5 election, complained about the practice of gerrymandering that occurred in August 2001 during the Democrat-led legislature’s special redistricting session.
Gerrymandering is a political term used to describe the partisan process of stretching voter districts to place one party at a political advantage over another.
By contrast to the current Democrat-authored map, which splits 87 of the state’s 159 counties, the new map splits 43, with the majority of split counties grouped in the metro-Atlanta area.
Gov. Sonny Perdue said during his campaign that, if elected, he would push to have the map redrawn.
“This map is incredible compared to the current one,” state Rep. Ron Forster, R-Ringgold, said. “One has squiggly political data based on Democrat bias and the other has no political data whatsoever — it’s based solely on population, as it should be.
“Obviously, any third-grader can tell which one stayed within the lines and which one didn’t,” he said.
“Redistricting should be about representing the people,” state Rep. Jack White, R-Blue Ridge, said, “not trying to artificially create or sustain a majority in a legislative body.”
Restoring counties to create uniform districts
Sen. Mullis said each district is currently allowed a deviation of five percent lesser or greater from its ideal population size.
Senate District 53, which encompasses all of Catoosa and Dade counties and about half of Walker and Whitfield counties, currently has a population deviation of 7,272.
The new map, intended to eliminate oddly-shaped districts and split fewer counties than the current Senate map, would essentially make Walker County whole again as part of District 53 and offer a population deviation of 522. A smaller portion of Whitfield County would still be part of the 53rd District. The 54th District would consist of all of Gordon, Murray and the majority of Whitfield counties.
“The new requirement would put it at one or two percent (deviation), which makes it a more precise map,” Mul-lis said. “In my opinion, it would benefit whoever is in the minority party (too).”
Mullis said the difference between the Democrat-led redistricting process in 2001 and the GOP’s new redistricting plan is that Republicans want bi-partisan input.
“We’re allowing everybody to meet with the re-apportionment chairman, Dan Lee (R-LaGrange) to give input on what they feel best represents their district,” he said. “This will happen in the Senate with bi-partisan input, but we will struggle to pass it in the House.
“I’ve talked to Sen. Lee and what I see best for Northwest Georgia is to keep Catoosa-Dade-Walker counties whole,” Sen. Mullis said. “Because of the population requirements, by law, I need a few more thousand people so we will have to split one county to get that and Whitfield County would be where I would need the additional people to make it legal.
“I would suggest that if the Democrats — including state Rep. (Mike) Snow (D-Chickamauga) — are sincere in their opinions that the split precincts created a lot of havoc and confusion in voters, they should pass the Senate map to bring communities of interest together,” Mullis said. “Moreover, they should create their own maps to outlaw multi-member districts and put the House map back together. I challenge them to do that.”
Rep. Forster said new House and Congressional district maps are being drawn for possible submission this legislative term.
Forster said that if Democrats who hold a majority in the House oppose the new maps, they will likely face voter backlash as former Gov. Roy Barnes did in his last election.
“If Democrats are so thick-headed that they don’t care about what the people of Georgia think and they try to vote against these maps and stop them, then it’s going to come back to them in their election process,” Forster said, “because they’re just showing that they don’t care what people think — they’re going to do what their party thinks — and that’s not our philosophy.
“We’ll move these maps as far as we can,” Forster said. “I’ve had several Democrats here in my office, and I showed them these maps side-by-side and said ‘Look, if you vote against something like this that has no political data in it, you’re obviously voting against the people of Georgia’ and a few of them have had second thoughts.”
Meanwhile, Gov. Perdue, who is at odds with state Attorney General Thurbert Baker over his refusal to drop the state’s appeal of three federal judges’ ruling on constitutional violations in the 2001 Senate redistricting plan — sued Baker on Feb. 28.
Baker contends Perdue lacks the authority to intervene.
The governor also sent a letter to the U.S. Supreme Court asking that the state’s appeal, set to be heard in April, be dismissed.
In the event that Supreme Court justices side with Georgia, the map of the state’s Senate districts will change to a design previously submitted by Democrats