Cobb, Gwinnett leaders blast new state-drawn district maps

Officials in two Democratically-controlled metro Atlanta counties expressed outrage Thursday at Republican maneuvers to redraw local political district maps to favor conservative candidates.

A partisan vote in the state House passed a map for Gwinnett County that shifts lines to where a Republican will likely rejoin the county’s board of commissioners. Cobb County Republicans are gearing up for a similar vote to the ire of liberal incumbents.

The Thursday vote on the Gwinnett map bypassed the General Assembly’s normal redistricting process, which is traditionally led by the local legislative delegation and rubber-stamped by the full Legislature. The Gwinnett map is being fast-tracked to the Senate for consideration, and Cobb’s map is likely heading for the same trajectory.

In a post-defeat press conference, Gwinnett Democrats said they plan to fight this effort as it heads to the Senate floor.

“This fight is not yet over,” said Sam Park (D-Lawrenceville), adding legal action is on the table if the redistricting map makes it to the governor’s desk.

Republicans in both counties argue that county Democrats are trying to preserve their newfound majorities in suburbs that shifted to the left over the past few years. The county’s maps have to be redrawn due to the latest Census results, and they won’t change again until 2030.

Both sides argue their colleagues across the aisle are trying to rig the local districts in their favor.

“The map that I worked with reapportionment to draw is compact,” said Rep. Bonnie Rich (R-Suwanee), who introduced the Gwinnett map that passed through the House. “There is no gerrymandering in this map unlike the map that is proposed by the Democrat delegation...”

‘An attack on people of color’

Cobb Democrats worry their one-seat advantage on their county delegation and county commission is going to be short-lived.

A proposal sponsored by state Rep. John Carson (R-Marietta) would draw a newly elected Democrat out of her seat, while shoring up another district that an incumbent Republican narrowly won in 2018.

Rep. David Wilkerson (D-Powder Springs) said Carson’s effort is clearly an attempt to limit the power of minority voters and newly elected minority candidates. In 2020, Cobb elected three Democrats — all Black women — to lead the county’s board of commissioners, flipping the balance of power in the longtime GOP stronghold.

“This is an attack on people of color,” he said.

Gwinnett Democrats similarly accuse the GOP of trying to create a nearly white-majority district to preserve at least one Republican on the board of commissioners. Gwinnett’s five-member board is all Democrats of color — a monumental shift given that the county elected its first Black and Asian American commissioners in 2018.

“They’re doubling down on their effort to segregate voters in Gwinnett and their pursuit of protecting and preserving white power in the most diverse county in the state of Georgia,” Park said last week when a map submitted by the Gwinnett commission was thrown out. “Clearly, clearly, white power is alive and well in the Georgia Republican Party.”

Rich refuted the claims, calling them “ugly and baseless name-calling.” Before her map passed 96-70, she argued it will give residents of District 4 in north Gwinnett, which is generally more white and more conservative, back their voice in the county.

“I do believe that all of the communities in our county matter,” Rich said. “That is why I drew lines that represent those distinct communities.”

Preparing for a fight

If Rich’s map becomes the new landscape for local Gwinnett politics, it’ll drastically affect the reelection chances for Marlene Fosque, the first Black candidate elected to the county board.

District 4, which she represents, will shift from being a competitive district to one likely to be filled by a Republican candidate. Her term ends at the end of this year.

(This) sets a precedent that no local governing body is safe,” Jasmine Clark (D-Lilburn) said.

Republicans aren’t backing down. Chuck Efstration (R-Dacula) argued the new map more accurately groups together communities. He said the needs and wants of central Gwinnett residents don’t match those of the more rural areas on the northern outskirts.

The less-compact districts proposed by Democrats create “the impossible task of having to prioritize so many different needs,” he said.