House passes GOP’s Gwinnett commission map despite Democratic opposition

Georgia House Redistricting Chairwoman Bonnie Rich, a Republican from Suwanee, speaks in favor Monday of a new congressional map that enables Republicans to gain a seat in next year's elections. The state House voted Monday to approve the map. Monday , November 22, 2021. Miguel Martinez for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Credit: Miguel Martinez for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

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Georgia House Redistricting Chairwoman Bonnie Rich, a Republican from Suwanee, speaks in favor Monday of a new congressional map that enables Republicans to gain a seat in next year's elections. The state House voted Monday to approve the map. Monday , November 22, 2021. Miguel Martinez for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Credit: Miguel Martinez for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

The new map likely ensures a conservative will return to the newly Democrat-controlled commission

Correction: An earlier version of this article said the map passed by the state House drew two sitting commissioners out of their seats. The first version of this map released Monday would have done that, but the district numbers were changed before Thursday’s vote, leading to all sitting commissioners remaining in their correctly numbered district.

Gwinnett County Democrats were outraged Thursday after a Republican-controlled Legislature threw aside their redistricting map and pushed through their own map that’s more favorable to conservative candidates.

In a vote mostly along party lines, the House passed the new map drawn by State Rep. Bonnie Rich (R-Suwanee). She introduced the map Monday, replacing the map endorsed by Gwinnett Democrats, who hold every seat on the five-member county commission and a majority of the county’s legislative delegation.

Republican supporters argue the quickly redrawn map keeps more neighborhoods intact, creates more majority-minority districts and gives conservatives in north Gwinnett more influence. The vote was 96 to 70.

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

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State Rep. Bonnie Rich, R-Suwanee, proposed this redrawn map of Gwinnett County Commission districts on Jan. 31, 2022. Since releasing this map, the district numbers have shifted to prevent sitting commissioners from being drawn out of their districts.

Credit: Courtesy

State Rep. Bonnie Rich, R-Suwanee, proposed this redrawn map of Gwinnett County Commission districts on Jan. 31, 2022. Since releasing this map, the district numbers have shifted to prevent sitting commissioners from being drawn out of their districts.

Credit: Courtesy

Combined ShapeCaption
State Rep. Bonnie Rich, R-Suwanee, proposed this redrawn map of Gwinnett County Commission districts on Jan. 31, 2022. Since releasing this map, the district numbers have shifted to prevent sitting commissioners from being drawn out of their districts.

Credit: Courtesy

Credit: Courtesy

Democrats call the move punitive after the last few elections led to Democrats taking control of Gwinnett. The county flipped from being Republican-controlled for decades to consisting of solely Democrats over the past four years.

“(This) sets a precedent that no local governing body is safe,” Jasmine Clark (D-Lilburn) said, adding that she questions whether the Legislative process for this bill was legal.

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At least one Republican lawmaker also saw this as an overreach. Rep. Philip Singleton (R-Sharpsburg) voted against the measure, calling it a usurping of local government control.

“I voted against it because local control and constitutional governance should ALWAYS come before party politics,” he wrote in a statement to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. “My party has handled redistricting like a political weapon to benefit a select few in a way that has become all too common in American politics.

Thursday’s vote went against a long-standing custom in the state Capitol by going directly to a full General Assembly vote. Typically, bills such as redrawn county commission maps are approved by the local delegation and then rubber-stamped by the full Legislature, which is controlled by Republicans.

In a news release, the league of Women Voters of Georgia chastised the move, saying it ignored the will of the public who participated in multiple meetings to redraw the map.

“HB 873, as originally submitted, was crafted with care and concern after several public advisory meetings and received unanimous approval by the Gwinnett County Board of Commissioners,” Diane Fisher, President of League of Women Voters of Gwinnett, said in a news release. “Our members were engaged in these discussions along with every Gwinnetian who choose to make their voices heard.”

Chuck Efstration (R-Dacula) argued Democrats are using the guise of public input to push through a map in their favor.

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In a prior news release, Rich said there “is zero partisan gerrymandering reflected in this proposal.” Each of the four commission districts in her proposal falls within 1% of the target population of about 239,000. None of the districts are majority white. Gwinnett is about 35% white, 30% Black, 22% Hispanic and 13% Asian, according to the latest Census data. Gwinnett has grown in the past decade by 150,000 residents, a large enough population growth to require new district lines.

The Democrat-backed map, which was thrown out by Republicans last week, would have made minimal changes to the current commission lines, which were drawn by Republicans a decade earlier. GOP leadership quickly redrew it so at least one of the commission seats, the new northern District 1, would favor conservative candidates.

Democrats argue that their map did not divide cities between districts, while the new map splits Suwanee in half and chops Lawrenceville into three districts.

“None of her (Rich’s) constituents were split by the original board of commissioner’s map,” Clark said. “Her map splits her district.”

A map released by Rich on Monday would have also moved multiple commissioners out of their districts, and it would have forced District 4 Commissioner Marlene Fosque, the first Black candidate elected to Gwinnett’s board, to move to retain her seat at the end of this year. However, the map the state House passed Thursday renumbered the districts in a way to keep all sitting commissioners in their current district.

The current legislative maneuvering is reminiscent of a surprise measure brought during last year’s special session that would have doubled the Gwinnett county commission’s size, weakening the role of the newly elected Democratic chairwoman. The measure, introduced by Sen. Clint Dixon (R-Buford), fizzled after Democratic backlash.

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