GOP's Gwinnett commission map threatens two Democratic incumbents

Credit: Miguel Martinez for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Credit: Miguel Martinez for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

State Rep. Bonnie Rich, R-Suwanee, released Monday a proposed district map for the Gwinnett County Board of Commissioners that substantially changes the redistricting map backed by Democrats, who hold every seat on the county commission and a majority of the county’s legislative delegation.

“There is zero partisan gerrymandering reflected in this proposal, which seeks to comply with all aspects of the laws of redistricting,” Rich said in a news release.

The Republicans’ map draws much of northern Gwinnett County, a conservative bastion, together and labels it District 1. The current District 1 commissioner, Kirkland Carden, does not live in District 1. His term expires in two years.

If the proposed map is signed into law, District 1 could have a commissioner that does not live in district boundaries for two years, Carden said.

“I was elected to a four-year job,” he said. “The only way for me to leave that job is by referendum, resignation or death.”

Districts 2 and 4 are on the ballot during midterm elections, while Districts 1 and 3 and the countywide chair appear on presidential ballots, according to the legislation that created Gwinnett County. Districts 2 and 4, on this year’s ballot, are currently represented by Ben Ku and Marlene Fosque, respectively. But under the Republicans’ proposed map, Fosque now lives in District 1, Carden in District 2 and Ku in District 4.

Carden said a county attorney told commissioners that if the Republican map passes, Ku could run in District 4 this year, but Fosque would have to move to the new District 2 or the new District 4 to run for re-election. Qualifying begins March 7.

Credit: Courtesy

Credit: Courtesy

“This map looks as if it’s designed to unseat the first Black woman elected to the Gwinnett Board of Commissioners in 200 years,” said state Rep. Sam Park, a Lawrenceville Democrat who chairs the county’s legislative delegation in the House.

According to a population summary from the county’s lobbyist, each of the four commission districts in the Republican proposal falls within 1% of the target population of about 239,000. None of the districts are majority white.

Gwinnett, the most diverse county in the Southeast, is about 35% white, 30% Black, 22% Hispanic and 13% Asian, according to 2021 Census estimates.

In the news release, Rich said the Republicans’ proposed map “keeps communities of interest together,” alluding to her past remarks that northern Gwinnett is such a community that previous maps divided. Georgia law says redistricting must preserve “communities of interest,” or groups of people with similar legislative concerns.

Carden countered that the Republicans’ map would split historically Black communities in southern Gwinnett and the Latino community in western Gwinnett.

“If you’re so worried about keeping communities of interest together, why are you splitting south Gwinnett?” Carden said. “That shows me their priorities.”

The House Governmental Affairs Committee is scheduled to hold a hearing on the proposed map Tuesday at 8 a.m. The Gwinnett commission meets Tuesday beginning at 9:45 a.m.

Park blasted Rich for unilaterally introducing maps, which he predicted Republicans would support.

“That’s how they play and they’re in the majority and they feel they can do whatever they want, so that’s how they’ll act,” Park said.