Gwinnett Democrats blast Republican maneuvering on redistricting

State Rep. Jasmine Clark, D-Lilburn, asks representatives with Fair Count in August how to involve her constituents in the redistricting process. (Tyler Wilkins/ tyler.wilkins@ajc.com)

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State Rep. Jasmine Clark, D-Lilburn, asks representatives with Fair Count in August how to involve her constituents in the redistricting process. (Tyler Wilkins/ tyler.wilkins@ajc.com)

Democratic members of the Gwinnett County legislative delegation last week decried what they said was “a hostile state takeover of Gwinnett County,” after a proposed Board of Commissioners map that had been approved by the commission and the majority of the delegation was moved into a state House committee where it can be altered.

State Rep. Jasmine Clark, D-Lilburn, vice chairwoman of the Gwinnett state house delegation, said at a news conference that the normal procedure is to assign local redistricting bills to the intragovernmental coordination committee.

From there, as long as a majority of the delegation from that jurisdiction approves, the maps go to the House floor, Clark said. Members of the House conventionally respect the will of local leaders and approve the maps, she said.

But Republicans, who control the legislature, recently moved the proposed commission map to the governmental affairs committee, removing it from the typical process, legislators said.

“The GOP is once again attempting a state takeover of Gwinnett County by using loopholes and political trickery to take these local bills and put them into the hands of legislators that don’t even live in Gwinnett,” Clark said at the conference at the state Capitol.

ExploreGwinnett proposes redistricting map with commission size unchanged

The five-member Gwinnett commission are all Democrats and all people of color. Democrats gained control of the board for the first time in decades after the 2020 election. Most of the state representatives and senators in Gwinnett are also Democrats.

The Gwinnett commission has four members elected from geographic districts and a chair who is elected countywide.

Commissioners and legislators said the commission map makes minor changes from the map that Republicans approved a decade ago. They said it keeps cities and voting precincts together and each geographic district has a racial and ethnic makeup similar to that of the county, the most diverse in the Southeast.

“Their objections cannot be to the physical maps,” Clark said. “Their objections must be to the people who have moved into Gwinnett, call it home and have chosen leadership that reflects the beautiful evolution of our county into a heterogenous blend of races, ethnicities and cultures.”

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Democratic legislators repeatedly alluded to Republican state Sen. Clint Dixon’s attempt in November to expand the commission size and weaken the chairperson. Dixon, of Buford, withdrew his special-session proposals after a public outcry.

Dixon and state representatives Bonnie Rich, Chuck Efstration and Tom Kirby, all Republicans, voted against the proposed commission map last week in a delegation meeting. Democrats blamed Rich, of Suwanee, for the redistricting bill’s reassignment.

Rich did not return messages seeking comment.

Dixon said he would like to see a commission district that keeps the northern third of Gwinnett together.

“There is a conservative majority in the northern part of the county that feels underrepresented,” Dixon said. “I would completely disagree that this is any kind of power grab from us because it does not give us any kind of majority whatsoever.”

No current commission members live in that northern third, he said.

Dixon’s district, which covers northern Gwinnett and is close in population to a commission district, is roughly 50% white, 17% Black, 16% Hispanic and 15% Asian, according to 2020 U.S. Census data.

By contrast, Gwinnett County last year was about 35% white, 30% Black, 22% Hispanic and 13% Asian, according to 2021 Census estimates.

State Rep. Sam Park, a Lawrenceville Democrat who chairs the Gwinnett delegation, said Republicans are attempting to segregate Gwinnett voters by seizing control over the maps.

“Clearly white power is alive and well in the Georgia Republican party,” he said.

District 1 Commissioner Kirkland Carden, whose district includes parts of northern and western Gwinnett, said Republicans were singling Gwinnett out for its diversity in a contentious election year.

“All we’re asking is to treat our bill like all the other local communities,” Carden said. “Respect us. Respect the will of the people. Respect the voters.”