GOP redistricting plan would tighten grip on congressional delegation

Republicans, already holding a majority of the state's congressional delegation, could strengthen their grip under proposed congressional maps released Monday as part of the redistricting process.

For the first time in modern memory, Republicans would represent a portion of the city of Atlanta in the U.S. House with the placement of a piece of Buckhead in the 11th Congressional District, which is represented by Rep. Phil Gingrey, R-Marietta. The maps also would leave Rep. John Barrow, one of the few remaining white Southern Democrats in the U.S. House, drawn out of his district.

The plans released by Georgia's Republican leadership in the General Assembly also would create a new congressional district that would lean toward the GOP.

The release is the final major piece of the redistricting puzzle, the process following the U.S. census where lawmakers redraw the state's congressional boundaries.

The Senate is expected to vote Tuesday on plans to redraw the 180 districts of the state House, and the House could approve state Senate lines Wednesday -- although Gov. Nathan Deal and legislative leaders continue to work on potential tweaks to the House plan.

But the release Monday of the new congressional maps will likely dominate much of the rest of this special legislative session, now in its second week.

In Atlanta, reactions to the proposed changes largely followed party lines. U.S. Rep. John Lewis, D-Ga., who would lose the Buckhead area to Gingrey, said the plan "is an affront to the spirit and the letter of the Voting Rights Act."

"The city of Atlanta should remain whole," Lewis said in a statement, "and attempts to split the city are nothing more than naked partisanship."

But House Majority Whip Rep. Edward Lindsey, R-Atlanta, said the move would give the city added clout in Congress.

"It's important for the city of Atlanta, the capital city of our state, to have strong congressional representation on both sides of the political aisle so our needs and interests are taken care of regardless of who is in power in the White House or Congress," Lindsey said.

Barrow, first elected to Congress in 2004, has long been a target of Republicans, and this would force his second move to hold onto his seat.

The congressman now lives in Chatham County, which under the GOP plan would move entirely into Republican Rep. Jack Kingston's coastal 1st District. The 12th District, which Barrow now represents, would stretch across central-western-south Georgia from Coffee County to Columbia and Richmond counties.

Barrow already has two potential Republican challengers. State Reps. Ben Harbin of Evans and Lee Anderson of Grovetown told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution that they are considering runs.

But Barrow has been in this spot before. He previously lived in Athens and moved to Savannah after Republicans redrew his district before the 2006 election. Barrow spokesman Christopher Cashman confirmed the congressman will move to the new 12th District and run for re-election.

“This isn’t the first time the folks in Atlanta have put politics above the interests of the people I represent ... and I doubt it will be the last," Barrow said in a statement.

Across North Georgia, meanwhile, voters must also get used to changes. When the state was awarded a new 14th Congressional District in last year's census, it was quickly apparent it would be in the northern part of the state, home to the most population growth.

The map released Monday shows the new 14th District to include most all of northwestern Georgia while the 9th District extends east. U.S. Rep. Tom Graves, a Republican from Gordon County, now lives in the 14th District, while the 9th becomes an open seat.

The population center of the new 9th District would be Gainesville, the governor's hometown. The town’s growing political clout is a point of pride in the Big Bear Café, which counts Deal as an occasional customer.

Seated at the counter, Jerry Nix, 77, who served as Hall County commissioner in the early 1980s, said recently that he has never seen Gainesville hold so much sway. He is pleased with Graves' work but would not mind electing another local to high office.

“Why not?” he replied when asked Friday whether he would like to see a Gainesville-based congressional district. “We got the governor.”

Taken as a whole, the maps are fairly typical, said Kerwin Swint, a Kennesaw State University political scientist and an expert on redistricting.

"It’s a very political map," Swint said. "It’s a Republican-friendly map."

Typical is not good, though, said members of the Georgia Redistricting Alliance.

Kelli Persons of the League of Women Voters of Georgia said Republican lawmakers praised themselves for a series of public hearings held across the state, but she noted that much of that input seems to be missing from the maps.

"You can't see the public input being reflected," she said. "Nor has there been much time for reaction."

There could be more time for reflection, at least as it relates to the proposed state House maps. Deal and others in Hall County were unhappy that the House plan would split the county and asked for changes.

"It's obviously a concern for me, a county that has gone from having three major representatives and a fractional part of another is now going to be split into seven different configurations," Deal said.

Speaker David Ralston, R-Blue Ridge, said it is his "objective to fix the problem," but whether that happens during the special session or when lawmakers return in January is unclear.

"If we can get our friends in the Senate to work with us," he said, "we can do it sooner rather than later."

Staff writer Daniel Malloy contributed to this article.

Highlights of the proposed congressional maps

  • The city of Atlanta could become bipartisan as part of Buckhead would shift from Democratic U.S. Rep. John Lewis to Republican U.S. Rep. Phil Gingrey.
  • U.S. Rep. John Barrow, a Savannah Democrat, would no longer live in his district, although a spokesman said the congressman would move to the redrawn 12th District.
  • An open seat would be carved out of northeast Georgia, and this new 9th District would be a Republican-leaning seat.
  • The former 9th District would becomes the 14th District, home to U.S. Rep. Tom Graves.
  • U.S. Rep. Sanford Bishop, a southwest Georgia Democrat, would get a slightly friendlier district in what becomes a majority African-American seat.