Maps released as lawmakers learn their fate

The longest-serving member of the Georgia Senate could face forced retirement and 20 state House incumbents -- 10 of them in metro Atlanta -- face challenges from colleagues next year under proposed legislative maps released Friday.

House and Senate committees simultaneously released proposals to for how 180 House and 56 Senate districts should be redrawn during a a special legislative session that begins Monday. Every district in the state must be redrawn every 10 years following the Census to reflect shifting population. Lawmakers return to Atlanta next week to consider and approve new maps for the House, Senate and for the U.S. House.

Proposed congressional maps, which will include Georgia’s new 14th district, have yet to be released.

The House redistricting committee holds its first hearing Tuesday. The meetings will be public.

“My goal would be to get it on the floor of the House on Thursday,” said committee chairman Rep. Roger Lane, R-Darien.

Republicans, who control the redistricting process by virtue of majorities in both chambers, praised their work as the maps were released, saying the shifts result from population gains and losses. Democrats called it a power grab.

House Minority Leader Stacey Abrams, D-Atlanta, said the maps are designed to give Republicans control of at least 120 seats, enough to unilaterally suggest changes to the state Constitution.

“There is nothing transparent about this,” Abrams said.

Ultimately it is communities, not lawmakers, who will be most affected, Krista Brewer of Georgia WAND said. Her group is one of several watchdog organizations that formed the Georgia Redistricting Alliance to monitor the process and suggest improvements.

“The whole redistricting process is real complicated but it affects our lives very closely,” Brewer said. “It determines who we can elect. And the way the boundaries are drawn affect the type of official that we can elect, who speaks for us.”

Senate Democratic whip Vincent Fort, D-Atlanta, said the map will favor creation of a new Milton County based on its likely effect on the Fulton County delegation.

At least three Republicans -- Senate Majority Leader Chip Rogers, R-Woodstock, Sen. Mitch Seabaugh, R-Sharpsburg, and Sen. Fran Millar, R-Atlanta -- would pick up portions of Fulton.

“It’s a road map to Milton County,” Fort said. “When you have six white Republicans representing a county that is 55 percent minority, it’s very clear the intent is to create a county of Milton.”

But Rogers said the plan is aimed at giving voters their own choice in representation.

“This proposed plan gives the people of Georgia the opportunity to choose their state Senators because it’s not gerrymandered,” he said. “We have learned the lessons of 2001 and created a plan that fairly represents the people, not one designed solely to achieve a political outcome.”

Of the state’s 56 senators, all but one remain in their previous districts. But Sen. George Hooks, an Americus Democrat known as the dean of the Senate, would see his district eliminated. Hooks is the senior member of the Senate, having been sworn in in 1991 after 10 years in the House. He would be in the district now served by Sen. Freddie Powell Sims, D-Dawson, if the proposed map is approved.

Hooks told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution he’s not surprised. But he also said things can change.

“I have been through (redistricting) six times,” he said. “I’ve never seen a map that stayed the same at the end of the day.”

Hooks said he hasn’t decided whether to retire or challenge Sims.

“Senator Sims and I . . . are close friends and I’m sure we’ll work something out,” Hooks said.

Another Democrat whose district could be threatened is Sen. Doug Stoner, D-Smyrna. Stoner, the chairman of the Senate Democratic Caucus, would have a district that stretches from Cobb County into the GOP-heavy Buckhead section of Fulton, if the maps are approved. That would make Stoner vulnerable to a strong Republican challenge in the 2012 general election.

Republicans noted that in 2001, during the last post-Census redistricting, Democrats used their majority to draw maps pitting 24 Republican senators against one another.

In the House, the 2001 Democratic plan paired 37 of 74 Republicans, as well as 9 Democrats and one independent. The plan released Friday by Republicans, has only 20 incumbents paired together. Of the 10 pairs, six feature Democrats and four Republicans.

“Each of these pairings is necessitated by the Voting Rights Act and population shifts,” said House Majority Whip Edward Lindsey, R-Atlanta. “The areas represented by these members lost population in relation to the growth in the rest of the state. For instance, of the 10 smallest districts by population, eight are inside the perimeter in metro Atlanta. South Georgia has similarly lost population.”

Once maps are approved by the General Assembly, and signed by Gov. Nathan Deal, they must still be reviewed federally to comply with the Voting Rights Act. Georgia is one of nine states that must have any change to election law precleared because of a history of discriminatory voting practices.

Abrams, the Democratic leader in the House, this week accused Republicans of trying to “purge” white Democrats. Of the 12 Democrats paired under the GOP plan, six are white. Abrams also said that the party’s only Latino member, Rep. Pedro Marin, D-Duluth, was drawn into a Republican district.

Kerwin Swint, a Kennesaw State University political scientist and expert on redistricting, said his initial review of the maps doesn’t show an immediate Voting Rights Act problem.

“What we are seeing is pretty much what everyone expected: Republicans will benefit,” said Swint, a former GOP consultant and a member of the Common Cause board. “That just puts Democrats in a very, very bad position.”

Paired up

In 10 House districts, incumbents could end up competing against each other. The incumbents paired in the House plan are:

Reps. Ely Dobbs, D-Atlanta, and Sheila Jones, D-Atlanta

Reps. Pat Gardner, D-Atlanta, and Rashad Taylor, D-Atlanta

Reps. Simone Bell, D-Atlanta, and Ralph Long, D-Atlanta

Reps. Stephanie Benfield, D-Atlanta, and Howard Mosby, D-Atlanta

Reps. Elena Parent, D-Atlanta, and Scott Holcomb, D-Atlanta

Reps. Mack Jackson, D-Sandersville, and Sistie Hudson, D-Sparta

Reps. Gerald Greene, R-Cuthbert, and Bob Hanner, R-Parrott

Reps. Darlene Taylor, R-Thomasville, and Gene Maddox, R-Cairo

Reps. Chuck Sims, R-Ambrose, and Tommy Smith, R-Nicholls

Reps. Mark Hatfield, R-Waycross, and Jason Spencer, R-Woodbine

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