Georgia redistricting brings opportunity for political payback

Republican state Rep. Philip Singleton could face a difficult time winning reelection under a map that Georgia GOP House members have produced for redistricting. He thinks it's retribution for his criticism of House Speaker David Ralston. “The Speaker of the House couldn’t buy me off or beat me at the ballot box, so I am unsurprised he would gerrymander to remove the most conservative Republican in the state from office,” Singleton wrote on Facebook. “This is a shocking betrayal of GA conservatives that is far worse for Coweta than even the Democrat proposal was.” (Alyssa Pointer / Alyssa.Pointer@ajc.com)
Caption
Republican state Rep. Philip Singleton could face a difficult time winning reelection under a map that Georgia GOP House members have produced for redistricting. He thinks it's retribution for his criticism of House Speaker David Ralston. “The Speaker of the House couldn’t buy me off or beat me at the ballot box, so I am unsurprised he would gerrymander to remove the most conservative Republican in the state from office,” Singleton wrote on Facebook. “This is a shocking betrayal of GA conservatives that is far worse for Coweta than even the Democrat proposal was.” (Alyssa Pointer / Alyssa.Pointer@ajc.com)

Credit: Alyssa Pointer / Alyssa.Pointer@ajc.com

Republicans join Democrats in criticism of proposed House map

Frustrated Republican voters who live south of Atlanta urged GOP legislators Monday to back off their plan to redistrict Georgia in a way that would likely push a dissident conservative, state Rep. Philip Singleton, out of office.

The three-hour public hearing showed how redistricting can cut out legislators from the majority party during a process that usually favors them. Singleton, a Republican from Sharpsburg, has been a critic of House Speaker David Ralston since his 2019 campaign.

The hearing was a step toward votes on new political maps for the state House, state Senate and Congress during a once-a-decade redistricting session of the General Assembly. The Senate plans to vote on new maps Tuesday, and the House Redistricting Committee could advance its proposal as well.

The proposed map for the Georgia House would endanger Singleton by redrawing his Coweta County district, extending it northward from the Newnan area into more liberal-leaning areas in south Fulton County currently represented by Mandisha Thomas, a Democrat from Atlanta.

Caption
The Georgia House of Representatives voted to pass a new political map, redistricting the state's 180 districts, on Wednesday, Nov. 10, 2021.

Credit: Gina.Wright

The Georgia House of Representatives voted to pass a new political map, redistricting the state's 180 districts, on Wednesday, Nov. 10, 2021.
Caption
The Georgia House of Representatives voted to pass a new political map, redistricting the state's 180 districts, on Wednesday, Nov. 10, 2021.

Credit: Gina.Wright

Credit: Gina.Wright

“You’re railroading my representation,” Maxwell Britton, a Coweta voter, said during his comments to the committee Monday. “I don’t accept your intent to California my Coweta. This is a move to disenfranchise representation of my county and my voice. I will not give up or forget.”

Singleton could find himself among several casualties of redistricting, where new boundaries can flip a district from one party to another. His supporters characterized the map as revenge for his opposition to Ralston.

Besides Singleton, several other legislators could be redistricted out of office.

Five Republicans and three Democrats were drawn into competitive districts with fellow legislators. Several other incumbents are also paired in the same districts with their peers but plan to leave the General Assembly next year because they’re running for higher office or aren’t seeking reelection.

The proposed state House map would safeguard the chamber’s Republican majority, but Georgia’s population growth and changing demographics would allow Democrats to make gains. The Republican map would reduce the number of Republican-leaning districts from 103 to 97 in the 180-seat legislative body.

House Redistricting Chairwoman Bonnie Rich said legislators have no choice but to redraw the state’s boundaries to accommodate 1 million new Georgia residents over the past decade. Each House district must have equal populations of about 59,511 residents to ensure equal representation.

“I am sympathetic to your plight,” said Rich, a Republican from Suwanee.

Singleton told his fellow Republicans that they’re abandoning the principles they claimed to stand for, such as protecting their party’s supporters, keeping communities whole and preserving incumbency.

“The Speaker of the House couldn’t buy me off or beat me at the ballot box, so I am unsurprised he would gerrymander to remove the most conservative Republican in the state from office,” Singleton wrote on Facebook. “This is a shocking betrayal of GA conservatives that is far worse for Coweta than even the Democrat proposal was.”

Singleton has made his opposition to Ralston, a Republican from Blue Ridge, a centerpiece of his political identity, criticizing him for his use of legislative leave. An investigation by The Atlanta Journal-Constitution and Channel 2 Action News found that Ralston, a criminal defense attorney, frequently delayed criminal cases by claiming they interfered with his legislative duties.

Until Monday, redistricting had been dominated by liberal-leaning activists and organizations who had made cases for maps that more closely reflected Georgia’s evenly split electorate between Republicans and Democrats.

Along with Coweta voters, residents of neighboring Fayette County also questioned legislators about why their county would be divided into four House districts.

“If this committee is controlled by Republicans, why are you doing so much less damage than the Democrats proposed?” asked Suzanne Brown of Peachtree City, wearing a shirt that said “We’re not gonna take it anymore!” “You can do better for us.”

Next, the House Redistricting Committee will decide whether to revise or pass its proposed map. After the General Assembly finishes redistricting itself, it will consider new congressional districts.


Paired incumbents

Several incumbent legislators could be redistricted into areas represented by their peers, forcing at least one of them out of office in next year’s elections.

Democrats: Shelly Hutchinson and Rebecca Mitchell of Snellville; William Boddie of East Point and David Dreyer of Atlanta.

Republicans: James Burchett of Waycross and Dominic LaRiccia of Douglas; Danny Mathis of Cochran and Robert Pruitt of Eastman; Wes Cantrell and Brad Thomas of Woodstock; David Clark and Bonnie Rich of north Gwinnett County; Sharon Cooper and Matt Dollar of east Cobb County; Clint Crowe of Jackson and Susan Holmes of Monticello.

Both parties: Democrat Winfred Dukes of Albany and Gerald Greene of Cuthbert; Republican Timothy Barr and Democrat Gregg Kennard of Lawrenceville.

Note: Boddie is running for labor commissioner and Barr is running for Congress. Cantrell, Clark, Dollar and Holmes have said they won’t seek reelection.

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