Redistricting day one pits harsh political reality against mellow Braves buzz

By: and - November 3, 2021 7:21 pm

Georgia Senate Majority Leader Mike Dugan’s chamber could vote on a redistricting map as soon as Friday. Williams/Georgia Recorder

State lawmakers have eased into a special session centered on drawing new district lines that throw some legislators’ political future in doubt and will significantly remake some districts.

But there was little action on map-making Wednesday as lawmakers, third-party groups and others tried to make sense of the GOP plans released on the eve of the session. The mood Wednesday was also abuzz, with the Atlanta Braves winning the team’s first World Series title in 26 years late Tuesday night.

“I rise just to say we’re World Series champions,” Riverdale Democratic Sen. Valencia Seay, who was decked out from head to toe in Braves gear, said to her colleagues in the Senate.

Not everyone was feeling jovial, though. Under Republican-drawn maps released late Tuesday, dozens of lawmakers would now live in the same district with another lawmaker. That pairing potentially pits legislators against each other and could lead to some shortened tenures.

Some lawmakers would also have to run for reelection in districts that may no longer favor them, and some of these disadvantaged incumbents are Republicans.

House Speaker David Ralston, a Blue Ridge Republican, talks to reporters Wednesday on the first day of the special session held to draw new district lines for the state. Jill Nolin/Georgia Recorder

“I think it’s no secret that Republicans are stronger in rural Georgia than perhaps they are in metro areas, and so that’s where much of the population loss has occurred,” House Speaker David Ralston, a Blue Ridge Republican, told reporters Wednesday.

“We have to account for that, and that means that some of our Republican colleagues may end up getting left behind. And that’s a tough part of this.”

Lawmakers will first take up the state legislative districts, with each chamber expected to draw their own maps. Macon Republican Sen. John Kennedy, who chairs that chamber’s redistricting committee, said the map could be put to a vote as soon as Friday.

Then they will move on to creating a congressional map that may help decide control of the U.S. House of Representatives next year. Republicans are expected to tilt at least one of two Democratic-held districts in the northern Atlanta suburbs more in their favor.

Republicans occupy both chambers of the Legislature and the governor’s mansion, giving them near total control of the once-in-a-decade process.

One influential group, Fair Districts Georgia, has given the Republicans’ Senate version of the map failing grades for partisan fairness and competitiveness while giving the House GOP proposal a more favorable “B” for partisan fairness that advantages incumbents but an “F” for competitiveness.

Advocates are also pressing for more time for public scrutiny. Lawmakers held hearings across the state this year, but not since the maps have been released. A public hearing on the Senate proposal is planned for Thursday afternoon.

“They asked for fair maps and transparency, and I hope that we are really listening and acting according to those requests,” Senate Minority Leader Gloria Butler, a Stone Mountain Democrat, said during a Senate Reapportionment and Redistricting Committee meeting held Wednesday.

This is also the first redistricting since the 2013 U.S. Supreme Court ruling struck down the preclearance requirement in the Voting Rights Act, meaning Georgia’s maps no longer need the approval of the U.S. Department of Justice.

Ralston bristled, though, at any suggestion that the process lacks oversight without the Justice Department’s involvement. He said House Republicans are following a model used in 2011, when maps won the federal government’s blessing.

Still, legal challenges can be filed if members of a racial or language minority believe their vote has been diluted by the new maps.

“There’s a building right over there called the federal courthouse with judges that I think would believe they have some oversight. So, just because we don’t have preclearance, the courthouse door is open if people have substantial issues with maps,” Ralston said.

One Republican voiced his displeasure with his party’s maps at a Wednesday afternoon rally organized by Women for America First, which drew dozens of people across the street from the state Capitol.

Sharpsburg Republican Rep. Philip Singleton’s district is set to stretch from conservative Coweta County to more Democratic south Fulton County.

Singleton is a conservative firebrand who actively campaigned on his opposition to Ralston in 2019 and who is best known for a controversial bill that would have banned transgender girls from playing girls’ sports in public schools.

“I don’t need a seat in the General Assembly for my voice to still be heard,” Singleton said to the crowd. He also said an upside to his political misfortune is that people may see there is “a difference between being a constitutional conservative and being a Republican.”

A small group of protestors also used the first day of the special session to continue their calls for an election audit after a judge recently halted their campaign to inspect absentee ballots in Fulton County.

Gov. Brian Kemp also summoned reporters to his ceremonial office Wednesday morning to offer remarks on a multi-state lawsuit filed late Friday challenging the Biden administration’s vaccine mandate for federal contractors, calling it an “outrageous big government power grab.”

“This Joe Biden mandate is a recipe for financial disaster,” Kemp said. “For businesses who do work with the federal government, this executive action makes it more likely you could lose employees to other competitors. Even if you can keep the workers you have, congratulations, Joe Biden has now made you into the vaccine police.”

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Jill Nolin
Jill Nolin

Jill Nolin has spent nearly 15 years reporting on state and local government in four states, focusing on policy and political stories and tracking public spending. She has spent the last five years chasing stories in the halls of Georgia’s Gold Dome, earning recognition for her work showing the impact of rising opioid addiction on the state’s rural communities. She is a graduate of Troy University.

Ross Williams
Ross Williams

Before joining the Georgia Recorder, Ross Williams covered local and state government for the Marietta Daily Journal.Williams' reporting took him from City Hall to homeless camps, from the offices of business executives to the living rooms of grieving parents. His work earned recognition from the Georgia Associated Press Media Editors and the Georgia Press Association, including beat reporting, business writing and non-deadline reporting. A native of Cobb County, Williams holds a bachelor’s degree in English from Atlanta's Oglethorpe University and a master’s in journalism from Northwestern University.