The U.S. Supreme Court decision that politically-based gerrymandering is a state issue sends a signal to Georgia that it will be “open season” on the party that fails to win control in the 2020 elections.
That appeared to be the consensus of a panel of experts — including Wendy Davis of Rome — on Monday’s episode of Bill Nigut’s “Political Rewind.”
“It tells Democrats if they don’t get the seat it’s open season, and it will be bleak for the next 10 years,” said Jim Galloway, a political columnist for the Atlanta-Journal Constitution.
Davis, a Rome city commissioner and member of the Democratic National Committee, was paired with Republican strategist Julianne Thompson. Davis said Tuesday she’s been invited to return “but I’m not sure how frequently.”
The hour-long show, which is available on the Georgia Public Broadcasting website, covered issues as diverse as recreational marijuana and the 2020 census.
Rome came up several times in the program that airs on GPB stations statewide.
When questioned, Davis said she doesn’t think her fellow Rome city commissioners are thinking about joining other cities that are decriminalizing marijuana possession.
“But it has to do with where you want to devote your resources,” she added.
The 2020 census discussion also led to a shout-out from Davis about the local census-taker jobs the federal government is trying to fill. Information is available online at Census.gov.
“They’re talking about needing to hire 200 people in Rome, Georgia, alone ... about hiring thousands across the country,” she said. “Apply! These are good-paying jobs, especially for my part of the state.”
The panelists, and Nigut, appeared to agree that there’s a heightened risk of an undercount. It’s mainly because people will be directed to go online to respond.
“I think there’s going to be a huge drop-off,” Thompson said. “Not just the people who are paranoid to begin with ... but so many won’t bother to go online.”
An undercount will affect both Republican and Democratic communities, Nigut noted, since federal grants and voting districts will be based on the 2020 count.
“There’s at least one congressional seat at stake, maybe two,” Galloway said. “We have 435 members of Congress. With population changes, there will be winners and losers ... And remember, with a congressional seat comes another Electoral College vote.”
The numbers will be released in early 2021, which is when the Georgia General Assembly — made up of the 2020 election winners — will redraw the voting district lines. Without legislative action to appoint an independent committee, that’s when partisan gerrymandering will kick in.
Gerrymandering is the manipulation of district boundaries to favor one party or candidate over another.
With data available down to a city block, it’s become a nearly foolproof way for politicians to choose their own voters — and for party leaders to decide where a candidate is eligible to run.
Both parties have used gerrymandering to bolster their standing, Nigut made clear. The U.S. Supreme Court ruling came in response to cases from Maryland, where Democrats hold power, and North Carolina, where Republicans are the legislative majority.
Davis was deputy press secretary for Georgia’s secretary of state during one of the redistricting battles when Democrats were in control. She said the use of gerrymandering has its drawbacks.
“A lot of people say some of the deals that were made were not in the long-term interest of the party. But certainly in the short-term interest of the incumbents,” Davis said. “Those elected leaders, sometimes they’ll draw a street out to get rid of someone they’re not a fan of.”
Nigut said former governor Roy Barnes lost his reelection bid to Republican Sonny Perdue in 2002 in part due to “animosity about strong-arming” the redistricting process.
“Now do Republicans take that as a lesson or an example to be followed,” Galloway mused.
He noted that Democrat Stacey Abrams garnered 45% of the vote in 15 districts — the number needed to flip the Georgia House — and those seats will be heavily targeted.
Thompson said the Republican Party has lined up behind House Speaker David Ralston precisely because it’s clear 2020 is important. Ralston has said he’s talking to Vice President Mike Pence about stumping for Republican candidates.
“Obviously there’s a lot at stake ... I am encouraged the leadership is taking it very seriously. If the vice president comes, that will be a good thing,” Thompson said.