Republicans in charge of legislative redistricting, not necessarily in driver’s seat

The Georgia Republican Party released this proposed redistricting map for North Georgia in September.

ATLANTA — The General Assembly’s special redistricting session doesn’t start until November, but the first map of redistricting season was released late Monday.

Lt. Gov. Geoff Duncan, who presides over the Georgia Senate, and Sen. John Kennedy, chairman of the chamber’s Redistricting and Reapportionment Committee, put out a proposed congressional district map that would increase the size of districts in rural South Georgia to reflect losses in population during the last decade.

The plan crafted by the Senate’s Republican majority also appears to target U.S. Rep. Lucy McBath, D-Marietta, by shifting portions of the 6th Congressional District she represents into heavily Republican areas.

Duncan defended the proposed map as in keeping with guidelines the Senate committee set last month.

“This map not only meets principles of redistricting, but we are proud to present a map that regardless of political party, Georgians can be proud of,” the lieutenant governor said. “Ensuring that any maps we produce are fair, compact, and keep communities of interest together will continue to be of upmost importance.”

Georgia lawmakers redraw the state’s legislative and congressional districts once each decade to account for changes in population reflected in the U.S. Census. Special redistricting sessions usually take place during the late summer, but the process was delayed this year because of the impact the coronavirus pandemic has had on completing and releasing the census.

A preliminary look at the Senate’s proposed congressional map shows the 14th District, including Floyd and Northwest Georgia, would be essentially the same. It would take in half of Bartow, however, instead of the half of Pickens it contains now.

Georgia counties south of Interstate 20 would gain huge swaths of territory to compensate for population losses since the 2010 census. Federal law requires congressional districts to be virtually equal in population.

The 2nd Congressional District in Southwest Georgia, which now includes only part of Muscogee County, would expand to take in the entire county, as well as portions of Harris and Houston counties now part of other districts.

But perhaps the most dramatic changes would take place further east, where some districts would in essence swap counties. The 8th Congressional District in the south-central portion of the state would add Coffee, Jeff Davis and Wheeler counties while losing Wilkinson and Wheeler counties and parts of Houston and Lowndes counties.

The 10th District would lose northern Columbia County, southern Baldwin County and all of McDuffie and Warren counties, while moving further north to gain Elbert, Jackson and Madison counties, and absorb all of Athens-Clarke County. Currently, the 10th District does not include the northern portion of Athens-Clarke.

The 12th Congressional District, which borders the 10th to the south, would shift northward to take in the part of Columbia County it does not contain now as well as all of McDuffie, Jefferson, Washington and Wilkinson counties. On its southern end, the 12th would lose Coffee, Jeff Davis, Appling and Wheeler counties.

Democrat McBath captured the 6th Congressional District in Atlanta’s northern suburbs in 2018 after it had been in Republican hands for decades, then won reelection last year.

But holding the seat would become harder in 2022 under the Senate map, which would put all of heavily Republican Forsyth County inside the 6th District for the first time. The district would retain East Cobb and North Fulton but lose northern DeKalb County.

Similarly, Democratic Rep. Carolyn Bourdeaux could face a new obstacle under the proposed 7th Congressional District Senate map. While the district would lose Forsyth County to McBath’s district, the Republican-dominated 9th Congressional District in North Georgia would dip down into northern Gwinnett County, uncomfortably close to and possibly even including Bourdeaux’s residence.

Even if Bourdeaux’s home ends up outside of her district, however, she would be allowed to run for reelection next year. Federal law does not require members of the House to reside in their districts.

The special session will begin on Nov. 3 and is expected to run into the week of Thanksgiving.

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