Georgia's new congressional map -- surprise! -- helps the GOP
By Hastings Wyman
Southern Political Report
October 3, 2011 —
With Republican lawmakers in control of both chambers of the legislature and Republican Nathan Deal occupying the governor’s mansion, redistricting gave the GOP significant gains in the Peach State’s US House delegation. Under Georgia’s new congressional map, Republicans are likely to win 10 districts to the Democrats’ four; the current line-up is 8R-5D.
The reapportionment measure passed both chambers of the legislature. Voting was along party lines, with every Democrat against it, almost all Republicans for it. Gov. Deal (R) has signed the plan and now must decide whether to forward it to the Justice Department or to a Federal District Court to see if it passes muster under the Voting Rights Act.
The plan preserves all three majority-black districts and adds a fourth. However, the Democrats charge that Republican lawmakers packed black voters into minority-majority districts in order to “bleach” surrounding districts and make them more likely to elect a Republican. This reduces the number of districts that have a substantial minority of black voters, known as “black influence districts,” which give black voters a chance of electing a candidate more to their liking, i.e., a Democrat. Democrats argue that the absence of “influence districts” reduces black political power; Republicans argue that “influence districts” are not protected under the Voting Rights Act. Former state Sen. Chuck Clay (R) says, “By and large, despite all the sound and fury, most of the legal questions have been worked out over the past two decades,” leaving political fairness as an issue, but not necessarily a hurdle.
One Democrat who gains from the new plan is US Rep. Sanford Bishop in the 2nd District (Albany, etc.). Bishop, one of the state’s four African-Americans in its US House delegation, had a narrow escape in 2010, winning with 51 percent against white Republican state Rep. Mike Keown in the then-47 percent-black district. Under the new plan, Bishop’s district becomes just over 50 percent black, making his defeat by a Republican highly unlikely.
In the 6th (Roswell, etc.), fourth-term US Rep. Tom Price (R) has a slightly less Republican district, but is still a solid bet for reelection. Under the re-map, he lost Cherokee County, a Republican stronghold, but picked up some of northern DeKalb County, which leans to the GOP, but not as heavily as Cherokee County. (Word is that Price wanted very Republican Buckhead, but Gov. Deal scotched that because Price backed Karen Handel, Deal’s GOP runoff foe, in 2010.)
Freshman Austin Scott (R) in the 8th District (Macon, etc.), elected by a slim 53 percent in 2010, becomes much safer for him. A part of Macon that was two-thirds black and voted two-thirds Democratic in last year’s governor’s race was moved out of Scott’s district into Bishop’s. The result helped Democrat Bishop in the 2nd as well as Republican Scott in the 8th, which went from 33 percent African-American to 27 percent, making the 8th decidedly more favorable to the GOP.
The state gains a new seat; the new district – designated as the 9th (Gainesville, etc.) – is located in Northeast Georgia and is heavily Republican; in last year’s gubernatorial election, Deal (R) received 76 percent within the new district’s borders. The new district is only 7 percent black, which gives the Democrats a very small base. Look for a lively Republican primary. Three-term state Rep. Doug Collins and radio talk-show host Martha Zoller, who has the support of conservative commentator Erick Erickson, have already jumped into the race. State Sen. Bill Cowsert (R) from Athens is considering the race and other GOPers may also run. Democrats are not expected to make a serious bid for the seat.
In the 10th District (Athens, etc.), second-term Paul Broun (R) swaps a lot of territory with neighboring districts, giving him a number of new constituents, especially in the Atlanta suburbs, who don’t know him. Thus, he is expected to draw one or more primary opponents. Former US Rep. Mac Collins (R), 67, who has served 12 years in Congress, told the Athens Banner-Herald that there is a “better-than-even chance” that he will run; Collins once represented part of the new 10th District and now runs a trucking company in Butts County in Metro-Atlanta. And Macon businessman and retired Army officer Stephen Simpson has already announced that he will move from Macon to Athens to challenge Broun. However, Broun will have several advantages: He’s an incumbent and Gov. Deal has said he will support him in 2012.
In the 12th District (Augusta, etc.), John Barrow, the Peach State’s only white Democratic congressman, will face a much more hostile electorate in 2012. For starters, in order to seek reelection in the 12th District, which he says he will do, he will have to move out of his home in Chatham County (Savannah) which has now been moved to the 1st District. The boundary shifts also mean that Barrow’s constituency will change from one which gave Obama 55 percent in 2008 to one that gave him about 40 percent. A number of GOPers are smelling blood in the water. State Rep. Lee Anderson has already announced. Others (R) who are getting mentioned for the race include state Rep. Ben Harbin, state Senate President Pro Tem Tommie Williams, former US Rep. Max Burns, and Tea Party activist and 2010 candidate (18 percent in a 4-way primary) Jeanne Seaver..