Two midstate legislators say more collaboration is needed the next time voting districts are redrawn, but they remain doubtful both parties can leave the process feeling satisfied.
State Rep. Allen Peake, R-Macon, had made recent statements expressing the dissatisfaction he believes many people have when it comes to the politics in Washington, D.C.: that much of it stems from the redistricting process.
The next major redistricting effort — on both state and congressional districts — will take place after the 2020 U.S. Census is completed. But in the meantime, there could be smaller changes to state districts during legislative sessions.
State officials say they will be cognizant of gerrymandering — the practice of maneuvering the boundaries in favor of one party. And Peake says more collaboration is needed during the process and more compromising also should take place when other important issues arise in the Legislature.
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“My comments were more of sensing the frustration that most Americans seem to have that Congress is so polarizing; in particular, they can’t get anything done,” the Macon Republican said. “Some of that in my opinion is congressional districts being drawn to favor for Democrats or Republicans.
“You get those elected many times that are on the far right or far left, that may be so dogmatic in their political philosophies that they’ll never come to any consensus,” Peake said. “Seventy percent in America are left wondering why they can’t get anything done. I hear it at the grocery store, at the ballgames, at church, (that) people are mad and fed up and some of it is the result of the polarization of redistricting.”
Even if you redraw the district, if it’s an incumbent running they’re going to get re-elected. The numbers are pretty indicative of that.
Brooke Miller, associate professor of Political Science at Middle Georgia State University
Peake’s colleague on the opposite side of the political aisle, state Sen. David Lucas, D-Macon, says Georgia legislators are able at times to work together across political lines. But it was a different result when Democrats were accused of gerrymandering in the past.
The process of setting up new district boundaries after census data is reported should not be as difficult as it is. Republicans have taken the practice to a new level, Lucas said.
“We drew lines and went to court and it was thrown out and Republicans took control,” he said. “They did the same thing we did, and when they did it the courts went along with it. Republicans drew lines that had less than 35 percent blacks in it and made it conservative, which meant it was going to be Republican regardless.”
Historically, the political party with the most power in a state Legislature draws the lines to benefit their party, said Brooke Miller, an associate professor of political science at Middle Georgia State University.
The question is when redistricting happens does it really change the voting results, Miller said.
There’s a lack of competitive seats in Georgia – similar to the national level, where roughly 95 percent of House members are re-elected and 82 percent of senators. Ultimately, it’s up to the party leadership in Washington, D.C., to enact policies and legislation the majority of the public supports, Miller said.
“Even if you redraw the district, if it’s an incumbent running, they’re going to get re-elected,” she said. “The numbers are pretty indicative of that.”
But the fact that redistricting can lead to court cases means legislators must be careful with how they redraw the districts, Miller said.
And that’s what happened in Georgia in the 1990s.
The political reality is this is the way redistricting has been done under Republican and Democrat rule. We’re both at fault and we created this mess.
State Rep. Allen Peake, R-Macon
In 1995, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled on a gerrymandering case in which Georgia’s lines were redrawn by a Democratic-controlled Legislature to increase the chance of minorities being elected to office. The Supreme Court found in Miller v. Johnson that an amorphous district was unconstitutional.
Gerrymandering has also led to some hot water for other state’s legislators.
The Supreme Court ruled in 2016 that North Carolina Republicans were unconstitutionally redrawing districts along racial lines. And Supreme Court justices are also scheduled to hear this year a claim of gerrymandering in Texas dealing with Hispanic voters.
A Washington Post article published in April 2015 described Georgia as a haven for gerrymandering. The article points out that the party line results from the 2012 presidential election were the same in 233 of 236 seats in the state House and Senate.
Last year an effort by two Democrat legislators to have an independent, bipartisan committee draw Georgia’s districts failed to gain traction. At the time, some Republicans noted that the last redistricting was approved by the U.S. Department of Justice.
Although Peake said he’d like to see the two sides working more closely together on such an important issue as how voting boundaries are determined, he also believes it’s unlikely.
“I seriously doubt it. The political reality is this is the way redistricting has been done under Republican and Democrat rule,” Peake said. “We’re both at fault and we created this mess.”