FORT VALLEY -- Democratic organizers of forums on state reapportionment said their first event shows citizens need more information about the subject and the process.
About 50 people, mostly students from Fort Valley State University where the event was held, attended the hearing Thursday. It was the first of four forums, called the “rural hearing tour,” the state House of Representatives Democratic Caucus has scheduled south of the metro Atlanta area.
“I’m happy we came and gave people more information about what’s going on,” said Rep. Carolyn Hugley, D-Columbus, who moderated the event. “The wide range and focus of questions shows not everybody is on the same page as to their understanding of what reapportionment is about.”
Hugley is the chairwoman of the House Democratic Reapportionment Committee. Her assessment was based on the fact many of the 10 or so questions asked during the town hall-style meeting were not related to reapportionment. Many had to do with county lines and local political matters.
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Hugley told forum participants reapportionment is required every 10 years following a national census when states must figure ideal common sizes of legislative districts and then draw them accordingly. She said the new ideal population for is 53,820 for House districts and 123,580 for Senate districts.
Questions during the evening ranged from why county lines were drawn the way they were to how counties with low census response figures are affected by reapportionment. They were answered by a panel of eight Democratic representatives and senators.
Though organizers said Republicans were invited to participate, none attended.
Posing a practical question regarding reapportionment, Patty Bentley of Butler took the opportunity first to encourage young people to get involved with politics and be active in coming elections. She then asked if Taylor County will be moved from District 135. Panel members responded that though there will be some changes, Taylor and Peach counties will remain in the district.
Eva Allan, a teacher from Bibb County, asked how reapportionment will affect education. Hugley responded with a common answer throughout the evening, saying how voting lines are drawn determines who will be elected and voting to decide state issues.
“Will the person who represents you have the same concerns you have?” she asked. “Are they the representative of your choice who will put forth your ideas? This is how reapportionment can affect your future.”
Ashley Hill, a Fort Valley State student who said she became a volunteer for the event after learning of it through an American government class, asked if there was certain criteria reapportionment must follow.
Hugley read a list of nine guidelines she said Republicans adopted Wednesday but made note of the ninth guideline, which allows whatever officials “deem appropriate.”
“Number nine is the problem,” Hugley said. She said with it Republicans could choose to do whatever they wanted.
Prior to the forum, Hugley pointed out Democratic dissatisfaction with the current reapportionment process and why the rural hearing tour was necessary.
“Unlike the GOP hearings that concluded recently, House Democrats are conducting these open forums,” she said. “This means citizens may pose questions directly to our moderators and we will answer those questions to the best of our ability.”
Hugley assured forum participants their feedback would be given to the state reapportionment committee, its chairman and other related committees.
Rep. Lynmore James, D-Montezuma, who represents Fort Valley in the 135th District, was also part of the panel. At the end of the forum he encouraged participants to stay in contact with local, state and federal officials with concerns and needs, and added that if they were not responsive, to vote them out.