Local

Georgia Democrats float anti-gerrymander bill

State Sen. Elena Parent (left) and state Rep. Pat Gardner, both Atlanta Democrats, want an independent commission to draw districts for the U.S. Congress and state Legislature. Speaking at the state Capitol, they argue that unfair maps give Republicans an unfair advantage.
State Sen. Elena Parent (left) and state Rep. Pat Gardner, both Atlanta Democrats, want an independent commission to draw districts for the U.S. Congress and state Legislature. Speaking at the state Capitol, they argue that unfair maps give Republicans an unfair advantage. The Telegraph

A pair of Democrats who work under the Gold Dome in Atlanta are trying some long-shot legislation: They’re asking Republicans to give up an obscure — but important — power.

The power is that the Republican-controlled state Legislature draws the districts for Georgia’s 14 U.S. representatives and for the 236 members of the state House and Senate.

“We believe that …voters should elect their representatives. What has happened is representatives get together around a map to choose their voters,” said state Rep. Pat Gardner, D-Atlanta, explaining two pieces of legislation she’s just filed.

One of them would put mapmaking in the hands of an independent, bipartisan commission. The other specifies that maps can’t be drawn to favor or disfavor a party or incumbent.

Georgia is a red state, but people like Gardner argue that it’s not as red as its slate of elected officials in Congress and in the state Legislature. That’s because more than 60 percent of the folks Georgia elects to Congress and the state Legislature are Republicans. But broadly, in recent statewide elections, Republican candidates have picked up 51 to 53 percent of votes, and Democrats about 41 to 45 percent.

“The excesses of unfairly drawn districts that have been manipulated by partisan political interests and very specific map drawing are a very real threat to the functioning of our country,” said state Sen. Elena Parent, D-Atlanta, who’s filed Senate bills identical to Gardner’s.

Parent said that in some ways the two parties are like “warring” factions directed by the votes of the most partisan activists, and that often centrist voices are left unheard. She traces that in part to mapmaking: seats that are drawn to be safely blue or red, but not purple.

“As a result, we have most of our elections taking place in the primaries,” she said. Those elections tend to be dominated by party stalwarts.

Parent also said that federal cases in other states suggest courts are becoming less likely to accept partisan gerrymanders. Asked if a lawsuit might be a possibility, she said, “We intend to fight on all fronts.”

However, Republicans point out that the last major redraw, which came after the 2010 Census, was OK’d by the Department of Justice under the Democratic administration of President Barack Obama.

About half the states have an independent redistricting commission or some kind of body that can assist the Legislature with redistricting, according to the nonpartisan National Conference of State Legislatures.

During the last legislative session, state Rep. Jason Spencer signed an independent redistricting commission bill, the only Republican among four Democrats.

“Let’s just be blunt about this. The redistricting process is probably the most highly political situation that can ever go on inside the state Capitol. It’s extremely political,” the Woodbine lawmaker said.

Though he’s a Republican, he said he had a tough race after a recent round of GOP-led reapportionment. Spencer said he was drawn into a district with a fellow Republican representative plus one more Republican candidate.

The idea of an independent redistricting commission merits discussion, Spencer said.

But he also said that given the GOP’s majority, “I think that the Democrats are spitting in the wind on the issue.”

The next major redistricting will be held after the 2020 Census.

Maggie Lee: @maggie_a_lee

  Comments