Proposed new legislative plans cleared a key vote Friday as Republican lawmakers scramble to push through relief plans that they say comply with a federal judge's ruling that struck down the state's political plans.
But Democrats argue the plans conflict with the court-ordered solution and put everyone at risk of a special master redrawing the maps for them.
The GOP-controlled Senate and House sent the maps through their chamber on the third day of a special redistricting session that was necessary after Judge Steve Jones ruled in October that the maps drawn in 2021 reflected the voting strength of Black Georgians watered down.
The maps still need to be approved by the other chamber, and lawmakers began the committee review process Friday afternoon, when a closely watched congressional map was also released. All three cards must be on the judge's desk by December 8th.
Senate Democrats criticized the proposed relief plans, calling them a “bootleg game” that swayed Black voters without significantly improving their ability to elect their preferred candidates.
And in the House, Democrats argued that the GOP-drawn map created the needed majority of black districts while destroying other districts where diverse communities help elect candidates favored by minorities.
Republicans have pushed back on the criticism, at times dismissing it as sour grapes because the new court-ordered maps have not resulted in the likely Democratic gains some had expected given that black Georgians tend to vote for Democrats at high rates .
And GOP leaders argue that their maps comply with the judge's 516-page order.
“So, as we as a state hope to trump Alabama in a particular sports competition this weekend, we will not follow the lead of their legislature as we lack seriousness and respect for a thorough and detailed decision by a federal judge that I recognize I think, that we all greatly respect and admire,” said Republican Rep. Rob Leverett of Elberton, chairman of the House Appropriations and Redistricting Committee
“We will stick to it,” he said.
The Senate map
Under the proposed Senate map, Democratic Senators Elena Parent and Jason Esteves would also see their current metro Atlanta districts go from predominantly white to districts with a significant black population.
Minority Leader Gloria Butler said the Senate plan was based on “smoke and mirrors.”
“In many ways, the Republican proposal is a fraud,” the Stone Mountain Democrat said. “In the specific area where the court found violations of the Voting Rights Act, the majority’s proposal will displace nearly as many black residents from existing majority-black districts as it will move into majority-black districts. This means that, on net, only about 3,000 black voters in the vote dilution area identified by the court were moved to majority black precincts.”
The chamber cleared the map mostly along party lines. Carrollton Republican Sen. Mike Dugan voted against the plans because he said in a statement that the changes “have adjusted the makeup of my district far more than I believe it should have been,” and he called the procedure to request changes to the “Politics at its Ugliest” map.
Macon Democratic Sen. David Lucas, first elected to the House in 1975 and the Senate in 2012, said neither side would be happy if the court rejected the maps and a special commissioner was appointed to draw the boundary lines. State senators listen to debate on a proposed new Senate map. Ross Williams/Georgia recorder
“I saw it going around. I've seen people cry when they leave here because they're moving out of a district. I saw some people rejoicing that they kept this district,” he said. “But let me tell you, there is no joy when a special master does it. It happens through numbers. Not who you are, not where you live, and it doesn't make sense if you're with someone. They don’t care, they just look at numbers.”
Republicans strongly opposed proposals aimed at weakening the power of the black vote in Georgia.
Cummings Republican Sen. Greg Dolezal pointed out the numbers: There are 14 Black-majority districts on the 2021 Senate map. The proposed new map includes 16. The judge had ordered lawmakers to create two additional black-majority districts in the southern metro Atlanta area.
“It complies with the Voting Rights Act in every way, unless you believe the Voting Rights Act was created to create Democratic districts,” Dolezal said. “And if we're being completely honest, the reason objections are being raised is because this map doesn't create any new Democratic districts. I read the order, I read the remedy in the order, looked through it, I don’t see anything about creating new Democratic districts.”
Sen. John Kennedy, a Macon Republican who chaired the Senate redistricting committee in 2021, said Democrats should be happy with what they get.
“The Senate maps could reflect an entirely new makeup of the Senate and completely disregard the work we did in 2021. What does this mean? That means we could have played games,” Kennedy said. “We could have brought Democrats together in the same district, we could have redrawn the entire map to comply with the judge's order, but we would have done things that, quite frankly, we didn't do in 1921, and presided over by (Echols) We didn’t do it this time either because that’s not the way this majority party has worked on maps for the last 20 years.”
The house card
The new district boundaries for the House of Representatives were approved by a bipartisan vote of 101 to 77 in the House.
The plan creates the court-ordered five new majority-black districts in metro Atlanta and Macon-Bibb County, but also puts four pairs of incumbents in the same district, with three of those sets representing Democrats. In each match, one person will not return to the Gold Dome after next year's election.
House Speaker Jon Burns pointed to the one Republican pairing as evidence that neither party will emerge from this process unscathed.
“It is not my decision to be here, but we will be here and do the job that we have been asked to do. We will comply with Judge Jones' order. We will create new black-majority districts in this state. That's what we were told. That’s exactly what this card does,” Burns said.
Longtime Griffin Rep. David Knight, who chairs the higher education budget committee, would join two-term Concord Rep. Beth Camp. Both voted for the map Friday, with Camp saying the changes were unfortunate but their support was necessary.
“Emotions cannot prevail on this important task given the looming deadline,” she told her colleagues. Rep. Sam Park said the judge should reject the House map. Ross Williams/Georgia recorder
But Democrats have argued that the new majority-Black districts on the Republican-drawn map will be created at the expense of minority representation in Gwinnett and Dekalb counties.
Lawrenceville Republican Rep. Sam Park said the judge should reject the plans, which he called an “undemocratic, un-American blatant exercise in partisan political manipulation.”
Park holds a leadership role in the Democratic caucus, but is also a potential victim of the Democratic pairings. Under the House plan, he was drawn into the same district as Rep. Gregg Kennard.
Park said the changes amount to “five steps forward and two steps back.”
“Georgia’s blatant disregard for existing law protecting majority-minority voting districts demonstrates an intent to re-attack the Voting Rights Act by limiting its protections,” Park said.
House Minority Leader James Beverly accused Republicans of trying to split these two different Atlanta-area districts just to save an incumbent.
“You can't say 'We complied' and then break the law. That's not how America works. It’s certainly not the way Georgia operates and it’s certainly not what Judge Jones ordered,” he said.
Democrats in both chambers offered alternatives, but they made no progress. In the House of Representatives, Republicans criticized the map put forward by Democrats because they said it failed to create five districts where black voters make up more than 50% of the population. One of the five districts on the Democratic map falls just below that threshold, but Beverly defended it as offering a black plurality that would satisfy the judge's order.
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Story Type: News
Based on facts either observed and verified firsthand by the reporter or reported and verified by knowledgeable sources.