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Tuesday, August 16, 2011 - 5:10pm

Redistricting Maps Move Toward Vote

State Republicans handling redistricting rejected alternative district maps presented by Democrats late Tuesday. That's even though the Democratic maps would have kept Republican strongholds, and maintained that party's wide majority.

Instead the House GOP passed its own redistricting plan which now heads to the full House for a vote. And earlier in the day, the state Senate passed its redistricting plan. That means the General Assembly could vote on and likely pass all state redistricting maps by the end of this week.

The plan presented by House Democrats has fewer districts that favor minorities than the Republican plan. But it also considers districts where minorities have a strong presence but are not the majority. Democrats argue that minorities can build coalitions in those districts that bolster their electoral power. Typically minorities comprise between 35 percent and 49 percent of the population in such districts.

The plan was met with skepticism by the Republican-dominated House redistricting committee, including Rep. Matt Ramsey of Peachtree City.

“It just seems to be an incredibly ambiguous and impossible target," he said at a packed hearing. "Er, are we talking about Republicans? Democrats? Are we talking purely on racial grounds? Is it whites and blacks?"

House Democrats say they will present their plan again when the bill comes to the floor for debate.

Meanwhile, their Senate colleagues didn't have the luxury of presenting their plan Tuesday because of a committee rule change sought and obtained by the Republican majority.

But at an often heated hearing, Democrats objected, saying the Republicans have redrawn some districts to reduce the influence of African-American voters. And one district of special concern to them is the 14th district in southwest Georgia.

The current 14th Senatorial district includes all of Sumter County, and 42 percent of the population is minority.

Under the proposed map, the area would be divided into two separate districts, with parts of Sumter County in both.

Sen. Jason Carter knows the 14th district well. His grandfather, former president Jimmy Carter, once held the seat.

And the Atlanta Democrat says that the proposed district violates the federal Voting Rights Act because the district’s minority voters won’t be able to elect the candidate of their choice.

“The current Senator from that district is the candidate of choice in the minority community in that district," Carter said. "And that district has been destroyed, literally eliminated. It has been replaced with a district that is 8 percent minority.”

Sen. George Hooks, a Democrat known as the Dean of the Senate, holds the seat currently. Republican leaders say South Georgia’s population losses forced them to reduce Senate districts there.

Tuesday represented a new low point for the Democrats. Minority leader Stacey Abrams was at pains to explain to House colleagues that her plan wouldn't even question the Republicans' towering majority. She said she recognizes that the party in charge sets the terms of the debate.

But after the four-hour hearing ended, she lamented that Republicans would almost certainly not consider the testimony provided by state residents Tuesday afternoon.

Rep. Roger Lane, a Darien Republican who chairs the redistricting committee, said that's the way the process works.

"In a perfect Democracy, we would be able to bring the maps back to the people for their approval but that's not our system," he said.

He said the people elect representatives and senators to make decisions on redistricting and other matters.

Once the General Assembly approves state district maps, it will move onto drawing congressional district maps. Republicans have said they aim to wrap up redistricting by Labor Day.

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