Georgia House adopts Republican-drawn congressional map, wraps up redistricting session

Georgia’s new congressional map is expected to give Republicans a 9-5 majority in the state’s U.S. House delegation.

ATLANTA – The Republican-controlled state House of Representatives approved a new congressional map Monday, the final act in a once-a-decade redistricting special session.

House members voted 96-68 virtually along party lines after Democrats complained Republicans drew a map that targeted a Black woman incumbent and spread minority voters thin in order to retain a GOP majority in Georgia’s congressional delegation through the end of this decade.

“This map puts power over principle, partisanship over people,” said House Minority Leader James Beverly, D-Macon.

Legislative Democrats proposed a congressional map that likely would have led to a 7-7 split in the delegation, which they argued would reflect the 50-50 partisan divide that has arisen in Georgia as a result of minority population growth since the last census in 2010.

Instead, the new map is expected to pave the way for Republicans to gain one seat on their current 8-6 majority for a 9-5 advantage.

To accomplish that, the map looks likely to re-flip the 6th Congressional District Democratic U.S. Rep. Lucy McBath of Marietta – who is Black – won in 2018 after it had been in GOP hands for decades. The district, currently concentrated in ethnically diverse suburban East Cobb, North Fulton and North DeKalb counties, now stretches into more exurban and even rural communities in predominantly white Forsyth, Dawson and eastern Cherokee counties

“We should not be drawing maps that target women incumbents,” said Rep. Miriam Paris, D-Macon. “This congressional map does just that.”

Rep. Bonnie Rich, R-Suwanee, chairman of the House Legislative & Congressional Reapportionment Committee, bristled at the Democrats’ accusations of targeting. She said it’s necessary to move voters out of districts that have grown larger than the 755,000 legally required for even distribution and shift voters into other districts that are underpopulated.

“We don’t draw maps to protect incumbents,” she said. “We draw maps for the people.”

The other specific complaint Democrats raised Monday was over Republicans adding voters from heavily Black South Cobb County to the largely white, rural Northwest Georgia district represented by conservative firebrand Congresswoman Marjorie Taylor Greene, R-Rome.

But House Minority Leader David Wilkerson, D-Powder Springs, said there’s more to the issue than Greene, including the map splitting Cobb between four congressional districts, and dividing South Cobb alone three ways.

“This is not about Marjorie Taylor Greene or whoever else represents the district,” he said. “It’s about fairness.”

But House Speaker David Ralston said the decision to extend the 14th District to the south was not politically motivated.

“That district needed to pick up about 36,000 people,” said Ralston, R-Blue Ridge. “We had to go somewhere and find them. … That’s a challenge.”

Democrats are expected to file lawsuits challenging the congressional map and well as new Georgia House and Senate maps lawmakers adopted earlier in the special session.

Ralston said he’s confident the maps will be upheld.

“The maps – the rhetoric notwithstanding – are fair. They follow the law and the Voting Rights Act,” he said. “I was very proud of the process and the work that went into this.”

This story is available through a news partnership with Capitol Beat News Service, a project of the Georgia Press Educational Foundation.


Redistricting likely cements Republican power in Georgia

ATLANTA – Republicans have positioned themselves to keep control of the General Assembly and Georgia’s U.S. House delegation through the rest of this decade even though the state’s been increasingly friendly toward Democrats in recent years.

New legislative maps Georgia lawmakers adopted during this month’s special redistricting session are likely to let minority Democrats gain half a dozen seats in the GOP-controlled state House of Representatives and pick up at least one seat in the Georgia Senate.

By targeting the 6th Congressional District seat held by Democratic U.S. Rep. Lucy McBath, final passage of the Republicans’ new congressional map expected Monday likely would build on the GOP’s current 8-6 advantage in the state’s congressional delegation, yielding a 9-5 split.

In both the General Assembly and congressional delegation, Republicans could have done better, argues Charles Bullock, a political science professor at the University of Georgia who has written extensively on redistricting.

However, GOP legislative leaders smartly opted instead for a conservative approach that still promises to produce comfortable majorities without jeopardizing their prospects later in the decade, he said.

“Democrats overreached 20 years ago.” Bullock said, referring to the last time Democrats controlled the legislature and, thus, were in charge of redistricting. “They ended up slicing up some of those districts so thin they couldn’t defend them.”

“The Republican Party learned from the mistakes of the Democratic Party,” state Sen. Bill Cowsert, R-Athens, added during one of the Senate redistricting committee’s map debates.

Bullock said a more aggressive strategy aimed at gaining Republican seats in the General Assembly and picking up more than a single seat in the congressional delegation could have backfired on the GOP.

He said spreading Republican voters too thin wouldn’t work in a state where Democrats prevailed in the last three high-profile election contests: President Joe Biden’s narrow victory in Georgia over Republican incumbent Donald Trump and the two runoff wins of Democratic U.S. Sens. Jon Ossoff and Raphael Warnock.

“The state’s changed a lot over the years,” Bullock said. “The seats [Republicans] could narrowly hold in 2022 or ’24 might not be winnable in subsequent elections. … They could see control slip away from them.”

Two of the six state House seats Democrats stand to gain are in otherwise solidly Republican North Georgia.

GOP mapmakers have drawn House District 4 in Whitfield County with a minority voting-age population (VAP) of nearly 50% thanks to a high concentration of Hispanic textile workers. Districts with minority VAPs above 40% are generally considered competitive for Democrats.

An even more pronounced minority VAP of more than 55% can be found in Gainesville’s District 29, home to a large community of Hispanics who work in the poultry processing industry.

Cobb County, which has experienced significant growth in its minority population in recent years, has another House seat that could flip to the Democrats. District 43 southeast of Marietta and north of Smyrna has a minority VAP of 45.8%.

The other three House districts now in Republican hands but likely to go Democratic were caught up in a battle within the GOP.

The new House map draws Republican Rep. Philip Singleton of Sharpsburg, who has been critical of House Speaker David Ralston, out of his district and extends three heavily Republican districts centered in Coweta and Fayette counties north into the Democratic stronghold of South Fulton County.

The white VAP in the three new districts ranges from 26% to 31%. Residents of the districts showed up to committee hearings en masse, making the move against Singleton the most controversial affecting the House map.

“The plan you have is going to be a loss of voice for so many people in Peachtree City,” Suzanne Brown of Peachtree City complained to the House redistricting committee.

The new state Senate map gives Democrats a shoe-in to gain at least one seat by moving the rural South Georgia district served by Sen. Tyler Harper, R-Ocilla, to a portion of Gwinnett County with a heavily minority population. Harper’s district became expendable for the Republicans when he decided to run for state agriculture commissioner.

However, that gain Democratic gain could be offset by the substantial redrawing of Senate District 48. Formerly centered in Gwinnett County, the new map extends the district north into Forsyth County, turning what had been a majority-minority district into one with a white VAP of more than 52%.

The move brought complaints that Republicans were targeting Sen. Michelle Au, D-Johns Creek, the first Asian woman ever elected to the Georgia Senate.

“It took our state 230 years to elect an Asian woman on the Senate side,” said state Rep. Bee Nguyen, D-Atlanta.

But the loudest objections that Republicans are going after incumbent Democrats was over the substantial redrawing of the 6th Congressional District.

By law, redistricting must leave all congressional districts virtually even in population, and the current 6th District is fewer than 700 voters above the ideal population of about 765,000. As a result, Democrats argued little change was necessary to comply with the law.

But the Republican map removes heavily Democratic portions of DeKalb County from the 6th and runs the district north through Republican-friendly Forsyth and Dawson counties as well as eastern Cherokee County. As a result, what was a competitive, racially balanced district now has a white VAP of 63.7%.

“The new 6th District doesn’t make sense,” Senate Minority Leader Gloria Butler, D-Stone Mountain, said Friday. “Sandy Springs and Dawson County share less in common than Sandy Springs with East Cobb and North DeKalb.”

The other flareup in the debate over the new congressional map was over controversial Republican Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene’s 14th District in predominantly white, mostly rural Northwest Georgia expanding south into mostly Black areas of Cobb County.

“This is not what the citizens of my district deserve,” state Rep. Erica Thomas, D-Austell, told members of the House redistricting committee Thursday. “They have been paired with a district that does not look like them or share values with them.”

If this month’s redistricting session has the expected impact on next year’s congressional and legislative elections, Republicans would emerge with majorities of 97 of the 180 seats in the Georgia House, 33 of the state Senate’s 56 seats, and nine of the 14 congressional seats.

But Bullock injected a note of caution. No matter how the districts are drawn, he said, Republicans and Democrats still must field strong candidates to win them.

“You can’t beat somebody with nobody,” he said.

This story is available through a news partnership with Capitol Beat News Service, a project of the Georgia Press Educational Foundation.


State Senate passes ‘pretty’ GOP-drawn congressional map; House could approve Monday

ATLANTA — Georgia’s state Senate adopted a Republican-drawn congressional map on Friday over the objections of Senate Democrats.The Georgia House is expected to follow suit on Monday, ending a months-long partisan battle to decide the state’s political future for the next decade.

The GOP-controlled Senate voted along party lines, 32-21, to approve the map.

The General Assembly has been meeting in special session for two weeks as lawmakers redraw legislative and congressional boundaries to accommodate changes in population reflected in the 2020 U.S. Census.

Lawmakers have already approved new state House and Senate districts during the last two weeks. 

The map approved Friday adds more white voters to the 6th Congressional District by extending it north through all of Forsyth and Dawson counties and eastern Cherokee County. As a result, the 6th District’s white voting-age population would increase to 63.7%

That makes the reelection prospects of U.S. Rep. Lucy McBath, D-Marietta, problematic at best. McBath won the seat representing East Cobb, North Fulton and North DeKalb counties in 2018 after it had been in Republican hands for decades.

Under the new map, the 7th Congressional District would take in most of Gwinnett County and a portion of North Fulton, increasing its concentration of minority voters and, thus, making it safer for freshman Rep. Carolyn Bourdeaux, D-Lawrenceville.

The map also makes the 2nd Congressional District in Southwest Georgia held by Rep. Sanford Bishop, D-Albany, more competitive by slightly lowering its Black voting-age population (VAP) and raising its white VAP.

State Sen. John Kennedy, R-Macon, who chairs the Senate Reapportionment and Redistricting Committee, continued stressing, as he has over the past several weeks, that all of the new maps have been drawn in a fair and transparent process.

“This map represents all Georgians, and it has not been gerrymandered,” Kennedy said. 

“It’s a pretty map,” he added. “You don’t see funky lines and weirdly drawn lines. It is striking visually.” 

After Kennedy spoke, a dozen Senate Democrats went to the well to criticize majority Republicans for drawing a map that likely will give the GOP a 9-5 advantage in Georgia’s congressional delegation, despite wins by Democrats in recent statewide elections that point to a 50-50 partisan split among Peach State voters.

“These gerrymandered maps are an attempt to subvert the will of the people and protect the party in power,” said state Sen. Elena Parent, D-Atlanta.

“There is a driving force behind these changes,” added Sen. Nikki Merritt, D-Grayson. “We know that is preserving a Republican majority. That’s the elephant in the room.”

Sen. Gail Davenport, D-Jonesboro, accused Republicans of targeting women of color, while state Sen. Donzella James, D-Atlanta, was critical that the GOP map would essentially destroy McBath’s reelection chances.

Kennedy criticized Democrats and the map’s opponents for not presenting their arguments earlier in the process, instead of on the last day of debate. 

“We learned during Thursday’s committee meeting the Georgia Black Legislative Caucus went around the state and gathered all this important information, but no one thought it was good or credible enough to send it to the redistricting committee for inclusion,” Kennedy said.

“Are we talking about real information Democrats want to be included, or are we are just trying to play the game, that our process was insufficient?”

The House redistricting committee will hold a rare Saturday public hearing on the congressional map, with the proposal expected to come before the full chamber on Monday. 

This story is available through a news partnership with Capitol Beat News Service, a project of the Georgia Press Educational Foundation. 

Former Public Service Commission candidate to head Environmental Protection Agency’s Southeast region

Daniel Blackman

ATLANTA – A 2020 Democratic candidate for a seat on the Georgia Public Service Commission (PSC) is President Joe Biden’s choice to become Southeast regional administrator of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

Biden appointed Daniel Blackman Thursday to head an Atlanta-based EPA region covering six states. Blackman was recommended for the post by U.S. Sen. Jon Ossoff, D-Ga.

“I am confident and expect that he will bring vision and focus to environmental protection in the Southeast region,” Ossoff said Thursday.

“As climate change presents a real and urgent threat to our country, Daniel has been a steadfast champion for environmental stewardship and creating opportunities for underserved communities across Georgia,” added Sen. Raphael Ossoff, D-Ga. “EPA’s Southeast region will benefit from his leadership.”

Blackman, who lives in Forsyth County, has spent more than a decade advising policymakers at the Georgia capitol and advocating on behalf of Georgia ratepayers and small businesses in energy-related matters before the PSC.

He ran for the commission last year, forcing Republican incumbent Lauren “Bubba” McDonald into a January runoff before losing by a narrow margin.

“I’ve spent my entire career working to protect the environment and our communities from the effects of climate change, especially those marginalized and left behind,” Blackman said.

“I look forward to hitting the ground running to support Administrator [Michael] Regan in advancing the Biden administration’s commitment to working with our state, local, and tribal partners to secure clean air, safe food, and clean drinking water throughout the region.”

Blackman is the son of immigrants from Barbados and is an alumnus of Clark Atlanta University.

This story is available through a news partnership with Capitol Beat News Service, a project of the Georgia Press Educational Foundation.

Buckhead cityhood bill prefiled by lawmaker

ATLANTA – A metro Atlanta legislator has prefiled a bill that could lead to the creation of what would become Georgia’s 10th largest city.

State Sen. Brandon Beach, R-Alpharetta, prefiled Senate Bill 324 Thursday to let voters decide whether to create the new municipality of Buckhead City.

The new city would carve about 25 square miles out of Atlanta’s current city limits, about 18% of the city’s land area. It would also include about 20% of the city’s population and cost the city of Atlanta more than $250 million in property, sales and lodging taxes, as well as business license revenues.  

Beach’s prefiling means the bill will come up during next year’s regular legislative session. Lawmakers are currently meeting in special session to redraw the state’s legislative and congressional boundaries in accordance with new U.S. Census data.

“Since the summer of 2020, the rise in crime throughout the city of Atlanta has been alarming and has caused many citizens to feel for their safety, even in broad daylight,” said Beach. “Over the past few weeks, we have heard testimony first-hand from Buckhead residents who feel their needs are not currently being addressed and what the proposed incorporation would entail. 

“Now is the time for citizens in the Buckhead neighborhood of Atlanta to have the ability to determine for themselves whether to form their own city and establish services which would be more responsive to their needs.”

Last month, the House Study Committee on Annexation and Cityhood and the House Governmental Affairs Committee heard testimony from several officials about how a city of Buckhead would impact Atlanta and the state.  

Also last month, several Democratic members of the city of Atlanta’s legislative delegation urged Buckhead City supporters to pump the brakes on the proposal.

Bill White, CEO of the Buckhead City Committee, said the new municipality would not financially devastate Atlanta. 

“Buckhead City would keep less than 10% of the city of Atlanta’s annual budget, while reducing Atlanta’s population obligations by 20%,” White said.

This story is available through a news partnership with Capitol Beat News Service, a project of the Georgia Press Educational Foundation.