New Congressional map released by House, GOP leaders

ATLANTA – Republican lawmakers on Wednesday released a new congressional map that would make one metro Atlanta district more friendly to the GOP while leaving another solidly in Democratic hands. 

The General Assembly has been meeting in special session for two weeks as lawmakers redraw legislative and congressional boundaries in accordance with new U.S. Census data.

The new congressional map adds more white voters to Democratic U.S. Rep. Lucy McBath’s 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 66.63%.

On the other hand, Rep. Carolyn Bourdeaux’s 7th District taking in most of Gwinnett County and a portion of North Fulton County would remain a majority-minority district.

An alternative map introduced by the state House and Senate Democratic caucuses would make little change to McBath’s district, leaving it competitive, while keeping Bourdeaux’s majority-minority district wholly inside Gwinnett County.

Legislative Democrats and civil and voting rights advocates criticized the Republican congressional map at House and Senate committee hearings Wednesday as ignoring communities of interest in favor of giving the GOP a partisan advantage.

Maggie Goldman, a Democrat from Johns Creek, complained that moving McBath’s district north through Forsyth and Dawson counties was politically motivated.

“Dawson and Forsyth have nothing to do with Sandy Springs except to create a majority white district,” Goldman told members of the Senate Reapportionment and Redistricting Committee.

Others complained that the Republican map packs Black voters into certain districts to dilute their voting strength while spreading out GOP voters to maximize their power.

Rep. Bonnie Rich, R-Suwanee, chairman of the House Legislative & Congressional Reapportionment Committee, denied the accusations. She said Georgia’s rapid population growth in metro Atlanta during the last decade coupled with population losses in rural South Georgia made it necessary to move districts to the north.

“We drew our maps based on population shifts,” Rich said.

“We think this map fairly represents all Georgians,” added Sen. John Kennedy, R-Macon, chairman of the Senate redistricting panel. “It is not gerrymandered.’

The two committees will continue discussing the competing congressional maps on Thursday.

Late last week and early this week, lawmakers passed new state House and Senate maps amid protests from Democrats that the maps were drawn in secret and without enough time for public comment.

Capitol Beat Bureau Chief Dave Williams contributed to this report.

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

Kemp, Carr sue Biden White House over health care workers’ vaccine mandate

ATLANTA – Georgia filed another lawsuit Tuesday over President Joe Biden’s controversial OVID vaccine mandates, this time for health care workers.

Gov. Brian Kemp and Attorney General Chris Carr are seeking to prevent the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) from enforcing the mandate on workers at Medicare and Medicaid-certified facilities. 

Like previous court challenges filed by Kemp and Camp, the new lawsuit asserts the vaccine mandate is unlawful and unconstitutional.

According to the lawsuit, the mandate: 

  • Exceeds CMS’ statutory authority under the Social Security Act. 
  • Involves an unlawful attempt to supervise or control the practice of medicine in violation of federal law.
  • Was issued without statutorily required public notice and comment, violates the Congressional Review Act and is arbitrary and capricious.
  • Was issued without consulting the appropriate state and local agencies in violation of federal law.
  • Was issued without public notice and comment for all new rules that will have a significant impact on rural hospitals.
  • Violates the Spending Clause by placing an unconstitutional condition on receipt of federal funds.
  • Violates the Anti-Commandeering Doctrine by directing state officers to administer federal law.
  • Violates the 10th Amendment because the federal government lacks the power to mandate vaccines.

“After health-care heroes went above and beyond the call of duty to keep Americans safe and healthy throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, Joe Biden is now threatening their livelihood if they refuse COVID-19 vaccination,” said Kemp.

“Yet another unlawful mandate from this administration will only worsen worker shortages in a critical-need area as we continue to balance the everyday healthcare needs of hardworking Georgians and fighting COVID-19.”

“President Biden’s reckless ‘one-size-fits-most’ approach to governing continues to create immense disruption and uncertainty for Georgia businesses and employees,” Carr added. “Georgia health-care providers, particularly those located in our rural areas, cannot afford to lose workers or lessen care services due to the unlawful actions of the federal government.”

Georgia has joined 11 other Republican-led states in filing the lawsuit with the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Louisiana.

Last month, Kemp and Carr filed suit in the Southern District of Georgia challenging the vaccine mandate for federal contractors. A hearing on the plaintiffs’ request for a preliminary injunction is scheduled for Dec. 7.

Earlier this month, Kemp and Carr also filed suit in the U.S. 11th Circuit Court of Appeals to challenge a vaccine mandate for employers with 100 or more workers.

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

Suspended district attorney pleads guilty to four felony charges

ATLANTA – A suspended Chattahoochee Judicial Circuit district attorney has pleaded guilty to four felony charges. 

Mark Preston Jones will serve one year in prison and four years on probation, according to the sentence handed down Monday by Superior Court Judge Katherine Lumsden.

Jones also has resigned his position as district attorney.

“Public servants are trusted to discharge their duties ethically and honestly and when they do not, we will hold them accountable for their actions,” said Georgia Attorney General Chris Carr.

“By abusing his power and abdicating his responsibility as district attorney, Mark Jones did a disservice to those he was elected to protect and put our very justice system at risk. This outcome is a victory for integrity in prosecutions and the rule of law.”

Jones pleaded guilty to two counts of attempted violation of oath by a public officer, one count of violation of oath by a public officer and one count of influencing witnesses.

Jones was indicted after being accused of trying to convince a law enforcement officer to testify that the defendant in a Muscogee County case, Elijah Farrel, believed deceased victim Sara Holtrop was cheating on him. That would have provided a motive allowing Farrel to be charged with murder.

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

Warnock, Ossoff applaud Biden’s choice as Northern District of Georgia U.S. attorney

President Joe Biden has nominated Ryan Buchanan to serve as U.S. attorney for the Northern District of Georgia, a move that has drawn the praise of the state’s two Democratic U.S. senators. 

Buchanan has served as assistant U.S. attorney for the district since 2013. 

“Ryan Buchanan’s extensive experience as a federal prosecutor makes him a stellar nominee for this important post,” Sen.  Raphael Warnock said. “He has dealt with everything from organized crime to foreign terrorist organizations over the course of his accomplished career, and few people in our state can match the scope of his legal expertise in securing justice and keeping Americans safe.” 

“I am pleased that President Biden has accepted my and Sen. Warnock’s recommendation for this key federal law enforcement position,” Sen. Jon Ossoff said. “I expect and am confident that Mr. Buchanan will perform his duties with impartiality and professionalism, guided by commitments to truth, integrity, and justice.”

Buchanan has served as deputy chief of the Violent Crime and National Security Section since 2018 and as national security and anti-terrorism advisory council coordinator since 2017.

He previously served as an assistant U.S. attorney for the Northern District of Alabama from 2010 to 2013.

From 2006 to 2010, Buchanan was an associate at the law firm McGuireWoods LLP, in Charlotte and Atlanta, where he focused on labor and employment litigation. 

Buchanan succeeds Byung J. “BJay” Pak, a former member of the Georgia House of Representatives who served as U.S. attorney during the Trump administration. Pak resigned last January after being pressured to back then-President Donald Trump’s election fraud claims.

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

State Senate approves Georgia House map; Congressional districts next on agenda

ATLANTA — The state Senate took another step Friday toward completing the once-in-a-decade task of redrawing Georgia’s legislative and congressional districts, approving a map drawn by the House of Representatives.

The Senate’s Republican majority prevailed 32-21 in a vote that fell nearly along party lines.

Earlier this week, the Senate approved a map that redraws its own districts. The House has not yet approved the Senate map, though. as state Sen. John Kennedy, R-Macon, said Friday, there is a longtime understanding that neither chamber will alter or change the other’s proposed maps.

With Republicans holding majorities in the House and Senate, both maps were drawn by GOP legislative leaders. Democrats continued to complain the Republican-led map-drawing processes have been rushed and have not allowed sufficient public input. 

Kennedy, who chairs the Senate Reapportionment and Redistricting Committee, said the process of drawing the maps has been fair and devoid of any political gamesmanship or partisanship.

Democrats including Sen. Donzella James, D-Atlanta, vehemently disagreed.  

“All Georgians want are fair maps,” James said. “These maps are rushed and are not fair.”

State Sen. Matt Brass, R-Newnan, was the only Republican who voted against the House map after his GOP constituents from northern Coweta County packed committee hearings to complain about the map.

The new House map essentially draws incumbent Republican Rep. Philip Singleton of Sharpsburg out of his district and instead moves northern Coweta into two new districts that include enough of Fulton County to allow Democrats to pick up those seats.

“They’re loud, obnoxious, crazy,” Brass said of the Coweta voters who showed up at the state Capitol. “But they’re my crazies. They’re mine. I’m theirs. One of my constituents back home who’s not happy about his new district told me, ‘Sometimes you have to lose it all to gain something worth having.’ ”

“There’s nothing crazy about the city of Decatur wanting fair representation,” countered state Sen. Elena Parent, D-Atlanta.

Decatur Mayor Patti Garrett appeared before the Senate redistricting committee on Thursday to protest her city’s new legislative district lines.

The House map, which now heads to Gov. Brian Kemp’s desk, likely would result in Democrats gaining up to six seats in the House, according to an independent analysis, reflecting minority population growth during the last decade. Currently, Republicans outnumber Democrats in the lower legislative chamber 103 to 77.

But Democrats and civil and voting rights advocates complained as the map went through the legislature that a fairer map would have set the stage for larger Democratic gains.

While the Senate map is still awaiting House approval, the final step in the redistricting process is redrawing Georgia’s congressional districts.

For Republicans, the key question will be whether to try to regain one of the two congressional seats in Atlanta’s northern suburbs lost to the Democrats during the last two election cycles or go for broke and try to take back both seats.

A congressional map Georgia Senate Republicans released in late September goes after the 6th Congressional District seat Rep. Lucy McBath, D-Marietta, won in 2018 by moving heavily Republican Forsyth County into the district and removing portions of North Fulton and North DeKalb counties more friendly to Democrats.

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