GOP to take up redistricting

Democrats brace for loss of support in case lines are redrawn

ATLANTA --- In a recent campaign e-mail, Democratic Rep. John Barrow warned his supporters of the looming threat he faces in his quest for re-election next fall.

Rep. John Barrow, whose district includes Savannah and Richmond County, sent out an e-mail trying to rally constituents.   Special
Special
Rep. John Barrow, whose district includes Savannah and Richmond County, sent out an e-mail trying to rally constituents.

"The folks in Atlanta are in the final stretch of redrawing our congressional district, and they've made their master plans very clear from the start: Maximize their power at the expense of your constitutionally-given voice," the message states before soliciting donations for his campaign.

The district he represents has changed considerably in the past decade, and its boundaries will likely look different after the upcoming battle over redistricting.

Lawmakers are set to head back to the Georgia Capitol on Aug. 15 to redefine districts for offices including legislative and congressional districts and county election precincts. Redistricting is done every decade in conjunction with the U.S. Census, and those drawing the maps must take into consideration such criteria as keeping together communities with similar interests and ensuring that districts have a roughly equal number of constituents.

As in many states, redistricting is controlled by the Georgia Legislature and is a partisan process. For the first time in the history of redistricting the entire state of Georgia, Republicans are in charge of deciding how the lines will be drawn.

Georgia's population grew 18.3 percent from 2000 to 2010, to more than 9.6 million residents. The growth means an additional congressional seat, which is likely to be drawn in north Georgia.

The center of political power shifted to north Georgia this year with the state's top three leaders all hailing from the region. Gov. Nathan Deal and Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle are both natives of Hall County, and House Speaker David Ralston is from Blue Ridge, near the Tennessee line.

The coast has also thrived, with tourism jobs bringing people to the area. Chatham County -- home to Savannah and the heart of Barrow's territory -- is now the state's fifth most-populated county, adding more than 33,000 residents from 2000 to 2010. Barrow's district also includes Richmond County, which hasn't grown much but is still the ninth most-populated county.

Barrow's e-mail, urging constituents to "take a stand before it's too late," could sound alarming, but he has come under fire in the past during the process.

Barrow was first elected in 2004, narrowly defeating his Republican challenger in a district that was drawn to favor a Democrat. In 2006, his district was redrawn after Republicans won control of the Legislature for the first time since Reconstruction -- forcing him to move from his native Athens to Savannah.

That year, Barrow eked out a win by 864 votes -- the slimmest margin of any Democratic incumbent nationwide. But after establishing himself with Savannah Democrats, he later sailed to re-election in 2008 and 2010.

If Barrow's district is redrawn and he loses all or parts of Savannah, he could have real problems. But the Legislature might decide against such a move, which could hurt Republican Rep. Jack Kingston by adding Democrats to his district.

In south Georgia, population has largely dipped as agriculture, the region's main economy, has struggled. None of the state's most-populated counties is in the area, and many counties claim less than 35,000 residents each.

"The overall problem in south Georgia is that it isn't growing as fast as the rest of the state," Bullock said.

Much of that territory is in the 2nd Congressional District, home to Democratic Rep. Sanford Bishop, who won re-election in 2010 by a margin of about 4,800 votes.

It might be difficult for Republicans to make many changes to Bishop's district -- not only because of the falling population, but also because a neighboring district is newly Republican. Republican U.S. Rep. Austin Scott defeated longtime Democratic Rep. Jim Marshall last year.

"More than likely, they let (Bishop) hang on and shore up (Scott's) district for a conservative Republican ... by pushing more black folks into Bishop's district," said Clark Atlanta University political science professor William Boone.

Though such a strategy would help Bishop, a Democrat whose district is dominated by white agricultural interests, Scott would also benefit from having fewer Democrats in his district.

The 8th Congressional District, which Scott represents, includes Macon and did not experience much population change overall. Last year, Scott defeated Marshall, who had held office since 2003, by a 53 percent to 47 percent margin -- a difference of 10,250 votes.


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