ATLANTA — Sen. Jesse Stone convinced a Senate committee Monday to approve a map he sponsored for the Augusta Commission and school board election districts.
It voted 5-2 along party lines.
He backed away from his agreement last week with Sen. Hardie Davis to let a judge draw the districts, he said, because of the reaction from Augusta civic leaders late Wednesday when they were in Atlanta for Greater Augusta Day.
“Of course, there was a change of circumstances that was pretty drastic,” said Stone, R-Waynesboro. “... We just got overwhelming responses from people that came up on Augusta Day that they did not want the courts to draw the maps.”
Five Augusta commissioners were already backing the GOP map, but Davis, an Augusta Democrat, said last week that there were too many leaders he had spoken with for him to support it. To prevent further dividing the community, he argued for ending legislative consideration of any map, leaving the job to an impartial court.
What changed was Mayor Deke Copenhaver’s backing of the Republican map, Stone said.
“I am a firm believer in not legislating through the judicial system and offered my support to save our city the embarrassment, not to mention the expense, of having to have the courts draw our lines for us,” Copenhaver said Monday afternoon.
Members of the House delegation remain divided, with Democrats holding to their preference for the map drawn by a committee of commissioners, legislators and school board members. The House passed that map over the objection of Rep. Barbara Sims, the only Republican in the local House delegation.
Stone got the Senate to consider his map as a “general bill” rather than a local one decided by the members of the local delegation. That means the full Senate will vote on it, possibly Tuesday or Thursday, the last day of the session.
The Republican majority in the Senate would almost certainly vote with Stone and pass the map. The same thing could happen in the House, despite the Democrats’ majority in the House delegation.
Delegation Chairman Rep. Wayne Howard would not discuss parliamentary options that he might use. However, he did say he was disappointed in the action of the Senate committee.
“Obviously, I don’t agree, but they have that right.”
Rep. Quincy Murphy of Augusta, was less philosophical.
“The Senate committee took away the right of the citizens of Augusta-Richmond County,” he said.
Both Howard and Murphy noted that the special committee’s map resulted from a series of public meetings where interested voters could offer input.
“I think the biggest consensus we have is not wanting the courts to decide it,” Stone said.
The drawback to a court-produced map is that neighborhoods could be divided and incumbents forced to run against one another. That process could also delay the election.
Commissioner Bill Lockett, who served with fellow commissioner Jerry Brigham, Davis, Howard and Murphy on the local committee that developed and approved the map that was discarded, said he was not surprised by the way things are playing out.
“It’s just the way things are being done. That is the problem,” Lockett said. “If you’re a Democrat and if you’re in Augusta, you don’t have any clout at all.”
Staff writer Susan McCord contributed to this article.