ATLANTA — Sen. Jesse Stone’s Republican majority in the Senate prevailed Tuesday over the arguments of Sen. Hardie Davis over the maps of election districts for members of the Augusta Commission and Richmond County school board.
By votes of 33-16 and 33-17, the GOP passed a bill for the commission and one for the school board, both with identical district designs in their maps. However, a separate bill failed that would have moved the date of Augusta elections to July when partisan elections are scheduled. It fell five votes short.
Davis spoke in opposition to the three bills back to back but had little success swaying members of the opposite party. The Democrats, who are in the minority in the Senate, voted with him each time, and observers say the date-change bill only died because so many Republicans were across the Capitol pushing their own bills in the House.
“What this is, is an attempt to circumvent the charter of the city of Augusta,” the Augusta Democrat said.
The charter that organized the city when it consolidated with Richmond County set November as the date. Rep. Barbara Sims, R-Augusta, introduced legislation for the summer date because she said it would end confusion about whether a law change last year applied to Augusta.
Davis told his colleagues the unanimous agreement on a map by a special committee last year was historic. The committee – made up of members of the commission, school board and the Augusta legislative delegation – drafted district boundaries that passed the House as a “local bill” in which only a majority of the local delegation needed to agree.
Stone, a Waynesboro Republican, blocked that map from going forward for weeks. Then on March 20, he and Davis signed a one-sentence memo agreeing to halt legislative action on it or any substitute, allowing a court to draw the map instead of the lawmakers risking the anger of a map that favored either black or white voters.
However, Stone changed his mind after talking with Mayor Deke Copenhaver last week. Stone told his colleagues the mayor and commissioners who had second thoughts about the committee’s map were pleased with his substitute.
“These are good maps,” Stone said. “They reflect the demographics of Augusta, and they are the maps that Augusta wants rather than having federal courts decide, throwing incumbents into districts with each other.”
Davis said he had been duped.
“It’s been very painful because I have tried to be the voice of reason, pulled by both sides by my constituents in my community, Republican and Democrat, black and white, all alike,” he said.
Although the full Senate voted on the maps bills as general legislation, normally reserved for statewide bills, House rules treat them again as local legislation. That could again give the Democrats that make up the majority of the local delegation dominance unless Sims calls on the GOP majority in the full House to treat them like general bills there as well.