ATLANTA — The Democrats in the Augusta delegation announced late Thursday that they were going to let a court draw the election districts for the Augusta Commission and school board rather than agree to a Republican version sponsored by Sen. Jesse Stone.
The Democrats blasted Stone, a Waynesboro Republican, for introducing an alternative version when he doesn’t live in Richmond County, even though part of his district includes the county.
“The last thing this delegation wants is for the courts to draw our district lines; however, we think it is equally as disheartening for a senator who represents less than 15 percent of Augusta to draw the lines,” the Democrats said in a statement listing Reps. Wayne Howard, Quincy Murphy, Gloria Frazier and Earnest Smith.
“It’s unfortunate that a self-appointed senator to be involved that caused us to be in this problem we’re in now,” said Howard, the chairman of the delegation.
The House Democrats favored a map drafted last year by a committee of lawmakers, commissioners and school board members. They passed that in the House over the objection of the delegation’s lone Republican, Rep. Barbara Sims.
Stone and Sen. Hardie Davis, D-Augusta, deadlocked on the House map and instead jointly decided March 20 to defer to a court. After news of their decision was known, Stone said he was convinced by Mayor Deke Copenhaver to introduce an alternative that lowered the black share of District 6, evening the chances that voters there might elect a candidate of either race.
The Senate passed Stone’s map Tuesday in a party-line vote under a rule that prevented the House from amending it.
“What do you do when you have a senator who decided to hold out like he did?” Howard said.
Sims expressed frustration with the Democrats.
“I was ready to agree (to the Senate version). I was ready to disagree,” she said. Voting to disagree would have forced the matter to a conference committee.
“They chose not to do anything,” she added.
Stone was able to use the rules to get the full Senate to vote, where Republicans hold the majority. The GOP has a majority in the House, too, but House rules treated the bill as a local one, meaning it is determined by a majority of the delegation. Sims said she tried to get it voted on by the full House but was unable.