Proposed district map might change racial makeup of Augusta Commission

Commissioner Matt Aitken, who is up for re-election next year, says he is not concerned that the proposed lines increased District 1's black majority from 63.5 percent to 65.1 percent.

Proposed Augusta voting districts based on 2010 census data indicate the city commission might return to a 5-5 split or possibly create a 6-4 black majority on the board over the next few years.

 

On the immediate horizon, that could mean bad news for District 1 Commissioner Matt Aitken. The map, drawn by consultant Linda Meggers based on black and white population clusters and the need to maintain contiguous districts, did little to increase Aitken’s chances if he runs for a second term next year.

District 1, which stretches from school board member Marion Barnes' Sand Hills residence to Doug Barnard Parkway, gained voting precincts in the Laney Walker and Highland Park neighborhoods and increased its black majority from 63.5 percent to 65.1 percent on the new map.

Aitken, targeted to lose his seat next year by some black activists, said Friday the stats and lines don't matter.

"I'm really penetrating some of these districts more than people realize," he said. "I've always been an underdog, anyway."

Then there's District 6, considered for a decade to be a "swing" district, as its population made annual gains in percentage minority population, despite being represented for two terms by Comm­issioner Joe Jackson, who is white.

While districts 2, 4 and 5 were carved away to make up population losses as many Augustans moved west or out of Richmond County, District 6's boundaries were left intact by Meggers, who added a single precinct - Precinct 805 from District 8 - to make up for population losses.

The addition kept the status quo in District 6, whose percentage black population decreased from 51.17 percent black to 51.13 percent black in Meggers' proposed map.

The majority remains too slim for some conservative politicians, who have seen the minority growth in the district over the past decade and asked Meggers to consider giving District 6 more whites from adjoining District 8, where blacks make up just 30 percent of the population.

"It puts that particular school board seat and Joe Jackson's commission seat in play," said longtime Republican activist and political observer David Barbee. The sixth is represented by school board member Jack Padgett.

"They could have given up a little more of 8," said former Super District 10 Commissioner Don Grantham, who is white. "Otherwise, we're going to become one-sided."

But finding adjoining pockets of whites in 8 to add to 6 won't be that easy, District 8 commissioner Wayne Guilfoyle said. Neighborhoods off nearby Willis Foreman Road are mostly black, while District 8 school board member Jimmy Atkins lives in the nearby Goshen community.

The district’s racial makeup is one of the points likely to be raised when the proposed map is presented at three public hearings which begin Thursday. An ad hoc redistricting committee must approve the map before it is cleared by the U.S. Department of Justice.

Aitken is up for re-election next year during the year of a presidential election, when turnout likely will be high. Atkins, who also is white, isn't up for reelection until 2014, while Jackson is term-limited.

Another point that's likely to be raised is the splitting of a precinct in fast-growing District 3 on the city's west side. Meggers' map split Precinct 310 at Jimmie Dyess Parkway and Wrightsboro Road to add new territory to District 5.

"Precinct 310 is one of the fastest growing areas in the county," Rep. Quincy Murphy appealed to redistricting committee members last week. "I'm really concerned about Precinct 310 actually being split in such a major way."

Several districts change in proposed Augusta-Richmond County maps
Augusta-Richmond County redistricting under way
IF YOU GO

The redistricting ad hoc committee with Richmond County Board of Elections has scheduled three public hearings for citizens to view and provide input on the proposed map. The hearings are scheduled for:

  • 6 p.m. Thursday: Richmond County Board of Education auditorium, 864 Broad St.
  • 6 p.m. Oct. 17: Pine Hill Middle School auditorium, 2147 McElmurray Road, Hephzibah
  • 6 p.m. Oct. 20: Sue Reynolds Elementary School gymnasium, 3840 Wrightsboro Road
Review the proposed district maps from the Oct. 5 work session

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