ATLANTA -— Legislators wrapped up their special session Wednesday with a party-line split over the design of congressional districts.
The congressional map that makes room for a 14th district was the final item on the agenda for a rare special session that began Aug. 15. Its main goal was to revise the districts for the House, Senate and congressional delegation to ensure they contain the same population as measured by the 2010 census.
In calling the special session, Gov. Nathan Deal also asked lawmakers to ratify his decision not to collect a boost in the gasoline tax the second half of the year and to change the date of next year’s transportation sales tax referendum. Legislators agreed not to collect a higher gas tax, but they refused to consider changing the referendum from the summer primary.
The U.S. Constitution requires district updates every 10 years when the census results become known.
This is the first time since Reconstruction that Georgia Republicans controlled the Legislature and governor’s office, and Democrats argued right until the session’s final vote that the GOP had manipulated the process.
“This is the last act of an unfair and cold process,” said Senate Democratic Whip Vincent Fort of Atlanta.
But the Republican chairman of the Senate redistricting committee, Sen. Mitch Seabaugh of Sharpsburg, said the process had been open and fair and that senators of either party could have come by his office to talk about their preferences.
“I was surprised that members of this body were less engaged on the congressional map than the Senate map,” he said.
Redrawing the legislative maps was the first order of business, and those passed on party-line votes last week. Deal has already signed them into law. They’ll take effect for next year’s elections if the federal government’s review concludes they don’t dilute the voting strength of racial minorities. The congressional map must survive the same scrutiny.
During the Senate debate Wednesday, Democrats argued the congressional map violated federal law by reducing the number of districts where blacks make up a large enough portion of the population to win elections when joining forces with liberal whites. Republicans disagreed and debated the meaning of various phrases in past opinions of the U.S. Supreme Court.
“Somehow, there was a bill of goods that was sold by Republican lawyers to this body, and the voters will have to pick up the tab,” said Sen. Jason Carter, D-Decatur.
Seabaugh repeatedly said the map complied with the law.
“I’ll stand here today and say we have met the legal requirements,” he said.
Sen. Lester Jackson, D-Savannah, offered a more pragmatic reason to oppose the map. Since it would no longer split Chatham County between the 1st and 12th districts, the county would lose one of its two votes in the U.S. House at a time when the area is seeking federal funding for deepening the shipping channel in the Savannah River.
“This is not about black and white. This is about green,” Jackson said. “If this map is bad for Savannah, it must be bad for Georgia.”