At the same time at the Capitol, a Senate panel approved changes to legislative district lines that add a Republican senator to the local delegation.
The commission and school board maps, known as Plan 3R, were drawn by a special committee composed of members of the commission, board and legislative delegation. For the House vote, they were lumped with 12 other district maps for various counties, including Columbia, Camden and Screven, and they passed together without debate.
Augusta Commission member Jerry Brigham, who served on the local committee that approved the maps, said he fully expected Sen. Jesse Stone, R-Waynesboro, or “somebody” in the Republican-controlled Senate to introduce another plan. Stone wasn’t available Friday afternoon to comment on his intentions.
Brigham, school board member Jack Padgett and some local Republicans took issue with Plan 3R because it would give the commission six majority-black districts.
Although Rep. Barbara Sims, R-Augusta, disagreed with Plan 3R, she was outvoted by Augusta’s four other state representatives. Bills affecting only a single county are, in effect, passed by just the members of the local delegation, with votes by the full House and Senate as mere formalities.
Separate from the local maps, the Senate Redistricting Committee voted Friday morning to approve changes in the Senate district lines that would extend the district of Sen. Bill Jackson, R-Appling, into Richmond County, where he had a business for decades. He did not answer phone calls seeking his comment Friday evening.
The revised map, which was unavailable Friday, gave a portion of Richmond County voting Precinct 707 represented by Stone to Jackson, according to Dave Barbee, a local GOP official.
That move outraged Sen. Hardie Davis, D-Augusta, who issued a statement condemning the change, which he blamed on Augusta business interests.
“I am disappointed to witness decades of progress destroyed by a few elitists who believe they know best simply because of their wealth,” Davis wrote. “This untimely effort is nothing more than an attempt to dilute the voting strength of the citizens of Augusta by inserting another Republican legislator from Columbia County into its legislative delegation.”
Barbee applauded the change and was familiar with it when asked.
“It’s a good thing for Richmond County,” he said. “We now have eight votes: three in the Senate and five in the House.”
But it is the addition of a GOP vote in the delegation, not the Senate at large, that angered Davis because it upsets the balance of power. Now there is one Republican, Stone, and one Democrat, Davis, in the Senate delegation, forcing them to agree on local matters because each can block the other. With two GOP senators, they can outvote Davis.
The chairman of the redistricting committee, Sen. Charlie Bethel, R-Dalton, said Friday evening that he had spoken to no one from the Augusta community. Instead, Jackson approached him.
“He expressed an interest in extending along the river there into Richmond County, and Sen. Stone was agreeable,” Bethel said.
Since only their districts were affected, Bethel said he didn’t contact Davis. The same legislation, introduced Tuesday, affected seven districts statewide. Two senators affected were Democrats who agreed to the changes affecting their districts.
“Any suggestion that it was secretive would be unfair,” Bethel said. “I didn’t talk to Sen. Davis, but I didn’t talk to the other 49 senators that didn’t come to me.”
Also this week, a House committee gave its approval to a bill Sims sponsored that would change the date of elections for the Augusta Commission to the July primary. As a general bill that applies to all consolidated governments, House Bill 776 would be voted on next by the full House. It could pass even over the objections of a majority of the local representatives from the state’s seven consolidated governments.