Sen. Hardie Davis, D-Augusta, spoke in opposition and persuaded most of his fellow Democrats to join him, but he didn’t prevail in the 33-18 vote.
The change moves the district of Sen. Bill Jackson, R-Appling, to include a tiny portion of Richmond County, while maintaining a presence in Richmond County for Sen. Jesse Stone, R-Waynesboro. That means the two Republicans would outnumber Davis, 2-1, whereas currently Stone and Davis can block each other on local legislation and therefore have to work together.
“This is nothing more than a power grab and an attempt to dictate the affairs of Augusta from Columbia County,” Davis said.
He noted that last year’s map had already put most of Rep. Barbara Sims’ district in Columbia County and predicted that the Augusta Republican would be unseated by a Columbia County candidate, tilting more power.
He also said business executives behind the plan were seeking to marginalize black voters.
After the vote, Stone said he thought the business leaders who asked him to include Jackson’s district in the county were concerned about broader issues.
“I can’t read their minds, but I think the business leaders he was referring to probably want to see a move toward greater regional integration because the future of Columbia County and Richmond County really are interwoven,” Stone said. “One way to look at it is Columbia County has two senators; Richmond County has three. That can’t help but increase the strength of the Richmond County delegation.”
The Senate vote was pretty much what Davis expected, and he predicted the House would be the same. His best opportunity for stopping it, he said, is when the U.S. Department of Justice reviews it to see if it weakens minority voting strength. Those reviews generally only consider the impact on voters within individual districts rather than the impact on a county legislative delegation.
The map of the local school board and county commission districts is the subject of negotiation between Davis and Stone, who said he had also conferred with local officials. The map has been held in a Senate committee since the House passed it.