New Augusta district map proposed

ATLANTA — During a hastily called meeting of the Augusta legislative delegation Wednesday morning, Sen. Jesse Stone unveiled a new version of districts for Augusta Commission and Richmond County school board.

It focuses on District 6. Stone said he wanted to ensure that it remained a swing district rather than being solidly tilted toward a black candidate. The new map would make its population 58.9 percent black and its voting-age population 53.95 percent black. Districts 1, 2, 4 and 5 would all have black-voting-age populations well over 60 percent, with District 5 at 73 percent.

Because blacks historically turn out for elections in lower percentages than whites, a 53.95 percent black voting-age share could be dominated by a white candidate with an aggressive get-out-the-vote campaign.

The latest version was drawn in consultation with Sen. Hardie Davis, D-Augusta, Commissioners Jerry Brigham and Grady Smith and Board of Education Member Jack Padgett Jr. It’s based on the 3R map drawn by a consultant for the ad hoc committee of commissioners, legislators and school board members that met over the summer.

Calling the latest draft 3R2, Stone presented it to the House members of the delegation and asked them to consider it.

“I don’t expect anyone to say yes, no or maybe right away. All of us have constituencies,” said Stone, R-Waynesboro.

He hasn’t shown it to the entire commission or school board.

Rep. Quincy Murphy, D-Augusta, asked why the recent revision was necessary.

“We had a unanimous decision to support the map 3R. We haven’t heard anything from any of the dissidents,” he said.

The school board did pass a resolution in favor of the committee’s map, but the commission didn’t. Some commissioners – who initially had voted in favor of the plan as part of the committee – expressed second thoughts and voted against it twice, when the resolution came before the commission. Stone said he learned of their misgivings in the newspaper.

The House passed the committee’s map last month, but it has stalled in the Senate because of Stone’s reluctance to support it.

“I had a real problem signing off on a map that has such a large dissension,” he said.

Davis noted after the meeting that the overall county population is majority black. He said he wanted to ensure that the district makes reflected that so that multiracial coalitions could elect the candidates of their choice. He also reserved a final judgment on the new map until hearing from the House members of the delegation who were seeing it for the first time right before the General Assembly convened for its longest and busiest day of the session so far.

“We’ve got a few days. Let’s sit down and talk about it,” he said. “If we can’t come to some sort of resolution, we’ll let the (U.S.) Department of Justice draw the maps.”

The U.S. Constitution requires districts to be revised every 10 years to reflect population changes reported in the U.S. Census. Georgia districts must be cleared by the Justice Department before they can be used for elections. In cases where the department rejects the maps, some governments have had to call on federal courts to appoint someone to draw them.

In other business, the House members of the Augusta delegation on Monday introduced House Bill 1203, which would allow members of the board overseeing the Augusta-Richmond County Coliseum Authority to serve more than one term. Current law prohibits them from being reappointed.

“They’re doing a good job, in fact a great job,” said Rep. Barbara Sims, R-Augusta.

Bringing entertainers like Elton John, who performed Tuesday in front of a packed house at James Brown Arena, is a plus, she said. She expressed disappointment that she could not attend because she had to be at the Capitol.

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