Originally created 12/17/00

Reapportionment in Ga. 121700 - The Augusta Chronicle



Some Georgia lawmakers are already analyzing what could happen during next year's all-important redistricting.

This will be a process of twists and turns - and deal-making. It is the drawing of population areas to give residents equal representation in their state and local elected governing bodies, and is based on the 2000 census. It will result in district boundaries being realigned and new districts created.

What will happen in the Central Savannah River Area? One House Reapportionment Committee member - Rep. Ben Harbin, R-Martinez - says "Columbia County is going to gain a half seat or maybe even a whole seat. Richmond County will probably lose a seat."

He thinks the legislature will change the population districts from 36,000 to 43,000 people - thus Columbia County could gain a seat.

Senate Majority Leader Charles Walker, D-Augusta, sees no real change. The only caveat is that several lawmakers believe the west Augusta district of Rep.-elect Sue Burmeister, R-Augusta, could be shoved over the border into Columbia County where thousands of voters could be added.

Who is in "control" of the redistricting process? The Democrats are the majority party in both houses. Their members chair the redrawing committees. But Senate GOP leader Eric Johnson, R-Savannah, notes "the places that are overpopulated are Republican and the places that are unpopulated are Democrat. Reapportionment is still in our favor."

The annual population estimates from the U.S. Census bureau seem to support Johnson. The fast-growing counties since 1996 are Forsyth, Henry, Paulding, Dawson and Pickens counties. New suburban residents and retirees are moving in - people who tend to vote Republican.

Democratic Party executive director John Kirincich reads the same numbers but thinks that with "a 50-50" partisan breakdown statewide, "you can draw a map with a large majority of Democratic seats."

Race, of course, enters into the equation. The south Georgia interior has no black state senators, despite its 37 percent black population. White Democrats may hurt one of their own if they draw at least one Senate district in south Georgia that's majority black.

Rep. Tyrone Brooks, D-Atlanta, who helped draw lines that boosted black representation in 1991, expects the number of minority lawmakers to remain about the same this time. One reason: The U.S. Supreme Court ruled in Reno vs. Shaw that district lines cannot be based solely on race.

But every legislator in Atlanta knows this: Districts can be drawn on party affiliation. So the sky's the limit when it comes to sitting down at a computer and linking specific neighborhoods together for partisan reasons.