Originally created 12/29/00

Georgia gains seats in House



ATLANTA - Georgia will gain additional political clout in Washington after the 2002 elections in the form of two more seats in Congress, the U.S. Census Bureau announced Thursday.

The Peach State's phenomenal population growth during the 1990s also makes Georgia the nation's 10th-largest state, passing North Carolina, according to the 2000 census numbers.

As of last April 1, Georgia's population was nearly 8.2 million, up 26.4 percent from the 6.5 million living in the state in 1990. Georgia was the sixth-fastest growing state in the country during the decade and the fastest growing east of the Mississippi River, surpassed only by five Western states with smaller populations.

State officials long had expected Georgia to add a 12th House seat after the 2000 census, based on annual Census Bureau population projections.

The 13th seat is the result of the diligence of census workers and the $3 million the state has spent to build public awareness, said Linda Meggers, director of the General Assembly's reapportionment office, which will help lawmakers draw new congressional and legislative district lines next year.

In pushing for such a major financial commitment, Gov. Roy Barnes cited the estimated $2 billion in federal dollars Georgia lost in the past decade as a result of undercounting during the 1990 census. Federal aid is allocated among the states based on population and other demographic characteristics.

"The investment was well rewarded and justified, now that we see the numbers," Ms. Meggers said.

For Doug Bachtel, a demographer at the University of Georgia, the new numbers were confirmation of a pattern he observed throughout the 1990s: Georgia's magnetic attraction to newcomers.

"Georgia's growth is driven by new people moving in because of jobs, but also because of our quality of life and scenic beauty," he said.

Besides the additional congressional seats and enhanced prospects for federal largesse, the census also will increase Georgia's say in presidential elections. The state's electoral votes will increase from 13 to 15, one for each member of the House and for Georgia's two U.S. senators.

The chance to carve out two more congressional districts also will give state lawmakers more flexibility in going about that task, said Georgia Rep. Tommy Smith, chairman of the House Legislative & Congressional Reapportionment Committee.

"I'd expect just about every congressional district in the state will be impacted to some extent," said Mr. Smith, D-Alma.

While majority Democrats can be expected to try to use the flexibility to their political advantage, the numbers are on the Republicans' side. The fastest-growing parts of the state, including the suburban counties surrounding Atlanta, are GOP strongholds.

"Ultimately, you've got to draw districts where there's people," Georgia Republican Chairman Chuck Clay said.

One thing is certain: The two additional House seats will mean smaller congressional districts, both in population and geographically.

Ms. Meggers said likely locations for the new districts could be in the rapidly growing exurbs of Atlanta, perhaps centered in the Athens area northeast of the capital region and in the Carrollton area southwest of Atlanta.

But the final decision will be up to the General Assembly, which is expected to divide up Georgia's congressional and legislative districts during a special session this summer. Legislative redistricting will be based on county population figures due out in April.

Other winners in the census sweepstakes were Florida, Texas and Arizona, which also will gain two House seats each. New York and Pennsylvania each will lose two seats.

While California easily remained the nation's most populous state with nearly 33.9 million residents, Texas slipped past New York during the 1990s into the No. 2 spot.

Nevada was the fastest-growing state by far, adding 66.3 percent to its population during the decade.

Reach Dave Williams at (404) 589-8424.