Originally created 01/08/01

Resdistricting nears

ATLANTA - More than one Georgia lawmaker describes it as "looming" over the 40-day General Assembly session that will begin today.

Yet, it won't even be on the Legislature's agenda.

As the House and Senate take up state issues, lawmakers also will focus on the upcoming task of redrawing congressional and legislative district lines to reflect the results of the 2000 census.

The consensus is that the prospect of this summer's special session on reapportionment and redistricting will have a major effect on the political dynamics in the General Assembly this winter.

Although some say reapportionment will make for a more contentious regular session, others see a spirit of bipartisanship that was absent during last year's hotly contested election races.

"I think this is going to be a prelude to (redistricting)," said Rep. Calvin Smyre, D-Columbus, chairman of the House Rules Committee and that chamber's Democratic caucus. "I think it's going to be a very difficult session."

But Senate Minority Leader Eric Johnson argues lawmakers will get along better during this session, precisely because of the approaching redistricting.

"Most legislators will want to get this session over as quickly as possible knowing they'll be up there in the summer," said Mr. Johnson, R-Savannah.

Education, a hotly fought issue last year, appears to have less potential for partisan controversy during 2001.

The second year of Gov. Roy Barnes' reform program will be dominated by a series of spending items aimed at making the initiatives the General Assembly passed last year a reality.

"It's going to be about money, and lawmakers don't tend to fight over that, as opposed to rules and regulations," said Charles Bullock, a political science professor at the University of Georgia. "Whether it's new money for school buildings or for teachers, legislators on both sides can pass those items and then go home to voters and say, `Look what we've done for you."'

Republican lawmakers have expressed concerns that a water planning district Mr. Barnes is expected to recommend for metro Atlanta could become another Georgia Regional Transportation Authority. Approved by the General Assembly in 1999, the authority gives a board appointed by the governor power over local highway projects and land-use decisions that could have a regional impact.

But the task force recommending the water district is proposing that its governing board be dominated by local elected officials, not the governor or any state agency.

Dr. Bullock said the parties are likely to use the 2001 session to position themselves for redistricting. For Democrats, that may mean avoiding a divisive intraparty struggle between black lawmakers and their white counterparts, particularly those representing rural south Georgia districts, over the flag.

"If they have a rough and rocky regular session, it may be hard for them to reunite for redistricting," Dr. Bullock said.

Mr. Johnson said that with both Mr. Barnes and Lt. Gov. Mark Taylor more than halfway through their four-year terms, the governor and lieutenant governor also will be looking to set a bipartisan tone.

"I just sense there's going to be more polite family arguments than Hatfields and McCoys," he said.

Reach Dave Williams at (404) 589-8424.


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