Originally created 07/12/01

House plan drops seat



ATLANTA - For months, it's been clear that Richmond County's delegation in the Georgia House would shrink from six to five after this year's legislative redistricting, the result of sluggish population growth during the past decade.

This week, it began to look like freshman Republican Rep. Sue Burmeister might be the lawmaker left out in the cold.

Rep. Ben Allen, D-Augusta, presented a plan to a House committee Tuesday that he said would make little change to three of the local districts, represented by Democrats Henry Howard of Augusta and Alberta Anderson of Waynesboro, and Republican George DeLoach of Hephzibah.

The map makes significant changes to the other three districts, represented by Mr. Allen, House Speaker Pro Tempore Jack Connell and Mrs. Burmeister, Mr. Allen said.

"We didn't split precincts ... tried to adhere to the one-man, one-vote concept ... and tried not to go beyond Richmond and Burke counties," he said.

Mr. Allen has expressed interest in running for Congress and plans to introduce a map as early as next week that would create a second congressional district in the Augusta region.

Mr. Connell, a longtime legislator who could be expected to win re-election even in an altered district, said Wednesday he hasn't decided whether to run again.

That leaves Mrs. Burmeister, a member of the Republican minority serving the first year of a two-year term. Mr. Allen's plan would put her home in his district.

Mrs. Burmeister was in Florida on vacation, friends said, and could not be reached for comment Tuesday or Wednesday. However, Richmond County Republican Chairman David Barbee charged that Mr. Allen's plan is politically motivated. He said the local delegation's Democrats have been upset with Mrs. Burmeister since she voted against Gov. Roy Barnes' budget.

"They can say what they want to say. They hold a grudge," Mr. Barbee said Wednesday.

Mr. Allen denied that Mrs. Burmeister is being singled out for elimination for partisan reasons.

"There was no place to go to get population," he said. "If there could be some type of working arrangement with Columbia County where 30,000 people would come join about 15,000 people in Richmond County, we could have that sixth district."

That's different from what state Rep. Ben Harbin, Senate Majority Leader Charles Walker and other Augusta-area lawmakers were saying last December when they predicted Mrs. Burmeister's district would expand into Columbia County.

But Columbia County lawmakers have made it clear in recent months that they aren't interested in any redistricting plan that spills their House districts into Richmond County.

Reach Justin Martin at (706) 823-3552 or Dave Williams at (404) 589-8424