The Georgia Legislature will meet in two special sessions beginning Wednesday to redraw the state's legislative districts, then congressional districts, based on population figures from the 2000 Census.
University of Georgia political science professor Charles Bullock talked with Morris News Service reporter Lee Shearer about the upcoming sessions.
Q: What difference does it make to the average Georgian how the new legislative districts will be carved up?
A: Many of us will end up with a new legislator in one of the three realms (Congress, state House and state Senate). Many will end up with someone new in all three. The districts that get drawn this year may well determine who our legislators will be for the next 10 years and which party will be in power for the next 10 years.
For members of Congress, it may make a difference in where their fat-cat contributors live or where certain lucrative industries are.
Q: How big will the legislative districts be?
A: The ideal size for a House district is 45,500 people, plus or minus 5 percent; for Senate, the ideal is 146,000, plus or minus 5 percent.
Q: In the past, the law has required the Legislature to try to maximize minority representation when it draws new lines, but that has changed now, I understand.
A: Ten years ago, there was an affirmative duty to maximize minority representation and maximize the number of black seats, but now race cannot be the predominant factor.
On the other hand, you need to be sensitive to race, along with compactness, contiguity and communities of interest. You also must pay attention to things like county lines, and try not to split precincts.
Q: You have noted a pattern in the 1990s that although the Democrats continue to control both houses of the state Legislature, Republican candidates are getting more votes. Did that continue in the 2000 elections?
A: Yes. Republicans are getting about 55 percent of the state Senate votes and about 52 percent in the House. Historically, they are doing phenomenally better than 10 years ago.
Q: Given that, can Democrats draw up districts that allow them to keep control of the Legislature?
A: The Democrats will be able to draw districts to retain control, I think so. But it usually takes a couple of elections to really see what the difference has made.
The real challenge for the Democrats will be to reallocate the strength they have, to draw districts where they can win elections narrowly while the Republicans win overwhelmingly (in fewer, Republican-dominated districts) - the concept of wasted votes.
Q: Will black legislators wind up losers in the new political map?
A: I don't think so. They will hold their own. Ten years ago, their idea was to maximize the number of minority seats, but now the goal is to hold on.
Q: What are the key questions in these sessions?
A: Particularly for the state Legislature - can the Democrats hold their ranks? What Democrats will try to do is come up with a plan that will continue to stamp out Democratic majorities.
... The only threat is if some Democrats defect.
The primary candidates for defecting are Democrats who don't like their districts. Some Democrats in south Georgia may wind up with districts they feel they cannot win. In growth areas, you can probably draw districts that will make everybody happy, but in slow-growth areas where there were five seats and there may be only four, and you can't find a Republican to pin that on, a Democrat is going to pay the price.
Q: Will drawing the congressional districts be easier than the new state House and Senate maps?
A: I would think so, yes. They will ask, "Where are our best prospects (for the two new districts)?" One is obvious, in the (Atlanta) doughnut. But the problem for the second one is that the big growth has been in Republican districts. The strategy would be to take the Republican districts and make them even more Republican.
The state legislative map will be more contentious. This is where individuals' careers are on the line, and you cling much more to what you have than what you hope to get.