Originally created 09/05/01

House approves a substitute congressional map



ATLANTA -- Black Democrats teamed with white Republicans Wednesday to hand House Speaker Tom Murphy a rare loss, rejecting a congressional redistricting map he drew in favor of one drawn by a black congressional hopeful.

On votes of 85-83 and 89-81, the House approved a motion to substitute a congressional plan drawn by Rep. Ben Allen, D-Augusta, for one drawn by Murphy.

The amended plan passed 161-7 and was sent to the Senate, which will adopt its own plan.

The final map will be drawn by a legislative conference committee, but Republicans saw Wednesday's vote as at least a temporary blow to Murphy and the traditional Democratic power structure.

Murphy and two key lieutenants - Reps. Calvin Smyre, D-Columbus, and David Lucas, D-Macon - spoke for the speaker's plan before it was defeated by the full House.

But House Republican Leader Lynn Westmoreland of Sharpsburg said he did not expect the reversal of power to last long. "It ain't over," he laughed.

Smyre, chairman of the House Democratic Caucus, said the development does not foreshadow a permanent split between white and black Democrats, who together wield a majority in both houses, but lose power if they divide.

Six years ago, black Democrats teamed with white Republicans to block passage of a congressional redistricting bill. Ultimately, the courts had to draw the plan that year.

"It's not a mystery," said Smyre. "There's an individual member in here that wants to run for Congress ... Anytime you have a member of the House that wants to run for Congress, it adds a different light to the situation politically."

Rep. Tyrone Brooks, D-Atlanta, said, "What you saw happen today was a reflection of a meeting yesterday among the Black Caucus members. We decided that we would help Ben Allen, and we kept that commitment. And we know it's going to conference committee. This is just the first hit in a ballgame and there'll be many more hits coming."

Later, Brooks said, "We'll pass out a map that will give Democrats an opportunity to win across the state."

Murphy, temporarily giving up his gavel to make a speech to the House, told rank-and-file lawmakers he had spent hours drawing the map and had tried to help Allen but couldn't.

"He wanted to eat up everybody else's district to make his. We couldn't do that," Murphy said.

He said his map also gave middle Georgia a distinct district for the first time in decades and confessed he had an ulterior motive in designing a Democratic-majority district for Republican Congressman Bob Barr.

"I want to get rid of that fellow so bad it almost turns my stomach," Murphy said. "I done the best I could."

But the votes came up short. Smyre said Republicans voted as a bloc for the Allen amendment and were joined by 13 or 14 blacks, giving them a majority.