Originally created 09/05/01

House cleans up district lines



ATLANTA - Georgia lawmakers backed away Tuesday from some of the twists and turns in a proposed congressional map in a bid to win enough votes to get it through the General Assembly.

The House redistricting committee approved a congressional redistricting plan that on the whole contains fewer erratic district lines than the map that failed to clear the Senate last week. The full House will vote on the map today.

Meanwhile, its Senate counterpart discussed but did not vote on a new version of that chamber's congressional map aimed at gaining enough converts to assure passage when the plan returns to the floor. Senate Democratic leaders decided to wait for the House to adopt a map before voting their version back out of committee.

Despite the changes, minority Republicans continued to complain that Democrats are ignoring what's important to the public in order to create as many Democratic districts as possible.

"This looks more compact," said Linda Hamrick, the state Republican executive director, comparing the new House map with the original Senate plan. "But it still disregards communities of interest and splits counties. ... Once again, the House is putting politics over people, as the Senate has."

The Legislature draws new congressional district lines every 10 years to reflect changes in population patterns that turn up in the census. This year, lawmakers have an additional challenge: drawing two new districts - the 12th and 13th - that Georgia is entitled to because of its rapid growth during the 1990s.

For the most part, the map that cleared the House committee Tuesday in a party-line vote does not feature the sprawling districts that marked the original Senate plan.

Among the changes:

The House map would leave most of coastal Georgia in the congressional district now represented by Savannah Republican Jack Kingston, although it would divide Chatham, Bryan and Liberty counties between Mr. Kingston's 1st District and a new district centered in Augusta. The original Senate map would have divided Chatham County three ways and split four other coastal counties.

The Augusta-based district, which would be expected to elect a Democrat to Congress, also would include all of Effingham and Bulloch counties, which currently are part of the coastal district.

The House plan would leave Richmond County intact except for a single precinct, which would be included in a district with Columbia County to keep the deviation between district populations as low as possible. The original Senate plan would have split off more of Augusta into the district with Columbia County.

The House map would place Athens in a more compact district with other counties in northeast Georgia, getting rid of a long, narrow strip along the Savannah River in the Senate plan that would have put Clarke County in the same district as part of Savannah.

"What I tried to do was make it look as reasonable as possible," said House Speaker Tom Murphy, D-Bremen, the House map's chief architect.

But in a concession to the Senate's wishes, the House plan also would run a second new district roughly along metro Atlanta's Perimeter Highway, wrapping around the city from Douglas County on the west to Gwinnett County on the northeast.

By far the oddest-shaped district on the House map, the proposed 13th Congressional District also would tilt heavily toward the Democrats. State Sen. Greg Hecht, D-Jonesboro, already has begun raising money to campaign for the post.

"This is a political map," said Rep. Doug Teper, D-Atlanta, a member of the House committee, after Republicans questioned the district's contorted shape. "There's not a constitutional or federal statutory problem with doing that."

Ms. Hamrick said the House map would create six safe Republican districts, five safe Democratic districts and two districts that she called Democratic-leaning.

According to Mr. Murphy's analysis, the plan would yield six Republican seats and seven Democratic seats, including a newly configured district centered in the Macon area.

Reach Dave Williams at (404) 589-8424 or mnews@mindspring.com.