Originally created 03/16/04

Map lumps senators in district

ATLANTA - Three of Augusta's most powerful political figures would have to run against each other for the same state Senate seat under a court-ordered redistricting plan released Monday.

Republican incumbent Sens. Don Cheeks and Randy Hall both live in the proposed District 22, along with former Sen. Charles Walker.

Mr. Walker, a Democrat, lost his 2002 re-election bid to Mr. Hall and was already planning a challenge for this fall when the maps were unveiled Monday afternoon.

The new maps come at the request of a three-judge federal panel, which ruled earlier this year that Georgia's existing legislative districts violate the one-man, one-vote principle.

The new maps were drawn by an independent, nonpartisan group that didn't take into consideration where incumbents lived.

The judges said the old maps, drawn by Democrats in 2001, put too few people in south Georgia districts and too many people in Atlanta-area districts, creating an imbalance of rural Democratic power.

Augusta Democrat Ed Tarver, a lawyer, also lives in the proposed District 22.

Mr. Tarver had been planning to challenge Mr. Cheeks for the existing District 23 spot, which includes most of western Richmond County, plus Jefferson and Burke counties and parts of Bulloch, Candler and Emanuel counties.

Mr. Cheeks declined to comment on his potential rivals or the new map, explaining that lawyers from both political parties will still have a chance to address the federal judges and ask for changes.

"I'm not going to have any thoughts until we get a final map," Mr. Cheeks said Monday evening.

Demographic data show the maps are likely to help Republicans preserve their majority in the Senate while gaining the GOP seats in the Democrat-controlled House.

"I'm assuming any kind of map ... is going to help Republicans," University of Georgia political scientist Charles Bullock said.

"The old maps, it was open knowledge they were Democratic gerrymanders. The Democrats pulled out all the stops so they could maximize their holdings."

But the voting-age population in the new District 22 is 54 percent black, making the region likely to vote Democratic, Dr. Bullock said.

In contrast, the new District 23 is 38 percent black.

There are 71 Republicans in the House, plus 108 Democrats and one Independent. In the Senate, there are 30 Republicans and 26 Democrats.

Republicans brought the case to trial, suing over the 2001 maps.

Lawmakers were given until March 1 to draw new maps or face a court-drawn plan.

Because House Democrats failed to reach consensus by the deadline, the court-drawn maps will likely determine the districts used for this fall's legislative elections.

As a result, many incumbent legislators throughout the state might end up competing with each other.

District 24 Sen. Joey Brush, R-Martinez, said he was happy the proposed district in which he lives only stretches through seven counties, all of them in east-central Georgia.

"It looks a lot better," said Mr. Brush, whose current district stretches through 12 counties, starting in the southern-Atlanta suburbs.

None of Augusta's current House lawmakers were drawn into the same districts, allowing all of them a chance to compete for most of the same voters this fall.

Rep. Sue Burmeister, R-Augusta, was drawn into an extremely Republican-friendly district, straddling Columbia and Richmond counties.

"I love it," she said. "If I had to draw my dream map, this would be it."

Ms. Burmeister also lives in the new Senate District 23, where there is no incumbent.

The second-term lawmaker refused to rule out running for the Senate.

Lawmakers planned to meet Monday night to discuss the maps and plot their next moves.

The court won't give final approval to these maps until after it hears from lawyers representing both political parties.

Lawmakers might still try to pass their own maps, but Dr. Bullock said it would be difficult for them to be used for this fall's elections because they would still have to undergo federal review.

Reporters Brandon Larrabee, Walter C. Jones and Dave Williams contributed to this story.

Reach Brian Basinger at (404) 589-8424 or brian.basinger@morris.com.


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