Originally created 03/17/04

Finally, a fair map



Who are those people wringing their hands and gnashing their teeth in Atlanta?

They're the state lawmakers sobbing over the legislative redistricting maps released by a three-judge federal panel Monday. The maps were drawn by a non-partisan group with no interest in preserving incumbents' seats. And it shows.

There are seven Senate districts in which incumbents are in the same district, and in the House there are at least 30 such districts. One Columbus area House district has three of the Democrats' most senior and powerful members lumped together.

Clearly, many legislators will be out of work after this year's elections. But shed no tears for them. Lawmakers had a chance to draw their own districts, but they fell down on the job due to partisan feuding. So the federal court did it for them.

This isn't an activist court. The judges repeatedly urged legislators to develop their own district maps; technically, that option is still open, but it's virtually certain that the final map will be the one the court released Monday, or something close to it. There's simply not enough time to draw and get approved new boundaries before the primary season starts.

But it is dismaying that it took a court, rather than the legislature that's elected to represent the people, to draw districts that most accurately reflect the state's population and views.

The court's map greatly improves the Republicans' position in the House - even giving them a chance to take charge of that body. Current House makeup is 108 Democrats, 71 Republicans. The court's map, say experts, provides for only 88 safe Democrat seats, three short of a majority.

Republicans are also confident that under the new map they can hold their 30-26 Senate majority, perhaps even improve on it.

Democrats are putting on a brave front, claiming that the court map is not all that unfavorable to them. Maybe, but it's not nearly as favorable as it would have been if the court had let stand the outrageously gerrymandered districts cooked up three years ago when Democrats controlled both chambers and the governor's mansion.

The fact is, Democrats abused their power then - and now, despite their brave talk, they're going to lose much of their legislative power. And after 130 years of one-party rule, that's only fair.

National Democrats, as U.S. Sen. Zell Miller, D-Ga., often points out, have virtually abandoned the South. Hence, Georgia, like most Dixie states, is trending more conservative and Republican. Eventually, that has to be reflected not only in the congressional delegation, but also at the state and local levels. The new map does that.

Locally, none of Augusta's House members have been thrown into the same districts. But the 22nd Senate District is another matter.

GOP incumbents Randy Hall and Don Cheeks are both put in the 22nd, along with former longtime Democratic state Sen. Charles Walker - whom Hall upset by a razor-thin margin two years ago.

Walker's African-American base vote, a little over 51 percent in 2002, rises to nearly 55 percent under the court's proposed map. If Cheeks and Hall's GOP lawyers can't persuade the court to change the 22nd's boundaries, Walker's bid for a Senate comeback would be greatly strengthened.

Senate District 23, however, looks ripe for Republicans, and it has no incumbents - so could Cheeks or Hall move to that district? If they do, they might run into popular GOP state Rep. Sue Burmeister, who lives in the 23rd and says she may go for it.

Whatever happens, we hope the new General Assembly is not only more representative of a conservative Georgia - but also more adept at getting its work done.