Originally created 06/08/06

Task force looks to revise redistricting



ATLANTA - Triggered by a controversial redistricting move in Athens, the state's Independent Redistricting Task Force began gathering information Wednesday on a less-partisan method of revising Georgia's legislative and congressional districts.

Members of the 11-member panel heard Gov. Sonny Perdue and the former longtime aide to the map-drawing legislative committees agree that the current system is flawed by the political motives of the lawmakers who currently control the process.

"My question is - and it's an open question I don't have an answer to - is there a better way?" Mr. Perdue said. "We fantasize about taking politics out of the process, but is there really a better way?"

The former director of the Legislative Reapportionment Office who had advised lawmakers on redistricting for 30 years, Linda Meggers, agreed.

"Basically, the system is kinda broke," she said.

Mr. Perdue created the task force the same day he signed legislation that split Athens into two state Senate districts, a law that sparked a furor in Athens. The split was viewed by most observers as designed to dilute Athens' liberal voters so that Republicans could hold on to both Senate seats as Sen. Brian Kemp, R-Athens, retires to run for agriculture commissioner.

Rep. Jane Kidd, D-Athens, who is running for Mr. Kemp's seat, has taken her objection to the U.S. Supreme Court and is awaiting a decision on whether the court will consider it.

Skeptics say Mr. Perdue appointed the task force only to deflect criticism of the split from himself. But on Wednesday, he told the panel members he expects them to make a difference.

"I thought my responsibility was to put together a panel with a reputation so that your thoughtful input would be difficult to ignore," he said.

The task force is led by Harold G. Clarke, a former chief justice of the Georgia Supreme Court who led the committee that drafted the portion on redistricting in the 1983 state constitution. Others are lawyers specializing in elections, a professor, and business executives.

The task force is looking, at least initially, at some type of commission to take the redistricting away from elected officials. It meets in Athens next month with University of Georgia political science professor Charles Bullock, who has researched redistricting commissions in other states.