Originally created 06/12/06

Analysis: Redistricting panel talk is back



ATLANTA - Georgians remain a little jaded about the time and energy legislators devote to the boundaries of the state's legislative and congressional districts.

It's almost as if there were no other issues to be concerned about, judging from the speeches, conferences and gnashing of teeth that comes with map-tinkering at the Capitol. Georgians who see problems with public schools, congested roads and health costs don't know why redistricting keeps being such a distraction to legislators.

It might be because it's an easier thing to accomplish than reforms in education or other thornier issues.

Gov. Sonny Perdue, or someone on his staff, read the public mood correctly in sensing the need to find an alternative. Whether he was sincere or just trying to get political cover remains to be seen.

He signed an executive order creating an 11-member Independent Redistricting Task Force. He did it while at the same time signing a controversial redistricting bill for Athens, splitting it into two Republican-leaning districts and diluting the heavy liberal vote there.

The task force is looking at the idea of a commission of some sort to handle redistricting rather than the politicians.

It's an idea taking hold in more states. Yet it's an old idea for the Peach State, one originating in Athens, or at least first mentioned by a University of Georgia administrator, Barbara Rystrom.

When the current state constitution was being revised, she was on the committee drafting it and prevailed in getting the committee to recommend a commission with the power to draw revised districts for the Legislature to sign off on. But her idea was nixed when legislators debated the draft in 1981.

The task force considering redistricting today has until year's end to submit its recommendations to Mr. Perdue. By then, he will have been re-elected or defeated. If voters renew his lease on the governor's mansion, he'll likely consider it a mandate to push his proposals through the General Assembly.

The test for Mr. Perdue is whether he'll use his mandate to push the task force's proposal through the Legislature. It will take a two-thirds vote from both the House and Senate to place the issue on the general-election ballot as a constitutional amendment.

This week, as the task force was meeting at the Capitol, the governor dropped by for a brief chat, not even staying long enough to sit. He said then that he had tried to assemble a task force with members whose stature would ensure that the General Assembly took their recommendations seriously.

Considering that even the Republicans who now control the General Assembly might be reluctant to give up the power to tweak the district lines whenever they want to draw a potential opponent out of the picture, they might require considerable prodding from Mr. Perdue to turn over redistricting to a commission they can't control.

That will be the time for Mr. Perdue to prove his sincerity.

Reach Walter Jones at (404) 589-8424 or walter.jones@morris.com.