Last week’s Courier Herald Column:
Georgia lawmakers will return to the Georgia capitol on Wednesday, November 3rd in order to reset district lines for themselves, members of Congress, and local elected officials. You’ll read a lot about this process between now and then. Consider this a primer to help sort out what will be news versus basic partisan propaganda and/or unearned vitriol.
First, understand this process is required by law. Even though Georgia is not gaining a congressional seat, new maps must account for shifts in population within the state. In general, metropolitan areas are growing while much of rural Georgia is not.
This means that urban and suburban parts of Georgia will gain more seats in the General Assembly while the number of legislators representing rural Georgia will shrink. Political power and influence will make a similar shift over time though perhaps not immediately. Committee Chairmen still hold significant influence over legislation, and rural Georgia is well represented in these positions at the moment.
Continuing this moment, however, depends on continuing the current Republican majority. Thus, it’s also important to understand that redistricting is an inherently partisan process. This was true when Democrats last held power and redrew maps.
The maps drawn by the last Democratic General Assembly and Governor included multi-member districts for state house seats, essentially pairing Republican districts with one or more Democratic districts and having those residents vote for more than one Representative, with the population drawn to ensure all would be Democrats.
These maps were struck down by courts as a violation of one-person, one-vote protections. Please remember this when you hear partisan attacks on how the new maps are being drawn, as if it is unique to Republicans to draw maps to their own electoral advantage. You may have to remind a reporter or three about this as well, as many within the Georgia and national press seem to have total amnesia when it comes to the partisan history of this process.
Within the party in power, however, this will also be the most personal and political exercise one can witness. There is a reason that this is done in a special session, limited only to this process and a few technical items that sidestep taking up other controversial measures.
Members are not only trying to secure maps for their continued majority party, but their own political future. It’s a time when “friends” openly stab friends in the front to secure the district lines they desire, or to settle old scores and grudges.
Then, there are the maps themselves. Don’t take any of those you see early on too seriously. They are opening bids in a negotiation.
Senators released a proposed Congressional map this week, which many on social media are accepting as “the new map”. The House will have their own proposal. The Governor – who will ultimately have to sign the bills that create each map – will have his own say in the process. Best to pace yourself every time a new map is presented.
Expect the special session to last several weeks. The calendar had a neat gap between the Georgia-Florida break and Thanksgiving, and the process will likely fill most of it. If the session is not over by Thanksgiving…. let’s just hope it is.
We should also note that many candidates have already announced they are running for specific districts in Congress, for which district maps don’t yet exist. When the maps are finally passed and signed by the Governor, expect many of these candidates to quietly but quickly change the district numbers on their campaign literature. Some may change the office they are seeking altogether.
Which brings us to another reminder: Members of Congress don’t have to live in their congressional districts. Members of Georgia’s legislature do. New maps have the potential of retiring some of them who suddenly find they no longer live in a district which they are viable, or that they have been paired with another legislator they don’t wish to challenge.
And finally, when it’s over, it’s not over. Regardless what is passed, maps will be challenged in the court system. This – along with partisan rulings from lower courts – are now part of our elections process. Expect stays, appeals, and overturned rulings.
It’s not unreasonable to expect court challenges to continue through qualifying, through the primaries, and in some cases, even after the first elections are complete under the new maps. As such, again, pace yourself. This is just the beginning of a very long, sometimes bumpy ride.