When Is Enough, Enough?

I hate partisan gerrymandering. I hate it when the Dems do it. I hate it when the Republicans do it. I understood it when the Republicans took over under the Democrat map, solidified their gains under a judge drawn map, and then wanted to firm things up. The Dems had done it all along, but had the advantage of being able to do it at the census turn.

But this is nuts.

Republicans in the state Senate on Thursday pushed through a change to their chamber’s political map that would divide Athens – a Democratic stronghold – into two districts.

The plan’s sponsor called it an effort to honor a five-year-old request from commissioners in rural Madison County. But Democrats dubbed it an election-year ploy designed to hurt the chances of a House Democrat who is seeking the seat and help the brother-in-law of a Republican senator.

At some point you just have to stop redrawing the maps. Otherwise we’ll get to the point where the maps are redrawn after every election to shore up support in key districts and punish those who beat incumbents.

Likewise, I do not think there is a role for the state supreme court. This is a federal judicial issue because of the Voting Rights Act, but if the Georgia Supreme Court were to rule that mid season gerrymandering was unconstitutional, they’d prove themselves to be a partisan outfit, but there the only basis would be too sketchy to pass the smell test.

This puts everyone in a difficult situation and it is best to leave well enough alone. Take it up in 2011 after the next census.

Technorati Tags: redistricting

33 comments

  1. DoubleDawg3 says:

    Glad to see I’m not the only GOP member a little upset at this – especially since the GOP campaigned so openly against partisan gerrymandering. We have a comfortable margin in the Senate – why does one seat matter so much? Besides, Cowsert might win it as it is anyway – he’s raised more money and looks pretty good right now.

  2. Decaturguy says:

    Thanks Erick for bringing a little sense into this. The first step to losing power is becoming hypocritical and using power arrogantly. What is so wrong with having competitive districts anyway so that politicians actually have to work for people’s votes. What are the chances that the House and/or the Governor reject this?

    Kemp beat Vaughn last time. Why can’t Cowsert do the same, unless he’s a crappy candidate?

  3. Melb says:

    I wonder what effect this will have on Brian Kemp? Seems a bit unethical to push for redistricting when your brother in law is running for the seat. If I was Gary Black I would point out how Kemp is willing to play underhanded politics with the district and can’t be trusted. With Ralph Reed in the political spotlight I wouldn’t want the words unethical to be near my name and this could generate a lot of bad press for Kemp.

  4. landman says:

    I dont see the problem with this and to try and compare this to what the Dems continually did doesnt hold up.There are people in this isolated redistrcting that have been wanting this for a long time so they get what they want and their the ones who live there so Im good with it.

    Its a far reach to try and hang this on Kemp,this is a leadership decision and one that I think will hold up and in my opinion is good for the GOP.In a perfect world the districts would be drawn by an independent third party but it isnt so these things happen.Would the Dems do it? you bet,does that make it right?no.Is it politically smart?absolutely!!!!!

  5. Hey landman, I’ve just got one question for you. If splitting Athens is the right thing to do, why did the GOP release 8 different versions of their fair Senate map from February, 2003 through March, 2004 and not a single one split Athens?

    Hmmm?

  6. Decaturguy says:

    “There are people in this isolated redistrcting that have been wanting this for a long time”

    Then why didn’t they do it when they had the opportunity to do so last time?

  7. landman says:

    Chris-would you accept a lame rebuttal like hind sight is 20\20? I didnt think so.I never said it was the “Right” thing, I said it is the smart thing to do,from this side of the aisle,of course.

  8. Melb says:

    I didn’t know smart and unethical were synonymous, but I guess we are speaking to the party of Abramoff, Reed, and DeLay.

  9. billy says:

    “Would the Democrats do it?”

    I can’t remember anything ever like this. Not mid-census, and not this specific. However, if i were a Republican, I’d be worried.

    When one party controls everything, power stuggles no longer exist on a party devide. You start going after your own. You wanna be a maverick legislator who is independant of your party’s leadership? Well, get ready to be drawn out of your district. You wanna take a principled stance against the powers-that-be? Hope you enjoyed your stay at the capitol, tell the folks back home that you got screwed nobally.

    Bottom line – this is why Democrats never did this. It sets a really scary precident, no matter what letter is behind your name. Be careful when defending dirty politics – you are likely to endorse the instrument of your own downfall.

  10. landman says:

    While I dont live in Athens I would be willing to wager large sums of money that I have spent more time in Athens than the protesters of the redistrcting on this site,and I just do not see the big fuss of dividing the city into two Senate Districts.This is in no way a precedent,look at Savannah as a good example,that has many similarities as the Athens area.
    Melb, Billy,and Heart there is nothing unethical about this move,rather it is merely a prudent move on the part of the leadership.Your team ruled this state with a hammer for a long time,with little regard to anything but blind ambition,so please do not attempt to lecture me.If You read this blog at all you all know that Im anything but a REED or ABRRAMNOFF fan.

  11. Jack S says:

    Instead of just moving a few precincts around, Hudgens and Eric Johnson decide to split Clarke up to make both districts lean GOP. If I were a Dem, I’d find a Dem to challenge Hudgens, he’s pretty far right. Not a consensus builder like his new district would like.

    Bottom line, this whole thing is silly. But there’s no way I’m going to listen to any hypocritical Democrat on this page complain about it. Republicans can complain becuase we lived thru this kind of crap before while all you Dems on here laughed and giggled and said, “well that’s just politics”.

    You’re getting a small taste of the trash you rammed down our throats and you’re whining and screaming. Shove it. You deserve worse than this. You deserve the Republicans drawing a map that cuts every Dem congressman and state legislator out of their districts and makes the general assembly 2/3 GOP.

    And now that we’ve done this will some one in the GOP leadership, namely the Governor, do what they promised and go to a non partisan redistricting process.

    If we lose it’s becuase we really haven’t done what we said we would do.

  12. GAPeach says:

    I vote Republican in Brian Kemp’s district and I’m pretty upset by it. I’ve heard the excuse batted around that the University deserves more representation and that the Athens Chamber requested it. Last I checked, it was still one man, one vote, regardless of which party is in power.

  13. billy says:

    1) I did spend 4 years in Athens, don’t know how long you were there – but if you were there recently at all you would know that the leadership (commission, mayor, DA, Sheriff, etc) are all probably against this plan.

    2) It is a unique area and a common community that shares little in common with most the reast of Georgia – including Savannah (like the fact that it is about a third the size). This is important because the GOP cited time and time again the important of keeping communities together when redistricting.

    3) It is unethical because it is a use of power (redistricting) to gain more power (Safe Senate seats) at the expense of those with little power (the residents of Athens). We call that oppression. Redistricting has always been like that and I’m not saying Democrats didn’t do the same. However, I am saying that doing this mid-census is unprecidented. At least when it is done for these purposes.

    4) You can pin this one on Brian Kemp. Ralph Hudgins pinned the bill and it wouldn’t have happened without Kemp’s blessing. That being said, he has remained very silent and hidden through this whole thing, which makes me wonder about the back room story. As much as I disagree with Sen. Johnson, I don’t think he came up with this idea – I actually respect him a little more than that.

    5) Democrats did rule this state for a long time. However, GOP amendments were heard, debate was had, and legislators held a great deal of sway over their respective districts and policy areas. The current state of affairs at the capitol makes Democratic rule look like the pillar of pluralism. You damn near have to get the Speaker’s permission to take a crap.

    6) I have never accused the Republican Party as a whole of being anything. There are individuals who are corrupt, individuals who are overzealous, individuals who are just plain dumb. I will only attack those individuals and never paint a group of people with such a wide brush. I come here to have honest and intellectual discussions so that i can better understand where you guys are comming from. I would appreciate similar respect with regard to my party.

    This comment has already run on too long, so I’ll quit for now.

  14. DoubleDawg3 says:

    I’ve lived in Athens and I’ve supported Brian Kemp…and while I don’t necessarily think that it’s wrong to split Athens up, what I do think is wrong is the timing. I mean…geez, come on… look at how blatantly obvious this is…the GOP is going to have a close race and we change the rules so that the challenge disappears – right before the election? I mean, this is the EXACT type of stuff that the GOP stood against for years and years – and now that we have the chance to do it to the Dems, we should? NO, we’re better than them – that’s why the GOP has gained so much ground, voters don’t expect the Republican legislators to stoop to the same level as the Dems did to not only keep power, but to make sure that the other side didn’t even have a remote chance of getting anything accomplished.

    Why not let the race run, see if Cowsert could pull it out himself, if not, change the district in 2011 – when Kidd is just getting comfortable. I’ve met Bill Cowsert and think he is a good man and would be a good Senator – but to me, personally I’d feel a little strange if I relied upon something like this to get elected.

    One final note, I did like the post earlier, by Billy I believe, about eventually the Republicans turning upon themselves and forcing “non-conformists” out of office —- all I can think back to is Ken Poston – go back to the early AJC articles, in which Murphy sang his praises and he was tabbed the “next big thing”…then look and see where bickering with Murphy got him (although I’ll confess, I don’t know if he was districted out or not – I can’t recall, I just remember he disappeared after losing to N. Deal)

  15. Landman, the reason Savannah is split into more than one district is because the city itself is too big to be in one district. Any map maker, Democratic or Republican would have no choice but to do it. Same thing with Atlanta. The same goes for Augusta, it is too big for one district.

    But if you compare Athens to similarly sized regional cities, like Valdosta, like Albany, like Rome, etc, you will see that they are all the center of their respective Senate Districts and none of them were split.

  16. Melb says:

    Hey Jack, Do two wrongs make a right? No! I wasn’t involved with GA politics when the whole redistricting battle went down, but when I saw the maps later I was disturbed. They should have never messed up the maps like that and if I was to ever vote against a Democrat then, that would have been a good reason. Do I have a right to be upset when a Republican does it, helI yeah. You are right about two things, it is silly, but you forgot to mention stupid and unethical, but you did mention it was TRASH and you were right on the money.

  17. HeartofGa says:

    This is playground politics. If it looks like you are going to lose, change the rules. I personally know democrats who voted for Perdue because they were disgusted with the map our party drew. Gerrymandering is wrong no matter who does it. It is wrong because it dilutes representative government. It silences the voice of the minority, and no one can possibly believe that is good for this republic. We need the counterpoint, the healthy debate that diversity ensures.

    From a partisan perspective, I hope the Republican leadership keeps this up. It makes November easier for Democrats.

  18. Senator Eric Johnson says:

    Clarke is Georgia’s 14th largest county. All above it (except Hall) are split. Several much smaller counties, inculding Madison are split. This plan puts Madison back together and splits Clarke.

    First, Clarke receives more than double the average per capita spending in state. When you look at at Regents spending per capita, it is huge compared to other counties (more than double the next county, Bulloch, and 10 times the amount for MCG/Richmond or Tech&GSU/Fulton. Clarke NEEDS more representation which is why their Chamber asked for more. Now is pefect time with Kemp vacating and voters having chance to select new one.

    Second, it is very normal for the legislature to make minor adjustments to swap precincts for a variety of reasons, including incumbents buying a new home (see Steve Thompson and Terrell Starr as past examples). This bill adopted Federal Court drawn map with this one relatively minor change.

    Finally, those that claim this is partisan haven’t thought it through. Kemp carried old district twice. I have not seen political numbers, but am told that Bush and Perdue carried it, too. The new map was drawn to help Clarke. The objections are being made by Democratic partisans.

  19. landman says:

    Senator,excellent points on this isolated redisticting.It amazes me how the Dems are so willing to proffer regret for all the ills they heaped on this Great State for 150 years now that they are not in position to continue their way.This in no way can be compared to the continual gerry-mandering that took place under their watch,census or mid-census is of little importance.

    Dems you guys may want to back off on the corruption war cry you seem so hung up on.The last I checked it was only high profile Ga. Dems that are serving time or currently under indctment read Walker and Campbell.

    I know its tough being in your position,but the GOP is only going to increase our majority in this cycle,as we sweep the state-wide races.The reason is because our leadership in the Senate,House,and Governors office resonates with the people of this Great State.

  20. If Clarke already gets so much money it sounds like they have been doing fine with just one senator. Besides, there has to be a way to make Madison whole while leaving Clarke intact. Shouldn’t the goal be reduce the number of split counties, not just swap one split county for another? Eric? I mean if it were possible wouldn’t that be preferable and a lot easier to justify?

    As for minor precinct swaps, the proposal by the Senate does that in the SD 47/49 change, fine. But it also gives Walton, Clarke, Oglethorpe completely new districts. Did Ralph Hudgens by a new house that is so big it is in two counties?

  21. Landman, if the GOP identifies all of their vulnerable districts and then redistricts to make them more Republican, then yes you might increase your majority. The reason won’t be because leadership resonates with the people of this great state.

    By the way, the last time I checked Linda Schrenko and Robin Williams were both Republicans and also both serving time or currently under indictment. With lobbying expenses in Georgia higher than ever before (by a large margin) under total Republican rule in 2005, do you really want to have people start looking into corruption?

  22. Mr. Pro Tem, I also find your statement “Clarke is Georgia’s 14th largest county. All above it (except Hall) are split” VERY MISLEADING.

    9 of the 13 counties larger than Clarke would have to be split under any plan because they have a population larger than the maximum size a Senate district can be. Of the remaining four, Hall is kept whole, Henry and Houston are split because of Section 5 reasons and Cherokee was previously in two Senate districts, which was maintained (particularly the shape of the Lamutt/Rogers district) because of precedent.

    Of the 20 largest counties that are also smaller than a state Senate district (from Cherokee -> Newton), 10 are currently whole on the map, 5 are split because of Section 5 requirements, and 5 are split for non VRA reasons.

    6 of these counties are similar to Athens/Clarke in that they consist primarily of a major regional town that is closely identified with the rest of the county and vice versa. Those are: Hall (Gainesville), Dougherty (Albany), Lowndes (Valdosta), Floyd (Rome), Whitfield (Dalton) and Glynn (Brunswick/St Simons). Like Athens, all 6 of these counties and cities are kept intact in the Senate plan.

    Just because one of Brian Kemp’s pals on the Chamber of Commerce put his talking point into one of their memos does not mean Athens is just begging to be split on the Senate map. However, I find that line of reasoning very telling.

    When Republicans seek the input of local officials, those officials are not mayors, councilmen, neighborhood leaders, school board members, etc. They just go straight to their paymasters in the Chamber of Commerce.

  23. Eric, finally, in 2003/2004 the Senate Republicans released a number of “Fair Senate” plans. I will take you at your word and assume those plans were indeed fair. Clarke County was kept whole and intact on every single one of the Fair Senate plans. In addition, Senate Republicans seemed to prioritize “whole” counties, especially if they were Republican leaning. Houston, Forsyth, Carroll and Paulding were made whole.

    What has changed from 2004 to 2006 to make splitting Clarke county a priority. Did Brian Kemp buy a new house?

  24. HeartofGa says:

    And don’t forget David Graves, (R) HD 137 who just finished serving his time for his two DUI’s. Check his last disclosure report for the amount of $$ from the liquer industry, very soon after he pleaded guilty. And his committee chairmanship, while it may explain the $$, only makes the whole situation worse.

    The point is that corruption knows no bounds of party, but on the premise that absolute power corrupts absolutely, the majority party may be more prone at any given time. The bottom line is that Georgia voters deserve better than this. Offer all of the demographic explanations you wish (Dems did the same thing) -the motive here is transparent- they don’t think they can beat Kidd with the current boundaries.

  25. Eric, more:
    You were one of the sponsors of Senate Fair 8, SB 522 which passed the Senate 32-23. This bill kept Clarke and Madison whole. Can’t we try to do that this time?

    Also: SB 91, Eric Johnson co-sponsored and passed the Senate 30-23.

    Among the highlights:
    Section 1:
    (D) No district shall divide a community of interest unless necessary to comply with federal standards. A community of interest may be defined by a variety of factors, including, but not limited to, economic, social, and cultural factors, government services, and location;

    (E) Districts shall divide as few counties and recognized political boundaries as is practicable to comply with the other requirements in this subsection; and

    (F) No district shall be established with the intent or effect of diluting the voting strength of any person, group of persons, or members of any political party. Data reflecting past partisan voting behavior shall not be solely considered.

    It seems to me that these Republican rules have been violated. To me, if it is necessary to redistrict to put Madison county back together, if it were possible to redistrict while also splitting no further counties or precincts, that way would have to take precedent. If it is possible to do it without splitting further counties or precincts, I can only conclude that section F would be violated because if mapmakers chose to split precincts/counties when it wasn’t necessary, they must have been doing it based on partisan voting behavior.

    Eric Johnson: Simple question. If it is possible (I don’t even know) to put Madison whole without splitting additional counties or precincts, will the Senate adopt that version instead?

  26. Senator Eric Johnson says:

    Chris:
    No – not without violating Judges 1% deviation margin. Of course, all the references to Senate Fair maps are moot. We had to base our change on the map created by the 3-judge bi-partisan plan.

  27. Harry says:

    Senator, I don’t like this plan. It doesn’t set good precedent. As a loyal Republican, I tell you the GOP had better quit fooling around and keep focused on cutting the pork and spending or we’re going to get slapped.

  28. billy says:

    Senator Johnson,

    IF your main concern is getting districts within 1% diviation then why not just leave them alone since they already passed that test?

    IF your main concern is following the guidlines expressed in SB 91 then why not leave the distrcts alone since they already follow the spirit expressed in that bill?

    IF your main concern is following the wishes of the residents of Athens, then why not ask the Mayor and the Commission – who certainly have to flex influence for more money from the state than the Chamber does?

    It seems to me that this effort goes against just about every priniciple you have stated as a guiding force behind redistricting. You clearly are not doing this to make the districts more representative (1% rule), you are clearly not doing this to keep communities intact (splitting a city that does not need to be split), and you are certainly not doing this to follow the wishes of the community (let’s be honest, you know as well as i do that the Chamber of Commerce has only one interest in this – ensuring a GOP Senator). The only reason for this is ensuring that District 46 elects a Republican.

    Congratulations, you have sold out on everything you preached for political gain.

    But I’m sure you don’t really care, since the precident you are setting will not likely hurt you – impressive that you got all the GOP rank and file to go along though, since it is they who will most likely suffer from this.

    I hope that more principled heads can prevail in the house.

  29. cheapseats says:

    if the Republicans have such great ideas, why do they insist on keeping them secret until they spring it on us at the last minute?

    in Athens, the Republicans cannot win by presenting their positions and persuading the voters so, they change the rules.

    I’d like to see the Athens commissioners pass a law that prohibits Ralph Hudgens from setting foot in Clarke County!

    It’s time for our Chamber to be run out of town – they hate Athens and Athens hates them.

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