Georgia General Assembly Joint Reapportionment Committee: www1.legis.ga.gov/legis/2011_12/house/Committees/reapportionment/
ATHENS — The process of carving Georgia up into political districts kicked off on Monday with citizens urging lawmakers not to rip apart communities with common interests.
The meeting — the first of 12 scheduled around the state — was held in the Democratic stronghold of Athens, which critics say has become something of a poster child for the role politics can play in drawing maps. Athens was sliced up in a rare off-year redistricting in 2005 that created two state Senate districts and lopped off the region's congressman, Democrat John Barrow.
A number of speakers on Monday urged legislators not to let politics infuse the process.
Some complained that the legislative committee is composed entirely of Republicans, who now hold commanding majorities in both the House and the Senate.
"It doesn't look very non-partisan when everyone up on the stage is Republican, said Athens resident Russell Edwards, who made an unsuccessful bid last year for Congress as a Democrat. "Ya'll can go back to Atlanta and do anything you want. But at least give the appearance to the people that it's nonpartisan."
Legislators redraw congressional and legislative district lines to conform to new U.S. Census data every 10 years. Gov. Nathan Deal has said he will summon lawmakers back to the state Capitol for a special session Aug. 15 to tackle redistricting. Georgia is set to pick up a congressional seat due to the state's rising population.
State Sen. Mitch Seabaugh, co-chairman of the Joint House and Senate Reapportionment Committee, pledged inclusiveness.
"'It will be an open process, it will be a fair process and it will adhere to the law," the Sharpsburg Republican said.
Athens residents said the city's Democratic leanings aren't represented by their elected officials because it's been divvied up.
Randall Abney, who moved to Athens three years ago, said he found it upsetting that GOP legislators had turned it "into a pecan piece, giving a slice to every Republican in the region."
Jim Gaudin, a retired University of Georgia professor, noted that a blue ribbon panel put together by former Gov. Sonny Perdue, recommended that the state adopt an independent non-partisan panel handle redistricting. The recommendation went nowhere.
"The Republican Party had an opportunity to take the high ground," he said.
"Athens is an urban district, it has little in common with the rural counties that it has been lumped in with," Gaudin continued.
The same argument was made in reverse by residents of Rockdale County, who said the north and south stretches of the county are predominantly rural yet are tossed together with large urban populations in the county's center and with nearby DeKalb County.,
"I do believe we need proper representation that reflects our county," Rockdale County resident Eleanor Davis said,
"We do not need to be associated with the urban issues because we have rural issues that we are dealing with."
William Perry, head of Common Cause Georgia, told legislators they should work to make districts less ideological and more competitive.
Perry said there was no general election competition in 33 of the 56 state Senate districts. In 21 other districts the winning candidate received 60 percent of the vote or higher and only two of the districts could be considered competitive, Perry said.
The second hearing of the joint legislative redistricting panel will take place Tuesday in Augusta followed by a panel Wednesday in Savannah.