The regular session of the 2011 Georgia General Assembly was a mixed bag – some good, some bad, some rancor over both. But the heated partisan debates over things like immigration and tree-cutting end up looking like garden parties compared to what lies ahead in August.
It’s time again for legislative and congressional redistricting – the complex and politically volatile process that sometimes ends up in court and almost always leaves some officeholders and many voters feeling like they’ve been carved out of significance for the sake of somebody’s political agenda.
And they’re too often right.
The regular reapportionment process takes place in the year following the census, when population growth, declines and shifts change the map of political representation in both the Statehouse and on Capitol Hill.
The political stakes in how the congressional districts are drawn are especially high when, as is the case in Georgia this year, population growth gives a state a new member of Congress.
Public hearings on redistricting have already begun, and whether citizens get to one of those sessions or not, it is imperative that they let their state lawmakers know about their interests and concerns.
If the first of these hearings more than a week ago in Athens was representative, citizens are determined that the process should be fair and transparent. Sen. Mitch Seabaugh, R-Sharpsburg, co-chair of the Joint House and Senate Reapportionment Committee, said redistricting will be accountable and inclusive: “It will be an open process, it will be a fair process and it will adhere to the law,” he said.
Yet even in a process that traditionally and predictably benefits the majority party, the fact that the legislative committee is exclusively Republican ought to raise eyebrows, and not just Democratic ones.
A retired University of Georgia professor at the Athens forum noted that a panel appointed by former Gov. Sonny Perdue recommended a nonpartisan reapportionment commission – a suggestion that obviously never got anywhere near becoming policy.
Realistic people understand that reapportionment is a power play, and those with the power call the play. When the stakes involve political blocs that except under unusual circumstances won’t be changed for at least 10 years, the potential political gain can stretch well beyond the next election.
But not always. A decade ago, both the General Assembly and the Governor’s Office were in Democratic hands. And a widespread public perception that those hands were excessively heavy when it came to shifting voting districts around was undoubtedly a factor in Republicans wresting away control of both branches of government for the first time since Reconstruction.