The giant sucking sound expected after last year’s census — pulling statehouse seats, and with them political power, from the southern part of the state into metro Atlanta — isn’t quite as loud as everyone expected.
Or maybe it just depends on how we define “southern” and “metro Atlanta.”
Leading up to the census, South Georgia was bracing itself for a huge loss of clout: perhaps half a dozen of the 45 or so House seats below the fall line (Columbus to Macon to Augusta), and maybe two or three of the region’s 15 Senate seats, too.
The implications for politics and policy were huge. From education (school choice) to transportation (Atlanta congestion versus “four-lanes to nowhere”) to water (interbasin transfers), the continuation of a long northward shift potentially meant big changes.
In the event, redistricting data for Georgia do reveal that roughly six House seats and a Senate seat or two will move northward. Yet, about half of the loss may come not from true South Georgia, but from DeKalb and Fulton counties.
That’s right: The counties at Atlanta’s core stand to lose about as many seats as the rural, not-so-densely populated, southern half of the state.
That duo’s loss equals a boost for three other counties: Gwinnett is in line to pick up two House seats, Cherokee and Forsyth another one apiece.
Draw an arc starting at Cherokee’s border with Bartow County, continuing across Forsyth and through northern and eastern Gwinnett, over to the Walton County line, and you’ll cross seven current House districts. After redistricting, those seven could be 11.
Along that same arc, but in the other legislative chamber, Sen. Jack Murphy, R-Cumming, saw his Cherokee-Forsyth district grow from the state’s fourth-smallest by population to its absolute largest during the past decade. Murphy and Sen. Renee Unterman, R-Buford, currently represent three Senate seats worth of people — a pretty significant shift.
Throw in the fact that Georgia’s new 14th Congressional District is likely to be drawn somewhere between Woodstock and Gainesville, and it looks like the state’s power base has leaped completely over Atlanta to the northern, GOP-leaning suburbs and exurbs. (An exception is Cobb, where moderate population growth may mean a slight relative decline — maybe the loss of one of the House seats it now shares with another county.)
The population shift wasn’t equal in Fulton and DeKalb. House districts in those counties represented by Republicans grew at almost exactly the same pace as the rest of the state. The population loss was all in Democratic-held areas.
There are obvious policy implications, starting with next year’s transportation-tax referendum: The project list needs to reflect this northward population shift if the tax is to pass.
Beyond that, Georgia’s Democrats, still smarting from last year’s electoral thumping, ought to think long and hard about what it says about them and their policies that their power base is shrinking so fast.
The 22 House districts that lost the most people during the 2000s all elected Democrats last year (though two of the 22 switched to the GOP after the election). Meanwhile, just three of the 24 fastest-growing districts went their way.
Democrats, particularly in the House under the leadership of Rep. Stacey Abrams, had their moments during the 2011 legislative session. But a party that can’t win outside a few relatively shrinking urban pockets is doomed to rising irrelevance.
– By Kyle Wingfield