Next month, state lawmakers will gather again in Atlanta to redraw Georgia’s political boundaries.
In summer hearings across the state, this legislator and that one has sworn to eschew crass partisanship. Keeping like-minded voters together in new House, Senate and congressional districts will be topmost in their minds.
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Especially on the congressional level, redistricting will be a bloodthirsty affair, driven by the Republican effort to maintain control of the U.S. House and the Democratic effort to rip it away. Democrats are not playing nice in states they control. Republicans in Georgia will behave no better.
For GOP lawmakers gathered in Atlanta, the first decision may be which Democratic member of Congress to bleed — John Barrow of Savannah or Sanford Bishop of Albany.
The dearth of warm bodies below I-20 means Republicans can target one or the other, but probably not both. Barrow is likely to draw the short straw.
Bishop’s 2nd District covers most of southwest Georgia, the no-growth sector of the state. Redistricting is based on population shifts measured by the U.S. census. But the 2nd District has grown only fractionally — .4 percent.
Also, Bishop is African-American — a fact that, given the requirements of the Voting Rights Act, could provoke more scrutiny by the U.S. Justice Department.
On the other hand, Barrow is a prominent target — the last remaining white Democrat from the Deep South in Congress. More importantly, his 12th District has grown by 9 percent over the last 10 years.
Voters will have to be shifted away. Lawmakers are likely to make sure that many of them are Democratic — if Jack Kingston, the Republican congressman from Savannah, will absorb them.
The happier task for GOP lawmakers in Atlanta will be finding a suitably Republican location for Georgia’s new, 14th Congressional District.
Key to the geography will be the 7th District now occupied by U.S. Rep. Rob Woodall — which has grown by an astounding 30 percent. Woodall’s district, dominated by Gwinnett County, must shed more than 200,000 voters to reach the targeted 691,975 souls per member of Congress.
Mathematics says the new 14th District will be based in northeast Georgia. So do the politics of the state Capitol.
Every sketch of a 14th District presumes that Hall County will serve as its base. Gov. Nathan Deal has a house in Gainesville. Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle lives there. Fannin County, home to House Speaker David Ralston, is only a short drive up the road.
Two residents of Hall County have already latched onto political consultants in anticipation of a tumultuous, Republican-dominated battle for an open — and very safe — congressional seat.
One is Martha Zoller, the 16-year host of a north Georgia radio talk show devoted to politics and public affairs. (Zoller is aired on Gainesville’s FM103.7, which, like The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, is part of Cox Media Group.)
Zoller, 51, is a well-known speaker at political gatherings, and is said to have a talent for fundraising. She’s never run for public office, but any background in conservative talk radio suggests a decent relationship with the burgeoning tea party faction of the GOP.
However, though the primary is still more than a year away, and the district and the field of candidates remain hypothetical, state Rep. Doug Collins, 45, must be considered the early favorite.
Collins is an ordained minister and lawyer, and was named one of Gov. Nathan Deal’s floor leaders in January. (In a congressional ethics investigation, Collins was also listed as being present at a meeting that Deal, as a congressman, had with state officials — in defense of the future governor’s auto salvage business.)
But Collins’ ties to the House speaker may be more important. Shortly after his election to the House in 2007, Collins found himself on a plane for Iraq, as an Air Force Reserve chaplain. From thousands of miles away, Collins fought the House Republican caucus for the honor of casting one of the few votes for Ralston in his quixotic 2008 challenge to then-House Speaker Glenn Richardson.
Such things are not forgotten.
“Doug Collins is an excellent public servant and fine family man. We’re discussing opportunities that might exist in the future,” said political strategist Chip Lake, recently chief of staff for U.S. Rep. Lynn Westmoreland, R-Coweta County.
Westmoreland is the U.S. House member who has been placed in charge of national reapportionment issues for Republicans. So there is some chance that Collins will have a decent seat at the table once the line-drawing commences.
Given the unsettled nature of the Republican party, and the prospect of an unassailable perch in Congress, a raftful of other candidates are certain to join the race — depending on where the new 14th District stretches beyond Hall County.
An eastward move toward the Savannah River could prompt state Sen. Jim Butterworth, R-Cornelia, a Cagle ally, to consider the contest. A district that points farther north might tempt cardiologist Chris Cates of Blairsville, a 2010 candidate for the 9th District seat won by Republican Tom Graves.
But the 14th District isn’t likely to stray too far west, and Senate Majority Leader Chip Rogers, R-Woodstock, has let it be known that he would prefer to stay in the Legislature, at least for now.
- By Jim Galloway, Political Insider