A feud between two lawmakers broke out into the open in the state Capitol on Tuesday, as Sen. Emanuel Jones, D-Decatur, accused Rep. Steve Davis, R-McDonough, of a secretive effort to ram through Henry County redistricting maps in order to protect his 22-year-old son Ryan Davis – who sits on the local school board.
From the Senate well, Jones – chairman of the Legislative Black Caucus – declared that Davis “had a pecuniary interest in maintaining the status quo as well as protecting their own financial interest in what’s going on in Henry County.”
Jones himself admitted the seriousness of an accusation made from the Senate floor.
Davis, in a telephone interview, called the charge “over the top and ridiculous” – the result of a longstanding hostilities between the pair, and Jones’ refusal to respond to entreaties to take up Henry County redistricting during the special session.
More slings are bound to be tossed this morning, when the Henry County bill becomes one of the last measures taken up by the Senate before adjournment – along with a new congressional map.
The argument also is another example of Republican efforts to use their dominance in the Capitol to counter local enclaves of Democratic strength.
We have a basic agreement of facts. Davis approached Jones, and asked for local delegation approval of HB 44EX and HB 45EX – new maps for Henry County commission and school board districts. Jones declined to call a delegation meeting for the purpose – preferring to address the issue in January.
That might have ended the matter.
But Davis, with three other House members whose districts touch Henry County, then filed a set of rules with the House Intragovernmental Coordination Committee – the delegation had no existing rules on file. Howard Mosby, D-Atlanta, provided the necessary fourth vote in the six-member House delegation, Chairman Chuck Sims said.
Included in the new rules was this: Local legislation affecting Henry County could be filed upon the signatures of three members of the delegation. Jones’ objections became moot.
The two Henry County redistricting bills were placed on the House consent calendar and passed on a vote of 160 to 0.
HB 44EX and HB 45EX received their first full dose of scrutiny at a 9 a.m. meeting of the Senate Reapportionment Committee. It is traditional for a bill’s lead sponsor to make an appearance and a presentation. Davis did not. Instead, committee chairman Mitch Seabaugh acted on Davis’ behalf.
Thirty or so angry residents of Henry County were at the back of the room, guests of Jones. At one point, Senate Democratic Leader Steve Henson, a member of the committee, wondered out loud whether Davis was hiding.
“Be careful of your comments,” warned Seabaugh. “We have a certain decorum here.”
Mosby appeared and recanted his support for the speedy consideration of the Henry County maps. Erik Charles, the lone black member on the five-seat Henry County school board, said the new school district maps (identical to the county commission maps) took him out of his familiar district – and placed him in a new majority-minority district.
Which had been home to Ryan Davis, who was elected to the school board last year at age 21 – after graduating early from Georgia Southern University.
Davis was given much of Charles’ district.
There was no suspense. The Senate Reapportionment Committee quickly passed the Henry County maps on an 8-3 vote.
But at the end of the Senate business day, Jones took to the well on a point of personal privilege for his protest. His allegations: 1) Steve Davis benefited from a process that he himself pushed through the General Assembly; 2) and the process itself was conducted surreptitiously.
“Davis and his lust to protect his son and get the maps that he created all sorts of ethical problems,” said Jones, who filed a complaint with the House Ethics Committee.
And the “pecuniary interest” he alleged? Jones said that because Ryan Davis still lived with his parents, his continued employment by the Henry County school system – and the preservation of his young political career — is a direct benefit to his father.
Which left Steve Davis – the parental lawmaker – scoffing. “My son is not a dependent. He has a full-time job in addition to his position on the school board. And he’s going to grad school,” the father said.
As to the matter of secrecy. Jones challenged his foes to present evidence that he’d been informed of the move to push through the Henry County maps.
They did. For one thing, there’s an Aug. 11 note from the Henry County Commission, informing him that they had approved the maps on a 4-1 vote. And a legal advertisement in the Henry County Daily Herald that the maps would be introduced in the General Assembly the next day.
A joint meeting of the county board of commissioners and school board started the ball rolling on June 7. A public hearing was held July 19, advertised on TV and in the newspaper.
Also Tuesday, the Senate Reapportionment Committee turned away the only change requested to the proposed Republican congressional map that will be voted on today.
The committee rejected the pleas of a northwest Georgia contingent who wanted Fannin and Gilmer counties incorporated into the new 14th District (now 9th) occupied by U.S. Rep. Tom Graves, R-Ranger.
George McClellan, chairman of the Gilmer County Republican County, said he and his neighbors are in the middle of the current northwest Georgia district, but under the new map would find themselves on the edge of the new 9th – anchored by Gainesville.
“We look on Hall County as a black hole that will suck up all the influence,” McClellan said. “Rural counties belong together.”
We’re also told that the five-candidate Republican contest to replace the late Rep. Bobby Franklin of northeast Cobb County has been reduced by one. Roy C. Barnes, the 81-year-old real estate agent, has dropped out — depriving voters of a highly collectible bumper sticker.
- By Jim Galloway, Political Insider