The marathon legislative sessions of 2001 in Georgia didnt do much to restore the confidence of citizens. Democrats who controlled all state government admitted they were redrawing legislative lines to help their re-election chances in a state that was inexorably turning Republican.
Democrats used computers to turn every voter into a piece of a giant demographic puzzle, without regard to county lines or community boundaries. With an in-your-face attitude, they carved up the states House and Senate districts in patterns that were so bizarre that, for perhaps the first time in history, voters actually paid attention to the reapportionment process.
The disregard for voters and communities came back to haunt the Democrats. After Gov. Sonny Perdue became the states Republican governor in 130 years, four Democrats switched parties and threw control of the Senate to the GOP, too.
Democrats are more humble now. Gone is the Cry me a river arrogance of Lt. Gov. Mark Taylor, who has been stripped of power in the Senate. And even the Democrats who still control the House have learned that they have to work with Republicans if they want to accomplish anything.
That need for some sense of accomplishment is the key to getting the House to approve the rearrangement of Senate districts - and nowhere is the rearrangement more needed than in our area.
Start with one of those four party-switchers, state Sen. Don Cheeks. Ex-state Sen. Charles Walker made sure his 22nd District was neat and compact, but Cheeks 23rd was strewn across the map. More importantly, Walker drew one Harlem precinct into the 23rd, which meant the holder of the seat would serve on Columbia Countys delegation.
Walker then tried to run a crony for the 23rd, and if shed beaten Cheeks, Walker would have controlled Columbia Countys legislation. But not only was Cheeks opponent disqualified from running, Walker also lost to Randy Hall.
Since then, Cheeks has agreed its unfair to serve on Columbia Countys delegation with just a handful of the countys voters in his district. Hes always framed the issue as give him more, or get him out.
That could happen as early as this week when senators are expected to take their first look at a new map.
The redrawn 23rd gives Cheeks much more of Columbia County. The 23rd would take in territory along the Richmond County line, and everything south of I-20. Joey Brush would keep the rest of the county, and the two of them also would split McDuffie County.
Cheeks district would be far more compact, running mostly west; Brushs 24th would go north, through Lincoln and Wilkes counties.
My district would be very pleasing to me, Cheeks says. Id no longer have to drive south of Interstate 16 just to attend a meeting.
Even so, Cheeks says the new map wont be passed as drawn - not because of his district, but because of Randy Halls 22nd.
The proposed map gives Cheeks more of Halls current district (including the Hill area, putting Charles Walkers home into the 23rd!), and it also pushes Hall out of Hephzibah and Blythe and into Keysville and the rest of mostly Democrat Burke County.
Halls district, which he barely won, is 50-50, black-white. His new district would be 56 percent black - not friendly to a white Republicans chances.
They keep telling me its a work in progress, and Im going to hold them to it, Hall says. I would prefer no changes in my current district. Just leave me alone.
When the map comes to the floor this week, Hall will be anything but alone. Not only will Cheeks help him keep a similar district, but Brush will also be debating whether voters would want the next occupant of the 23rd District to have such a large piece of Columbia County.
Remember: Walker lives in that district now. Stranger things have happened.
(Barry L. Paschal is publisher of The Columbia County News-Times. E-mail comments to email@example.com, or call 863-6165, extension 106.)
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