Even partisan Democrats could barely keep straight faces three years ago after marathon sessions to redraw Georgia's legislative districts.
In an exercise of raw partisan power, Democrats who then controlled the state House, Senate and governors office used a sophisticated computer program to pack Republican-leaning voters into odd-shaped districts, while leaving Democratic-leaning districts loosely populated.
The nearly 10 percent swing in district population, along with redrawn lines that often put Republican incumbents into the same districts, was intended to prevent the GOP from gaining power as Republican-leaning areas grew.
But a court decision last week snatches the rug from under Georgia Democrats, and could work to Columbia Countys advantage.
As badly as it was drawn, the 2001 map never resulted in the gains Democrats expected. Take the example of then-Senate Majority Leader Charles Walker: So confident was he of an easy re-election that he shifted minority voters from his district to that of then-fellow Democrat Don Cheeks to hurt Cheeks re-election chances.
Walker also saw to it that a sliver of Cheeks 23rd District was drawn into Columbia County, and then Walker found a Democrat to challenge Cheeks in the primary. If this Machiavellian scheme had succeeded, Walker would have been re-elected; then, his puppet would have replaced Cheeks, and would now sit as a member of Columbia Countys delegation with veto power over local legislation.
Instead, Cheeks would-be foe was disqualified, Walker lost his re-election bid and Cheeks switched to the Republican Party. That put the state Senate in GOP hands, while Republican Sonny Perdue won the Governors Mansion.
The coup de grace came last week when a three-judge federal panel threw out the Democrats redistricting plan, ordering the tortured maps redrawn to more accurately reflect population changes.
This is a good day for democracy and a good day for Georgia, Perdue said after the ruling, reflecting the jubilation of Republicans who hope to draw districts to their advantage.
What does it mean for Columbia County? Reapportionment will have little local effect on local state House seats; the county currently has two districts served by Reps. Ben Harbin and Barry Fleming. I dont think youll see as much tweaking on the House side as you will in the Senate, says Columbia County Republican Party Chairman Lee Muns.
The Senate change could be complicated, made more so by Walkers plan to run for his old seat. Republican mappers, prohibited from cutting a districts minority voting strength, cant just add Republican voters to prop up state Sen. Randy Hall, R-Augusta. So the seat will likely stay unchanged.
The districts of Cheeks and state Sen. Joey Brush, however, could change drastically - and for the better. Cheeks 23rd sprawls across seven counties; Brushs district, perhaps the ugliest in the entire 2001 remap, meanders 140 miles across Georgia and takes in pockets of people in 12 counties.
The redrawn districts will be far more compact, and Cheeks points out that a statewide map already passed by the Senate last year - and held up in the Democrat-controlled house - would give his district a larger share of Columbia County. Thats just fine; the community certainly benefits from his seniority.
Whatever the outcome, a redrawn map will result in a Legislature far more representative of the voters in the state and in Columbia County. And ceding more control to fast-growing areas will mean a government more in tune with Georgias future.
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