We pretty much got sick and tired a couple of years ago of all the fighting
over reapportionment of state legislative districts. There are few topics -
other than, say, storm sewers or internal audits - more likely to put people
Still, we soldier on, telling people how important all this stuff is. And
now if you live in Augusta, you're getting a big fat dose of the importance
For a little history - which is about all most folks can stand - Democrats
were firmly in control of the Georgia House and Senate and the Governor's
Mansion when the state was redrawn during marathon sessions in 2001. The
state has to redraw district boundaries every 10 years in response to
population changes, and 2001 was a make-or-break year for Democrats.
That's because the state's fast growth made the mostly Republican suburbs
bigger, while the inner cities and rural south Georgia shrank.
Reapportionment is supposed to cut the state House and Senate into districts
of roughly equal populations, ensuring that each district's representative
has about the same number of constituents.
To hold back the surging Republicans, Democrat mappers packed a limited
number of GOP-leaning districts with as many voters as possible, and thinly
spread Democrat-leaning voters over as many districts as they could - even
creating multi-member districts that could elect multiple Democrats.
The maps should have locked in a Democrat advantage in the Legislature. But
when Sonny Perdue ousted Gov. Roy Barnes in 2002 and four Democratic
senators switched parties, the GOP took over. A lawsuit threw out the
Democrats' maps, and since feuding lawmakers couldn't draw fair maps
themselves, judges drew the maps for them.
That brings us to now. All of this is still in a state of flux but should be
settled this week. What's it mean for Columbia County?
For one thing, state Sen. Don Cheeks will no longer be part of the county's
delegation. He had often said he should either represent more of Columbia
County - his current district includes just one Harlem precinct - or less.
He sort of got his wish with the new maps; first they took his district
entirely out of Columbia County, and then they took him entirely out of his
The judges are still tweaking, but right now they've set showdown between
Cheeks and ex-state Sen. Charles Walker in a majority black Augusta
district. That will make one heckuva fight.
Back in Columbia County, we picked up state Rep. Sue Burmeister. Her Augusta
district crosses over and takes in a slice of the eastern edge of the
county, including part of West Lake. State Rep. Ben Harbin's seat is still
small and compact, but state Rep. Barry Fleming picks up Lincoln and part of
State Sen. Joey Brush's district no longer goes all the way across the
state's midsection, and instead heads north to Elbert County. The district,
coincidentally, is also potentially very friendly to challenger Jim
What does all this mean? Because the judges are still tweaking, it just
means the district lines aren't set in stone. Until they are, we can't
really be sure who is running for what, or where.
Still, all this uncertainty hasn't meant the delegation hasn't been working.
They've passed the designation of Columbia Road as our county's Purple Heart
Highway. That seems like a simple thing, but it got snarled in partisan
roadblocks last year.
Lawmakers have also set up a referendum to see if voters want to elect the
chairman of the School Board. Trustees refused to help write the question to
voters, but the delegation gets the last laugh: Their bill requires the
school board to not just call for the election and put the question on the ballot, but to pay all costs associated with the election.
In the meantime, the exact wording of the chairman question is in a poll on The News-Times Web site, www.newstimesonline.com.
(Barry L. Paschal is publisher of The Columbia County News-Times. E-mail
comments to email@example.com.)
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