Under Cover of the World Series

If you want to sneak something through the legislature with no one noticing, do it while the Braves are playing in the World Series. That’s exactly what the Senate Republicans did Tuesday night when they quietly published their proposed Senate district map on the Georgia General Assembly Redistricting Office website, figuring most people were watching the game and wouldn’t notice. Three days later, with metro area schools closed for the Braves Parade, and Georgians lining downtown streets, the Senate Redistricting Committee voted their map out of committee along party lines, readying it for a Senate floor vote early next week. News about redistricting may have gotten relegated to a back page story, but the impact of these new district lines on State Government are set to make headlines for the next decade. 

Though it’s hard to compete with the news cycle of the Braves winning the World Series, it was heartening to see the halls of the Georgia Capitol once again bustling with citizen advocates who ARE paying attention (to stay up-to-date, sign up for these emails). One after another, they stepped up to the microphone to address the members of the Redistricting Committee, begging for more time to analyze the impact of these newly released maps. Not everyone was a seasoned expert — speakers included a 13-year old student, as well as a citizen who asked me after the hearing, “Okay, what comes next, once it passes Committee?” (I gave her a little lesson.) But the Committee stuck to their pre-determined schedule, checked off the box marked “take public comment,” and passed the bill out along party lines: 9 Republicans “yea,” 4 Democrats “nay.” It was an insult to all the people who made the trek to the Capitol to speak. If you are unable to travel to the Capitol to make public comments, please submit your comments here.

This is just the beginning of the process. Redistricting happens through the passage of bills, the Senate map being Senate Bill 1EX. Once this bill passes the Senate, it goes to the House, where representatives traditionally honor the Senate’s wishes, passing their bill with no changes. In the meantime, the House released their redistricting map one week before the special session started and has yet to pass it through the House committee. Neither chamber has filed their U.S. Congressional bills, though the Senate released a proposed map several weeks ago. The congressional maps will be fraught with more controversy, with more traditional disagreements between the House and Senate versions, and more public scrutiny.

Over the last ten years, Georgia’s population has increased by about one million people and about 99% of that growth has been made up of people from various minority groups. Yet the Senate map moving through the legislature adds only one solidly Democratic seat, bringing the make up of the Senate to 33 Republican seats and 23 Democratic seats. It doesn’t take much analysis to see the partisan gerrymander in these numbers. The Princeton Gerrymandering Project agrees, giving the Democratic Senate Map a “A” and the Republican map an “F” for partisan fairness.

This is the first redistricting session since the 2013 U.S. Supreme Court removed the Federal pre-clearance requirement under Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act. But Section 2, which prohibits discrimination based on race, is still in place. Since the Republican map does not reflect the growth in minority population in Georgia, the courts will be an effective place to challenge these maps.

On a personal note, I am pleased that my district, Senate 40, has remained basically intact. Due to growth, the district needed to downsize by about 4000 people. The proposed map does this by eliminating the two Sandy Springs precincts in North Fulton county, and three Peachtree Corners precincts in Gwinnett county. In addition, the district swapped out a few precincts in Tucker to pick up a couple of new precincts at the southern end of the district in unincorporated DeKalb county. To my supporters who are no longer in Senate 40, please know that I will adopt you back!


The Secession of Buckhead

In the midst of the redistricting drama there’s another concerning issue percolating at the Gold Dome —  the secession of the wealthy Buckhead neighborhood from the city of Atlanta. This effort is gaining momentum among Republicans of the Senate. If enacted, it would have devastating impacts on the city of Atlanta, which could reverberate throughout the entire state.

It’s important to understand that creating the city of Buckhead is completely different from the recent incorporation of cities such as Brookhaven and Dunwoody, because it is a secession from an existing city (Atlanta) rather than a city formed from still unincorporated areas. Atlanta is also a city with its own school system, which further complicates matters.

A public hearing held at the Capitol this week brought to light a number of yet unaddressed issues. Since the Georgia constitution does not allow for the creation of new school districts, would Atlanta Public School continue to serve Buckhead families, or would they become part of Fulton County Schools? What are the financial implications for these decisions? Does the Fulton County School system have the infrastructure to absorb the Buckhead area? What would happen to parks like Chastain Park, which is currently owned by the city of Atlanta? What would happen to Atlanta’s bond rating should Buckhead secede? Would taxes go up in both Atlanta and Buckhead to support two separate police departments? If this secession passed, would it set the precedent for other wealthy, white neighborhoods to do the same — reminiscent of the city of Eagles Landing separating from Stockbridge, which voters fortunately voted down in a referendum?

In the past, Republicans have used their majority power to ram through cityhood bills without getting the consent of local elected legislators. They have done this by passing a “general bill.” I expect the same for the City of Buckhead. The proper way to pass these kinds of bills is to utilize the “local bill” process, which requires the support of the majority of legislators in the local county delegation for passage. This process ensures that residents of the whole county have a voice in what is decided.

This is an issue to watch very closely during the special session and going into the regular session in January.