Everything was going just as expected. Until it wasn’t . . .
We have hit the halfpoint for Georgia’s once-in-a-decade Special Session on Redistricting and everything is going as expected. The Senate map has passed the Senate (but not the House) and the House map has passed both chambers, awaiting signature by the Governor. Work on the Congressional map should start next week.
Approximately one million new residents have made Georgia their home over the last decade — almost all from minority populations. Yet these new residents have gotten lost in these maps. Georgia’s Senate map adds only one Democratic seat, consisting of approximately 191,000 people, and Georgia’s State House map adds five Democratic seats, consisting of about 300,000 people. Where have all the new people gone? This is what gerrymandering looks like in Georgia in 2021.
We may not have the votes to stop these maps, but your elected officials have engaged in the struggle! The fight we’ve started at the State Capitol will finish in the courts.
Look what the cat dragged in . . .
Tuesday morning I walked into my Senate Democratic Caucus meeting only to find out from my colleague Sen. Nikki Merritt of Gwinnett county, that the sole Republican in the Gwinnett Senate delegation filed two local bills.
Before I tell you what those bills are, let me explain to you that there is a rule in the Senate that local bills must be signed by four out of seven members of the local Senate delegation before they are filed. None of the other members of the delegation knew anything about these bills — none of us. There were no signatures. This was a unilateral act by the lone Republican member of the Gwinnett delegation — Georgia’s most diverse and fastest growing county.
The first bill, Senate Bill 5EX, changes the Gwinnett County school board elections to non-partisan, and redraws the district lines. Gwinnett county is majority non-white county, and the new map includes zero majority-minority districts.
The second bill, SB 6EX, doubles the size of the Gwinnett County Commission and sets new district lines.
As a bit of background, during the last couple of election cycles, these two governing bodies — the Gwinnett School Board and the Gwinnett County Commission, have flipped from all white to majority representation by people-of-color.
I was sad but not terribly shocked that the Senate Rules were being bypassed to ram these bills through because the Republican majority has done this in the past, but I was shocked that this bill was moving forward during Special Session because according to the Governor’s set agenda, local bills are only allowed during Special Session if they (in the words of the Governor’s convening proclamation) “avoid unreasonable hardship or to avoid undue impairment of public functions if consideration and enactment thereof are postponed.” County-level redistricting is set to be done during the regular session in January, and there is no legitimate reason for an exception in Gwinnett.
I was so floored by this blatant disregard for the legislative process that I decided to formally address my colleagues in the Senate Chamber Tuesday by taking a Point of Personal Privilege on the matter. This is the first time I have ever gone to the well without prepared and well thought out remarks, because anything you say from the well could end up in news outlets — which it did, and it was well worth it. Honestly, I didn’t get every technical detail perfect in my speech, but it still got the point across and brought needed attention to the matter.
So what’s the emergency? According to the bill’s author, in regards to the school board, it’s something his constituents have requested. Here’s what Sen. Clint Dixon, Governor Kemp’s floor leader, had to say:
“Currently in my district it is the number one issue I have with concerns from my constituents with the unreasonable firing of our long-term superintendent . . . is what started some of the issues with our school board. Moving on from that, certain board members have indicated that they would be in favor of introducing CRT along with other, in my mind, radical agendas on their part.”
He went on to state that a new nonpartisan election must be held as soon as May 2022.
What we are seeing here, and what we are seeing over and over again, is made-up narratives that are then used to justify bad laws, or in this case, to change the structure of government. The result is the cancelling of elected minority voices and the voters who elect them.
What can we do? I believe that in the Senate, our hope lies with the Lt. Governor. I have personally shared with him my concerns about ignoring rules and the need for him to protect the deliberative nature of the Senate body. Contact his office and tell him that if he wants to remake the Republican Party, he needs to start by putting an end to this kind of abuse of the legislative process. You can call his office at 404-656-5030, email him at firstname.lastname@example.org or fill out this form. If you can do more, contact the following people:
- Gov. Brian Kemp: 404-656-1776 | email@example.com
- Sen. Clint Dixon: 404-656-7454 | firstname.lastname@example.org
- Sen. Lee Anderson: 404-656-5114 | email@example.com
- Sen. Butch Miller: 404-656-6578 | firstname.lastname@example.org
- Sen. Mike Dugan: 404-656-7872 | email@example.com
- Sen. Jeff Mullis: 404-656-0057 | firstname.lastname@example.org
- Sen. Bill Cowsert: 404-463-1366 | email@example.com
House Republican Members from Gwinnett:
- Rep. Chuck Efstration: 404-656-5125 | firstname.lastname@example.org
- Rep. Bonnie Rich: 404-656-5087 | email@example.com
- Rep. Timothy Barr: 404-656-7857 | firstname.lastname@example.org
- Rep. Tom Kirby: 404-656-0178 | email@example.com
Other News from the Capitol
These political shenanigans suck the energy out of the room and distract from all the positive work being done by our community leaders. But I did still find time this week to stand up for mental health services, advocate for “Full Funding in Five” for people living with disabilities who are waiting for Home & Community Based Services Medicaid slots. Also, my Senate Resolution 300 University Fees Study Committee met to hear comments from the public.
While Republicans complain about “cancel culture,” let us stay firm to ensure they don’t cancel democracy. I often say that our efforts are not a sprint, but a marathon. An even better metaphor may be a relay marathon — so grab the baton and make some calls — “Be LOUD” on behalf of all the people in Gwinnett county who have worked so hard to get their people elected.