In a vote with national implications, the Georgia House passed a newly proposed Congressional map this afternoon, clearing a major hurdle for state Republicans seeking to undo the lines they argue were unfairly drawn by Democrats in 2001.
Democrats in the Georgia Congressional delegation have vowed to fight this rare mid-decade redistricting effort in court, charging that the new map dilutes the overall strength of minority voters and violates the spirit of the 1965 Voting Rights Act. They signed a letter to GOP legislative leaders Wednesday, warning them they will incur the wrath of legal action if they proceed.
But there was little evidence of Republican willingness to back down, as the state House voted 104-72, largely along party lines, to approve the new map.
“The Congressional maps that were drawn in 2001 alienate Georgians, rip apart communities of interest and counties, and were drawn solely for partisan, political interest,” state House Speaker Glenn Richardson (R) said in a statement. “Today we put Georgia back together and today we ensured that all Georgians have fair and equal representation.”
Freshman Rep. Lynn Westmoreland (R-Ga.), who has led the re-redistricting charge from within the state’s GOP delegation, issued a statement calling the bill’s passage “a great day for the people of Georgia.”
“This a giant step in the process and I encourage the state Senate to take up the issue as soon as it can,” Westmoreland said. “Now that the action is in the Senate, I hope that all members of Georgia’s Congressional delegation who have had input on the map — both Republican and Democrat — will express their support.”
If the same version of the map that passed today also clears the Senate, it would have to be signed by Gov. Sonny Perdue (R) and then cleared through the Justice Department before it could go into effect for the 2006 elections.
The proposed map puts the state’s two white Democrats, Reps. Jim Marshall and John Barrow, at the most risk politically. It also shores up for Republicans the marginal 11th district currently represented by Rep. Phil Gingrey (R).
Democrats opposing the bill were allotted 20 minutes of the hour-long debate on the measure, which passed by a vote of 104-72. Nine Democrats, mostly from southern Georgia, voted in favor of changing the lines originally drawn when their party was in power.
State Rep. Jo Ann McClinton (D), who represents part of metro Atlanta’s DeKalb County, was the only black Democrat to vote aye on the bill.
Three Republicans broke with their party and voted against the new map. Among them was state Rep. Willie Lee Talton, the chamber’s lone black Republican.
The map passed today, which state House and Senate leaders reach consensus on two weeks ago, had undergone some minor tweaks in recent days.
The most notable change was the movement of a small portion of southern DeKalb County into Rep. David Scott’s (D) 13th district. Scott sought the modification in an effort to keep one particular community entirely within his district.
The bill now moves to the state Senate, which is expected to take up the measure early next week.