Georgia Gov. Sonny Perdue (R) signed a new Congressional map into law Tuesday, bringing the GOP-led mid-decade redistricting effort full circle and paving the way for likely legal challenges.
In an interview Tuesday, Perdue said that redesigning the map was a matter of making good on a promise Republicans campaigned on in 2002, when they swept control of the Governor’s mansion and the state House.
The GOP has billed its effort to change the current Congressional lines as a means of undoing what Perdue called the “partisan power grab” Democrats orchestrated in 2001.
“The gerrymandering was as atrocious as any I’ve ever seen and they did it blatantly with the idea that they would just predetermine the elections,” Perdue said. “The people had a different idea and didn’t allow that.”
The new lines, now awaiting approval by the Justice Department because Georgia falls under the Voting Rights Act, make way for the possible political return of two former Congressmen and put the state’s two white Democrats in the most political jeopardy.
The biggest outcome for Republicans, however, is that the new map shores up the marginal 11th district for Rep. Phil Gingrey (R).
Freshman Rep. Lynn Westmoreland (R), a former state House Minority Leader who has been the leading proponent of the redistricting effort, was elated when told that Perdue had signed the bill Tuesday. The new map was drawn by a Westmoreland aide.
“I’m excited about it,” he said. “I feel like mission accomplished.”
Democrats, however, were not as thrilled.
“I know that I am quite disappointed that the governor would sign the legislation,” said Rep. John Lewis (D-Ga.). “It is clearly a violation of the spirit of the Voting Rights Act.”
Lewis specifically cited the dilution of the black population in Gingrey’s 11th district under the new lines. A debate over the definition of “minority-influence” districts — where minorities are a large percentage of the population but do not constitute a majority — is expected to be front and center in any legal challenges to the map.
But while Democrats in Texas rushed to take legal action when Republicans orchestrated a similar redistricting effort in 2003, Lewis was less certain that Democrats in his state would be able to afford an aggressive court challenge to the new lines.
“We will be meeting and conferring to see where we go from here,” Lewis said. “It’s possible. We would need to raise the necessary resources to take the legal action.”
Legal challenges to the new map may be filed even as the lines are being reviewed. In Texas, Democrats filed a lawsuit challenging the lines as soon as they were signed into law and court proceedings began before the Justice Department had issued its stamp of approval.
Perdue said he has no doubt that the map will pass Justice Department review.
“I have confidence that this map complies with the Voting Rights Act and the Constitution of the United States as interpreted by the Supreme Court,” he said.
The Justice Department pre-clearance process is expected to take at minimum 60 days. If the lines are approved the new map would go into effect for the 2006 elections.
National Republican Congressional Committee spokesman Carl Forti was enthusiastic about the openings the new lines could create for the GOP.
“We think it’s a great map,” Forti said. “It helps our incumbents and gives us a couple of solid opportunities.”
Still, many observers say that the state’s entire 13-member delegation is likely to be returned to office if everyone runs for re-election.
“We’re confident that Democrats will retain their seats,” Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee spokeswoman Sarah Feinberg said.
Democratic Reps. John Barrow and Jim Marshall could face more difficult roads to re-election under the new map, however.
In the new 8th district (currently the 3rd district), Marshall may face former Rep. Mac Collins (R) in a district that now includes more Republicans. Collins, who lost a 2004 Senate primary, is contemplating running again.
Barrow, meanwhile, would be forced to run in the new 12th district — a seat that would remain solidly Democratic but would not include his Athens home. Barrow’s greatest challenge could come in the form of a Democratic primary challenge from a black opponent. The black population of the new district would be 45 percent, and minorities would make up a majority of the primary electorate.
Former Rep. Max Burns (R-Ga.), who was defeated by Barrow in 2004, is also mulling a political comeback. Burns released a statement Tuesday praising Perdue for signing the new map into law.
“While it was an honor to represent the old 12th District in United States Congress, the new 12th District better reflects the values and interests of the constituents in east Georgia,” Burns said. “I look forward to working with old friends and making new ones as we work together to meet the needs of our communities and provide a strong Georgia conservative voice in Washington.”
Perdue, the state’s first Republican governor since Reconstruction, credited his election in 2002 in part to the fallout from the redistricting issue.
“The people remembered what had been done to them and they determined that they would be in control of their destiny rather than political party,” he said.
The current Congressional map has been challenged and upheld since the lines went into effect in 2002. In that same case, a federal court deemed the Democratic-drawn state House and Senate maps unconstitutional, and both have since been redrawn. That redraw paved the way for Republicans to take control of the state Senate in 2004, completing the GOP’s takeover of the state’s political landscape.
Perdue, who faces re-election next year, also defended the decision to redraw Congressional boundaries outside of the normal decennial timetable.
“I think it allows us to Constitutionally redraw the maps anytime that we see the need for that,” Perdue said.
But Jerry Hebert, counsel for the Texas Congressional Democrats who challenged the re-redistricting in the Lone Star State, said that Republicans were guilty of the same things they criticized Democrats for.
“Make no mistake, the Georgia map is motivated by purely partisan intent,” Herbert said. “Even if one were to agree with the Republicans that the Democrats gerrymandered in 2001, there’s no doubt that this map was also gerrymandered to better chances of Republicans winning Congressional seats in Georgia.”