The new Census data that will form the basis for redrawing congressional and legislative districts has yet to be released, but Georgia lawmakers are going ahead with public hearings on redistricting.
A joint House and Senate committee is hosting a series of hearings around the state, with one in Athens scheduled for Tuesday, July 6 from 5–7 p.m. in Building F at Athens Technical College. (Check legis.ga.gov for details, to watch videos of the hearings or to submit written comments.) Not that it matters—the input is a charade, and Republicans will do whatever they want behind closed doors.
Athens has been the victim of Republican gerrymandering on numerous occasions. In 2006, the legislature split heavily Democratic Clarke County into two majority-Republican state Senate districts. In 2011, it unilaterally redrew Athens-Clarke County Commission districts over local objections. And in 2012, it created a new Republican-majority House district in the Athens area to accommodate an ex-Democrat who had switched parties, leaving the local delegation with four Republicans and just one Democrat.
Contrary to popular belief, however, Clarke County was not split between two congressional districts to dilute Democrats’ voting power. Either district would still be overwhelmingly Republican if it included all of Clarke County. In fact—showing that gerrymandering cuts both ways—the last time Athens had a Democratic congressman was when John Barrow in 2004 won a very oddly shaped district drawn by Democrats that also included Augusta and Savannah. A year later, the GOP took over and took out Barrow’s hometown.
This year, could Athens lose its lone Democrat, Rep. Spencer Frye? With the Supreme Court striking down part of the Voting Rights Act, possibly. Heavily minority districts like Frye’s don’t have the protection they once did, since a majority of justices think racism is no longer a thing, and Republicans in the U.S. Senate refuse to restore those protections.
The biggest targets, though, will be two U.S. representatives in north metro Atlanta, Lucy McBath and Carolyn Bordeaux. State-level Republicans will seek to oust one or both when they draw new maps, which could contribute to Democrats losing their slim majority in the U.S. House. The GOP will also have the opportunity to shore up their majorities in the state House and Senate for the next decade, insulating themselves against suburbs that are rapidly turning blue.
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