City DopeNews

Population Changes Squeezed North Georgia Districts, Republicans Say

State Reps. Houston Gaines (left) and Marcus Wiedower speak at an Oconee County Republicans meeting Nov. 29.

During a presentation on redistricting at the same Oconee County GOP meeting, state Reps. Marcus Wiedower (R-Watkinsville) and Houston Gaines (R-Athens) said that politics had nothing to do with the process—it was purely about resizing districts to account for growth over the past decade.

“It’s about population, period,” Wiedower said.

Both districts 117 and 119—soon to be 120 and 121—were about 3,000 or 4,000 people over the optimal size, so they had to shrink geographically. Wiedower’s district is losing territory in Clarke County and taking the Athens Academy precinct in Oconee County from Gaines, whose district is shifting toward Jackson County. Georgia has added 1 million people since 2010, most of them in the northern part of the state, so districts in South Georgia are getting bigger, squeezing ones to the north. 

“When you start pushing on Walton County, when you start pushing on Henry County, it’s got to go somewhere. It affects everything upstate,” Wiedower said.

Both swing districts are now once again solidly Republican, and that a third Republican state representative, Trey Rhodes of Union Point, will represent a chunk of eastern Clarke County. Despite three out of four voters in Athens being Democrats, only one out of its four state representatives, Spencer Frye, will be a Democrat come 2023.

Lawmakers also ignored calls to reunite Clarke County in one state Senate district. Clarke will remain divided between Republicans Bill Cowsert and Frank Ginn, except now the line will run east-west instead of north-south.  

The maps drawn by Republicans are expected to preserve their majority in the legislature through the end of the decade.

The pair of legislators were also asked about efforts to create a new judicial circuit for Oconee County in response to the election of progressive Deborah Gonzalez in the Western Circuit, which includes Clarke and Oconee. Earlier this year they asked the Georgia Judicial Council to do a boundary study, which found that Oconee County’s caseload is too small to have its own circuit. But Gaines said he hopes other surrounding counties will agree to form a new circuit with Oconee.

“Our district attorney is choosing which laws to prosecute and which laws not to, and that is not the role of the district attorney,” said Gaines, who defeated Gonzalez when she was a state representative in 2018. “The role of the district attorney is to follow the law and prosecute criminals. She has chosen not to do that. She has chosen a whole class of crimes she does not want to prosecute.” (Gonzalez has pledged not to prosecute minor drug offenses.)

The legislature could act next year to reign in progressive DAs like Gonzalez, Gaines said. “That’s something that I believe the state must look at across the board, and I believe we will, and we will do it very soon, because it is putting communities at risk,” he said.