City DopeNews

Republican Redistricting Bill Passes House as Opposition Grows

A comparison of the current commission districts to those proposed by Republicans. Credit: Jerry Shannon

A Republican plan to drastically redraw Athens-Clarke County Commission districts passed the Georgia House last week as more ACC groups added their voices to the chorus condemning the map.

The Republican-drawn map would prevent progressive commissioners Melissa Link, Tim Denson and Russell Edwards from running for re-election this year by placing them in new districts that aren’t on the ballot until 2024, creating three open seats. It would also put two-thirds of Athens voters into new districts, potentially sowing confusion among voters just a month before qualifying and less than four months before the May 24 election. Link called it a “coup” and “an attempt to overthrow our local government.”

The Democratic and nonpartisan members of the ACC Board of Elections voted Jan. 26 to support a “compromise map” drawn by Rep. Spencer Frye (D-Athens) that keeps incumbents in their districts and splits fewer precincts than the GOP map. The BOE drew an initial map at the request of the commission that made minimal changes to current districts. It was discarded by Athens’ Republican legislators in favor of their own. 

About 100 public comments the board received were overwhelmingly against the Republican map. In addition, the Frye map was favored by all but four of 250 comments ACC commissioners received before voting 8-2 on Jan. 20  to endorse the Frye map, with commissioners Mike Hamby and Allison Wright opposed.

At its Jan. 27 meeting, the Athens-Clarke County Democratic Committee voted to censure Hamby, Wright and Commissioner Ovita Thornton, who also voted against endorsing a locally drawn map in December, opening the door for the Republican map because the local delegation wanted a unanimous commission vote. The ACCDC said the two Democrats were censured for “undermining voting rights and election integrity for the people of Athens-Clarke County [and] for knowingly enabling the Republican members of our state delegation to put forth a redistricting map that undermines Athens voters by removing three duly elected commissioners that ACC voters chose to represent them in our local government.”

The following day, the Athens Anti-Discrimination movement released a statement condemning the Republican map, in part because it splits historically Black East Athens. “All Athenians, regardless of political party, should be able to vote fairly for folks who they believe can equally and fairly represent them,” the AADM said. “In addition, the Black and Brown marginalized communities within ACC should be represented by people who can relate to their experiences and are willing to fight for them rather than forced to choose from lesser evils. With the newly proposed maps, it is unlikely that they would have any representation at all in the future!”

How the maps would impact minority representation was the main topic of discussion at an online town-hall meeting of the Athens Community Agenda, a Black civic group. Athens’ four Republican legislators—Reps. Houston Gaines and Marcus Wiedower and Sens. Bill Cowsert and Frank Ginn—have said their proposal included four majority-minority districts. However, none of the districts would be majority Black, and only one would include more Black voters than white ones. 

“It would be unprecedented to have four African Americans on the commission, and any map that achieves that, I’d be in favor of,” moderator Robert Finch said.

Frye told the group that his map also includes four majority-minority districts. (Gaines was invited but did not attend.) Non-Hispanic Black voters make up a plurality in two of Frye’s districts.

The Republican map lumps part of East Athens in with much of what’s now District 3, including Boulevard and part of Normaltown, with the new district numbered as 2 and represented by Mariah Parker. Paul Glaze of the New Georgia Project Action Fund, a progressive political group (and Parker’s partner) predicted Parker could win the new district in 2024, but said a different Black candidate might have trouble. And Commissioner Patrick Davenport in District 1 could face an uphill battle for re-election as well, Glaze said, potentially reducing the number of Black commissioners from three to one.

Davenport’s District 1 would be shifted into the southeastern corner of the county, displaced by an all-new District 3 around the Winterville area. “He’s put in work for people in his district who won’t be able to decide whether they want to vote for him again,” Commissioner Carol Myers said.

Meanwhile, East Athens, traditionally contained within District 2, would be split among districts 2, 3 and 9. “East Athens will be diluted to the point where they’ll never be able to elect their own representative,” Denson said.

“That’s not true,” Finch responded, because the part that would stay in the new District 2 is already gentrified. As for commissioners being ousted, “When it comes to African Americans having a seat at the table, I don’t care who loses their seat on the other side of town,” he continued.

The Republican map passed the House on Jan. 27 as part of a package of local legislation, despite Democrats’ attempt to hold a separate vote on it. It now goes to the state Senate, where it could be voted on as early as Feb. 3, according to Denson.