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Residents want redistricting to reflect government boundaries

Legislators to hold special session in August to redraw boundaries

POSTED: June 22, 2011 12:48 a.m.
SCOTT ROGERS/The Times

Ken Young of the Barrow County Republican Party addresses the state redistricting board Tuesday afternoon at Brenau University's Hosch Theater.

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Georgia's new legislative districts should respect municipal and county boundaries and reflect the voting patterns and interests of their residents, speakers told those responsible for drawing the state's new maps Tuesday.

Nearly half of the 28 Georgia legislators responsible for redrawing the state's legislative and congressional districts came to Gainesville Tuesday, seeking comment from area residents on how they should approach the redistricting process.

Legislators will gather in Atlanta in August for a special session to redraw the state's political boundaries to reflect changes in population.

Tuesday's public hearing at Brenau University was the penultimate of 12 hearings across the state meant to gather input on the process.

Reapportionment committee members will hold the final meeting next Thursday in Atlanta.

Few speakers at Tuesday's public hearing were from Hall County. Most of the more than 30 who spoke traveled to the hearing from their homes in Forsyth, White, Gwinnett, Fulton and Barrow counties.

Speakers from White County asked that their county be made whole. White County serves as the smallest portion of three state house districts, and many from the county who spoke Tuesday said the boundaries made them feel their votes were inconsequential.

"If (the representatives) don't get a single vote in White County, they can still win," said Craig Bryant, a member of the county's board of commissioners.

And residents from the county, like Dwayne Turner of Cleveland, asked the redistricting committee to consider giving White County's residents more of a say in who they send to the General Assembly.

"We're the ones being used as a piecemeal to make the other ones work," Turner said.

Forsyth County residents expressed concerns about Georgia's new congressional district. The state's growth, charted in the 2010 census, awarded the state a 14th district. And as growth in Forsyth, Gwinnett and Hall counties has surpassed others in the state, many speculate that the new district will include portions of those counties.

Speakers like Brad Wilkins asked that Forsyth County be kept together as much as possible to give residents adequate representation on issues handled on a federal level, like issues with the county's neighboring Lake Lanier, that are important to the local community.

Currently, the county is part of the 7th and the 9th U.S. House districts.

"Water is almost an existential threat to our future growth," Wilkins said.

Others wanted Forsyth to be kept together for state purposes. Ethan Underwood, chairman of the county's Republican Party, said having multiple representatives in the state House kept the county from getting needed money for transportation projects as the county grew.

At least one speaker from Hall County wanted to keep the county's congressional representation the same.

Bill Morrison of Gainesville said he didn't want the county to be included in a congressional district with other, more urban counties.

"We like our friends in Atlanta, but we don't think like them," Morrison said.

Often, speakers asked committee members to commit to a transparent process that served Georgia residents more than the state's politicians.

Sylvia Turnage and her husband Billy, both of Union County, asked that politicians simply follow the instruction of "one person, one vote" when redrawing congressional and state legislative boundaries.

"Please don't repeat the mistakes of the last (process)," Turnage said.

Some questioned why maps had not yet been made available for the public to view.

Kelli Persons of the League of Women Voters said a new legislative office created for redistricting had not been as open to the public as the state's former redistricting office in the University of Georgia's Carl Vinson Institute of Government.

The Carl Vinson Institute managed the state's redistricting process until this year when Republican leadership created an office at the Capitol, led by an attorney who is known to represent the state's Republican Party.

When the process was managed by the Carl Vinson Institute, Persons said, the public was allowed to come and view drafts of maps.

"Who is serving the public?" Persons asked. "The current office does not serve the public. It only serves legislators."

Pam Norman of Hall County asked that the public be able to comment on the boundaries once the state's new districts are drawn and before legislators vote.

She urged legislators to be selfless and draw maps for communities instead of for their own political interests.

"It's not popular, but it's the right thing to do," Norman said.



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