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Legislative maps draw local protests

Concerns expressed over dilution of Latino voting, splitting of Hall districts

POSTED: August 16, 2011 9:29 p.m.

Maps for new state House and Senate districts are making their way through the halls of the Capitol, but the complaints for the lines drawn in Hall County are mounting.

One Latino advocate argued before a legislative committee Tuesday that the proposed districts for the state House of Representatives dilutes the minority group’s vote in Hall and other areas with dense Latino populations.

Local elected officials have also reached out to state lawmakers this week, asking for a re-evaluation of the district lines that include the county.

Committees in the House and Senate gave their respective maps an initial stamp of approval Tuesday after hours of hearings and heated debate with Democratic leaders who oppose the lines drawn by Republicans.

The maps now await the approval of the Rules Committee before heading to the House and Senate floors for a full vote.

If the maps receive the governor’s signature as they are currently drawn, Jerry Gonzalez said he will notify the U.S. Department of Justice that the lines drawn for House districts in Hall County violate the Voting Rights Act.

After garnering the approval of the legislature and the governor, Georgia’s maps must be approved by the U.S. Department of Justice or the federal courts under the Voting Rights Act.

Gonzalez, the executive director of Georgia Association of Latino Elected Officials, said the maps have been drawn to divide the county’s Latino population into two main districts, represented by Reps. Carl Rogers and James Mills.

Gonzalez argued his case Tuesday before the House Committee on Reapportionment. He said the way the lines have been drawn in Hall, Gwinnett and Whitfield counties, it’s clear discrimination and vote dilution in the Latino community.

“There is anti-Latino bias in the Georgia legislature, and these maps and these areas are clearly systemically undermining the Latino community’s ability to influence the outcome of these elections,” Gonzalez said.

Members of the local delegation have also put up some resistance to the maps as they are drawn. The new maps increase Hall County’s representation in the state legislature to nine members — seven from the House and two from the Senate.

Mills, R-Chestnut Mountain, stands to lose a large number of his constituents in South Hall to two districts based in Gwinnett County. A portion of East Hall would be lumped into a larger district currently represented by Toccoa Republican Michael Harden.

The new maps also draw the western bulb of Hall County into a district currently held by Dahlonega Republican Amos Amerson.

Along with the small portion of Hall, Amerson’s new district would comprise all of Lumpkin and a large portion of Dawson County.

The new lines would also mean Tommy Benton, a Jefferson Republican, would no longer represent any portion of Hall County.

The Gainesville City Council sent a letter to Gov. Nathan Deal expressing concerns over the proposal to increase the local delegation number to nine members.

“The city is concerned that the addition of these members will dilute Hall County’s representation in the General Assembly and make it more difficult for us to get consensus from the delegation in moving legislation forward important in our community,” states the letter, dated Monday.

The council specifically asks to have Rogers, R-Gainesville, to represent all of Gainesville and Rep. Doug Collins, R-Gainesville, to retain his portion of far northern Gainesville.

Gainesville leaders aren’t the only locals mounting complaints about the maps. A number of Ware County residents traveled to the state Capitol in a van to ask House committee members to reconsider how the Southeast Georgia county is represented in the General Assembly.

Under the proposal, Ware is part of three larger House districts that are anchored in surrounding counties.

Residents who spoke to the committee during its four-hour-long hearing Tuesday said three was too many.

“Sometimes, you can be overserved,” said Ware resident Jimmy Carter.

Southeast Georgia legislators also submitted a substitute map for districts stretching east from Lowndes County to the coastal Camden County. That substitution was not included in the map that passed the committee Tuesday.

A substitute map offered by House Minority Leader Stacey Abrams also failed to pass the Republican-heavy committee Tuesday.

Redistricting is required by federal law to adjust political lines according to population changes as reported by the census.

The Rules Committee will meet this morning at 9. The full House and Senate could vote on the proposed maps by the end of the week.



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