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State House maps could change in January

Local delegation says proposed districts may fracture Hall’s interests

POSTED: August 27, 2011 1:10 a.m.

Though it sent a map of state House districts to Gov. Nathan Deal to sign this week, Republican leadership in the Georgia General Assembly says it is committed to making Hall County more whole in January.

Deal gave his stamp of approval Wednesday to the state House map that divides the clout of his home county among seven representatives, most of which have major interests elsewhere. He also signed off on the map of new Senate districts.

Only three of the House districts that include Hall would be mostly based in the county.

The map's division drew criticism from local elected officials and the governor's office when the General Assembly began its special session Aug. 15 to redraw the state's political boundaries, lining them up with new population data.

The three state House representatives currently based in Hall County — James Mills, Carl Rogers and Doug Collins — said as soon as the session began they were negotiating behind the scenes to have the maps changed.

The map quickly passed through a state House committee unaltered. And when it reached the House floor for a vote on Aug. 18, all three men voted in favor of it.

Then, the representatives said they were voting for the process and with the hope that a Senate committee would tweak the House map before sending it to the Senate floor.

Speaker of the House David Ralston said he was under the same impression when the map passed out of his chamber.

Both Ralston and Roger Lane, who chairs the House committee on reapportionment, said Hall County's concerns were raised too late for the House to deal with them.

Lane said by the time he heard concerns from Hall County's delegation and the governor's staff, the map-making process was too far along.

"I think the timing was difficult for us because we had already put together our statewide map," Lane said.

And by that time, Lane said the House reapportionment committee had already decided it wouldn't change the map unless there were major issues.

"There was nothing pointed out that was defective," Lane said, referring to all the legislators from across the state who came requesting changes. "It was more of kind of a wish list."

Still, when House leaders passed their map over to the Senate, Ralston said they did so with the understanding that if they needed to make "minor tweaks" afterward, those requests would be honored.

But that never happened, either, as state senators were not eager to break a long-held tradition that one chamber's map is untouchable on the other side of the hall.

"We don't want to start monkeying with the House maps," said state Sen. Butch Miller of Gainesville. "And we don't want the House to start monkeying with our maps."

State Sen. Mitch Seabaugh made it clear at the beginning of Monday's Senate committee hearing on the state House map.

Seabaugh is the chairman of the Senate's committee on reapportionment.

"It is tradition that the Senate does not mess with House affairs in redistricting and vice versa, is that correct?" Seabaugh asked Roger Lane, his counterpart in the House.

And within an hour of asking that question, Seabaugh's committee passed the House map over to the Rules Committee with the only opposition coming from the few Democrats allowed to sit on the Senate's reapportionment committee.

No one at that committee hearing objected to the way the map had been drawn with regard to Hall County. No state representative from Hall County was present at the meeting, either.

They were already aware a commitment to change the House map in the Senate had fallen through.

When the map hit the Senate floor for a vote, it passed easily, even winning the vote of Miller, whose district comprises Hall County.

"Sometimes, you have to vote, because there's not a Plan B," Miller said. "It's not like I could vote for one thing and not vote for something else. There's not an alternative plan at this point."

It wasn't a map any of them desired, but it was, after all, a Republican map drawn in the first redistricting session controlled start to finish by Republicans.

And no one wanted to be the man to stand in the way of its passage.

"We don't want anything that's going to throw up a major hurdle to getting this session completed in a timely fashion," Deal spokesman Brian Robinson said. "... The governor has expressed repeatedly his desires — and the legislative leadership have repeatedly expressed their desire — to keep their time in the special session at a minimum."

Now, both the governor and Ralston say they are committed to changing the House map with regard to Hall County. Those changes will just have to come when the state legislature reconvenes in January.

Lawmakers say it isn't unusual to tweak maps in the legislative sessions immediately following a session specially called to redraw political boundaries.

"We have every reason to believe that we'll be able to get this fixed early next year, and the people of Hall County will be well-served," Robinson said.

It's uncertain whether other counties whose interests were divided in the state House will receive the same treatment as the home county of the governor and Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle.

The House map, as-is, splits 72 counties, 41 of which are divided at least three times.

"I don't want to categorically say there will not be others, although I would anticipate that there will be very few, if any, besides this one," Ralston said.



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