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Crawford: New maps outline the changing political landscape
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When our legislators redraw the boundaries of their election districts, as they are doing in the special legislative session now under way, they not only reshape the state's political landscape, they close out chapters in Georgia's history.

One bit of political history involves the 14th District of the Senate, which covers a large area of Southwest Georgia centered around Americus and Sumter County. That district has been a part of the legislative map since the modern-day Senate was established in 1962 with the end of the county unit system.

Jimmy Carter first became a political player in the 1960s by winning two elections in the 14th District. The rural district has been such a rock of stability that only four people have held that seat over the past 50 years.

The historic 14th District will be eliminated under the new Senate plan, however. Because of population losses in South Georgia, the counties making up the 14th will be divided among three surrounding districts.

Sen. George Hooks, D-Americus, who has held the seat for the past 22 years, will have to run against another Democrat, Sen. Freddie Powell Sims of Albany, or retire from the legislature.

That's what happens in every redistricting. Areas with population losses or stagnant population growth lose seats in the House and Senate, while areas with a growing population add those seats.

For the past few decades, legislative seats have continually been eliminated in South Georgia because there are not that many people moving into the region.

Hooks is not the only lawmaker to see his old district disappear. There are four House districts south of the gnat line where two incumbents will be paired against each other — which means that at least one incumbent will be eliminated in each district.

Rep. Gerald Greene (R-Cuthbert) and Rep. Bob Hanner, R-Parrott, are in the same district, as are Darlene Taylor, R-Thomasville, and Gene Maddox, R-Cairo. Chuck Sims, R-Ambrose, and Tommy Smith, R-Nicholls, were placed in the same district, a fate that also happened to Mark Hatfield, R-Waycross, and Jason Spencer, R-Woodbine.

Like migratory birds heading north, those districts are winging their way to metro Atlanta, where they will become open seats in areas where population growth has been strongest.

The 14th Senate District has been configured as a new district that incorporates parts of Bartow and Cherokee counties. Sen. Barry Loudermilk, R-Cassville, is expected to move into that new district.

The new map for the House of Representatives includes six open seats in Republican-leaning areas. There are two new House districts in Gwinnett County and one new seat in each of these suburban counties: Forsyth, Douglas, Cherokee and Henry.

Most of the areas where the population loss has been heaviest are currently represented by Democratic legislators, which has made it easier for the Republican leadership to draw maps that eliminate Democratic districts.

In six of the redrawn House districts, two Democratic incumbents are paired against each other. That means at least six of these incumbents will not be returning to the General Assembly after the 2012 elections.

It is highly possible that five of the Democratic incumbents who will be forced out of office are white women, a development that prompted Democrats to accuse Republicans of attempting to make Georgia a more racially polarized state. Republicans say they are only drawing the lines to reflect the population shifts recorded in the 2010 census.

The relative truthfulness of those opposing arguments will be decided at some future point by a federal court judge, because the Democratic minority will file a lawsuit challenging the boundaries of the new districts drawn by Republicans.

Republicans did the same thing after the 2001 redistricting session and persuaded a panel of federal judges to throw out the maps drawn by the Democrats, who then held majority control of the legislature.

Since the 1960s, according to lawyers familiar with the process, every redistricting plan initially adopted by the General Assembly has been rejected, either partly or totally, during the federal reviews of the plans.

"This process is far from over," Hooks said. "There will be other options to look at. I have never seen a redistricting plan passed in the final form in which it was originally introduced."

Tom Crawford is the editor of The Georgia Report, an internet news service that covers government and politics in Georgia. His column appears Wednesdays and on gainesvilletimes.com.

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