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Crawford: Redistricting is a time to settle scores
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Legislators will tell you that they have to redraw the boundaries of Georgia's election districts every 10 years to account for shifts in population.

There are times when these new boundary lines will force an incumbent politician out of office, but lawmakers will tell you that is just one of those unfortunate things they can't do anything about.

"It's not political. It's not personal," House Majority Whip Edward Lindsey, R-Atlanta, said during the special session on redistricting. "It's simple math."

Lindsey is a smart and talented lawyer, so he knows that what he's saying is mostly bogus. When it comes to deciding which officeholder will be allowed to keep a safe district and which one will be thrown to the wolves, it's almost always personal and political.

Redistricting is a time when the folks in power at the General Assembly use that power to punish their enemies and settle some personal scores. That's the way the game is played.

Ten years ago, House Speaker Tom Murphy detested Rep. Bobby Franklin, a cranky eccentric from Marietta who taunted the old man at every opportunity. Murphy had Franklin's House district redrawn so that Franklin was shoved into a new district with another Republican lawmaker, Chuck Scheid of Cherokee County. The expectation was that Scheid would defeat Franklin in the Republican primary and rid the Legislature of a perennial nuisance.

Franklin upset that scenario by defeating Scheid in the Republican primary and continuing to serve in the House for another decade. It is one of the supreme ironies of politics that Franklin died of a heart attack this summer just three weeks before the special session on redistricting convened.

Two incumbents who found themselves on the outs with the legislative leadership were a pair of Republicans from southeast Georgia, Rep. Mark Hatfield of Waycross and Rep. Jason Spencer of Woodbine.

Hatfield supposedly caused some embarrassment for the House leadership by introducing a bill that would have thrown Barack Obama off the election ballot next year unless the president could "prove" he was a natural-born citizen. House leaders decided to deal with the problem by putting Hatfield in the same district with Spencer, a tea party activist from Camden County.

The real sin committed by Hatfield and Spencer was this: They both opposed a sweetheart bill that slid through the House last session and will mean millions of dollars in tax rebates to some influential developers. One of those who is expected to benefit from the tax break is Rep. Earl Ehrhart, R-Powder Springs.

When the sponsors of that tax rebate tried to sneak it through the House by hiding it inside another piece of legislation, Hatfield and Spencer loudly objected to the maneuver.

Hatfield called the proposed tax giveaway "legalized extortion" during the floor debate. Spencer said: "I don't think it is the government's role to be essentially a bank. Once we start butting into the free market like this and complicate our tax code, it is usually not a good thing for the free market."

Hatfield and Spencer very nearly succeeded in killing the tax bill — Speaker David Ralston had to cast a rare personal vote to get it passed. For working against the interests of some wealthy developers, they were put in the same district when the lines were redrawn. At least one of them will not return to the General Assembly after next year.

Then there was the case of Rep. Pedro Marin, D-Duluth, one of the first Latinos elected to the legislature back in 2002. Marin spoke out strongly against the passage of the state's controversial immigration law, which he said discriminated against persons of Hispanic descent.

You could bet that Marin would be punished for going against the leadership on such a sensitive issue, and he was.

When the lines were redrawn, a House district was created in Gwinnett County that had a majority Latino population. Marin's residence was not included in that district, however. Instead, he was placed in a district that is predominantly Republican where he probably will be defeated if he runs for re-election in 2012.

Marin is the not the first politician to find himself on the wrong end of redistricting. He won't be the last. That's how the game is played.

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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