Oconee County residents unhappy with the partition of the county in house redistricting last month should appreciate that it could have been a lot worse, Rep. Doug McKillip and Rep. Chuck Williams said Thursday night.
The “guys in the map office” wanted to split the county in half, McKillip told those who gathered at the Oconee County Republican meeting at the Civic Center in Watkinsville, but McKillip said he advised against it.
Instead of being split in half, three northern precincts–Athens Academy, Malcom Bridge and Bogart--were split off from Oconee County and given to a new district that will be served by McKillip, should he be reelected in 2012.
The remainder of the county was made a minority part of a new district with Clarke County. That new district, the successor to the current 113th District, will be where Williams will have to complete in 2012, if he decides to seek reelection. He has told me he intends to do so.
At present, all of Oconee County is in the 113th House District.
McKillip told the approximately 20 people who attended the meeting that he would have been pleased to have more than the three Oconee County precincts he got in the new 117th but “I couldn’t be any happier than to have the three precincts I do.”
McKillip said the new district 117 will be a benefit to the area because it will foster regionalism.
“Athens drags the whole region down sometimes when you look at economic development and the reputation that it has,” he said. “The (House) leadership wanted to say that this is a region that needs to develop together as a region. We need some inter-connectivity, some more between Clarke and Oconee County and the whole region.”
What McKillip did not say was that the new district will be strongly Republican and give him a better chance of being reelected.
McKillip was elected in 2010 in the current 115th, which is heavily Democratic. McKillip ran as a Democrat and then switched to the Republic Party before the legislature met in January of this year.
He spent a lot of time at the meeting last week attacking members of his former party for their approach to redistricting in 2000 and praising his new party for its appproach.
Williams said he also saw the map splitting Oconee County in two “a few days before I was sworn in,” but he wasn't even sure he was supposed to know about it. Williams was elected in a special election in June with a runoff in July, so most of what happened in redistricting happened without him.
Williams said he knew that people in the county wanted to keep the county whole, “but that really wasn’t in the cards...It just wasn’t meant to be.”
He also said people asked him why he voted for the maps given what had happened to the county.
He said he had been in office for all of two weeks when the legislature convened, and he had to ask whether the maps were fair, constitution and sensible.
“You don’t always vote Yay or Nay based on whether you like something,” he said. “I voted for the maps and we will work with it.”
Sen. Bill Cowsert led off the presentation, and he began by acknowledging and distancing himself from the split of Oconee County to create the new house districts.
“I know some folks in Oconee County were not happy with the House district being divided,” he said. “We have a gentleman’s agreement between the House and Senate, that the House does their maps and the Senate does its maps, and there is no interference from one body to the other.”
So Williams said he stayed out of the controversy.
He did remind the audience that Oconee County remains whole in the 46th District, which he represents.
No one mentioned this at the meeting, but on the day it was held, Mark Rountree from Landmark Communications, a prominent Republican consulting firm located in Duluth, released a list of the “Ten Most Vulnerable Republican Districts in Georgia.”
Rountree rated the new 117th, in which McKillip lives, and the new 119th, in which Willliams lives, as number 4 and 5 respectively among Republican-held districts as most vulnerable to a Democratic victory.
Rountree said he analyzed past voting patterns and said that Democrats could get 58 percent of the vote in the 117th and 56 percent in the 119th, under what he called Democratic “ideal” conditions.
At present, the Republican party is deciding whether to get clearance from either the U.S. Department of Justice or a federal court for the maps, which must be reviewed under the federal Voting Rights Act of 1965.
According to a memo sent me by Meg Robinson, chief of staff for Sen. Jason Carter, Democrat of Decatur, the party is expecting lawsuits will be filed to challenge the maps regardless of what strategy is used and whether approval is granted.
The complete video of Rep. McKillip's comments is on the Oconee County Observations Vimeo Site.
The complete video of the comments of Sen. Cowsert, Rep. McKillip and Rep. Williams also is on the Oconee County Observations Vimeo site.