Neither of Oconee County’s two members of the Georgia House of Representatives is willing to support a pair of resolutions prefiled before the current session began on Jan. 11 that would create an independent commission to create Congressional and General Assembly districts in the state.
Oconee County was split into two House districts in a special session of the General Assembly in 2011 to help the dominant Republican Party achieve a super majority. A super majority allows the dominant party to govern without minority support.
Rep. Regina Quick of the 117th District said that the creation of an independent commission would result in an “unnecesssary expense” as outlined in the prefiled bill, and Rep. Chuck Williams of the 119th District said the resolutions propose “a cumbersome process.”
Both withheld final decision on the initiative, but Quick and Williams objected to the proposal that the General Assembly would have an up or down vote on the redistricting plan of the independent commission.
Process More Complicated
The resolution introduced by Rep. Pat Gardner of Atlanta and Rep. Mary Margaret Oliver of Decatur actually gives the General Assembly the role of formulating and enacting its own redistricting plan, but only after it turns down twice one produced by the independent commission.
Both Gardner and Oliver are Democrats, and Quick and Williams are part of the Republican majority.
The minority party generally is more likely to want to make reapportionment nonpartisan than is the majority party.
Gardner and Oliver are asking the General Assembly to put a change in the state’s constitution before the electorate to create the independent redistricting commission.
That change would require a two-thirds positive vote in each chamber of the Assembly.
Creation of 117th and 119th
The General Assembly in 2011 created the 117th District by taking the Athens Academy, Malcom Bridge and Bogart precincts from Oconee County and combing them with a sliver of Barrow County, a small part of Jackson County, and a dominant part of Clarke County.
The 119th consists of parts of Clarke and Oconee counties. Technically, more of the citizens are in Clarke County, but because many of them are students who do not register and vote, the district tilts toward Oconee County.
Quick is an attorney who lives in Clarke County. Williams is a banker and businessman who lives in Oconee County.
The 117th was supposed to give incumbent Doug McKillip, an Athens attorney who was elected as a Democrat but switched to the Republic Party, a chance for reelection in the newly created, Republican-leaning district.
Quick defeated McKillip in the Republican primary in 2012 and was unchallenged in the general election.
Quick had expressed an interest in redrawing the district lines to reunite all of Oconee County in a single district, but she dropped that plan after a majority of Republicans who voted in the May 2014 Republican primary rejected such a change in a nonbinding ballot question.
Quick would have to attend Boards of Commissioners and other meetings in four counties to reflect the governmental structure of her district.
Neither Quick nor Williams had opposition in 2014 in either the primary or the general election.
The resolution introduced by Gardner and Oliver spells out an elaborate process for appointment of citizens serving on the 14-member independent redistricting or reapportionment commission.
The final body would consist of eight registered voters drawn by the Chief Justice of the Georgia Supreme Court from a pool of 60 applicants, 20 of whom had Republican voting histories, 20 of whom had Democratic voting histories, and 20 of whom had voting histories for neither of these two parties.
The eight would include three persons with Republican voting histories, three persons with Democratic voting histories, and two persons with voting histories not aligned with these two parties.
These eight individuals would select another six individuals from the same applicant pool, with two having Republican voting histories, two having Democratic voting histories, and two having voting histories not aligned with either of these parties.
The commission would hold hearings, deliberate in public and create a proposed set of legislative districts for the Georgia seats in the U.S. Congress, for the Georgia Senate, and for the Georgia House of Representatives.
Members of the commission would be reimbursed for their expenses.
The general goal, spelled out in a separate resolution prefiled by Gardner, is to create districts consisting of contiguous territory, that are “as nearly equal in population as is practicable,” and that are compact.
“(D)istricts shall, where feasible, utilize existing political and geographical boundaries,” according to the resolution.
The resolution states that “No reapportionment plan or district shall be drawn with the intent to favor or disfavor a political party or an incumbent; and districts shall not be drawn with the intent or result of denying or abridging the equal opportunity of racial or language minorities to participate in the political process or to diminish their ability to elect representatives of their choice.”
Quick And Williams Reply
I wrote to Quick, Williams and Sen. Bill Cowsert, who represents Oconee County in the state Senate, on Jan. 9 asking them for their positions on the Gardner and Oliver resolutions.
Quick told me in an email message of Jan. 11 that she already had “reached out to Rep. Oliver” to discuss the details of the proposal and that she planned to meet with Rep. Gardner as well.
“I cannot support giving the legislature a simple up or down vote,” Quick wrote in her email to me, “but an independent, nonpartisan map as a starting point is attractive.”
Williams sent me an email on Jan. 9 saying that he “took a quick look” at the bill upon receiving my email.
“My very initial reaction is that it proposes a cumbersome process that ultimately takes a central government function out of the hands of 236 legislators, each answerable to the voters, and gives that function to an appointed board, not answerable to the voters,” Williams wrote.
Williams said he was he was open to learning of the “wisdom” of the proposal with further discussion of the two resolutions.
Cowsert also replied on Jan. 9 to my email.
“I haven't seen the legislation yet so I will reserve comment until it gets out of the House,” Cowsert wrote. “Too many bills pending in the Senate that require my time and attention at this time.”
At present, 21 states utilize some form of non-partisan or bipartisan redistricting commission, according to Wikipedia.
In June of last year, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled 5-4 in an Arizona challenge that commissions such as Arizona's, whose redistricting process is independent of the state legislature, were constitutional.