The redistricting maps passed by the Georgia General Assembly do not have much impact on Oconee County, Representatives Houston Gaines and Marcus Wiedower told Oconee County Republicans on Monday.
The only change is the switch of the East Oconee Precinct from Gaines’ district to Wiedower’s district, they said, using those words, indicating that they plan to run for re-election next year. Both are Republicans.
The redistricting was made necessary by the disproportionate growth in population in the northern part of the state, they said, including in Oconee County.
As a result, district boundaries shifted north, the two told a large crowd at Hadden Estates at DGD Farms.
The pair were following Gov. Brian Kemp to the microphone. Kemp was the featured speaker.
Kemp criticized the policies of President Joe Biden, blaming him for inflation, the chaotic exit from Afghanistan, and immigration problems, yet Kemp said the economy of Georgia was strong and that it will be even better next year.
Kemp ended the meeting by responding very assertively to a persistent questioner who asked why he didn’t order a forensic audit of the 2020 presidential election. Challenger Vernon Jones called for such an audit at the party meeting in September.
“I don’t have the constitutional or legal authority to do that,” Kemp said. “Anybody that’s telling you that, that I do, they’re lying to you.”
From the reaction of the crowd, it is clear Kemp’s home audience was not wholly satisfied with his response.
The promotional flier for the meeting at Hadden Estates at DGD Farms, 1112 Cliff Dawson Road, featured the presentation by Kemp, but it also prominently showcased a “Redistricting Update” by Gaines and Wiedower.
|Screen Shot GOP Facebook Page|
It was the first time either of them has talked publicly about their assessment of the redistricting plans they approved as part of the Republican majority in the General Assembly.
Both expressed satisfaction with the outcome.
At present, the 117th House District, which Gaines represents, includes three Oconee County precincts, Bogart, Marswood Hall, and East Oconee, as well as parts of Clarke, Barrow, and Jackson counties.
The 119th, which Wiedower represents, includes the remaining nine precincts in Oconee County plus parts of Clarke County.
The new map renumbers the 117th as the 120th House District. It will include less of Barrow, Oconee, and Clarke and more of Jackson County.
The 119th becomes the 121st, and it includes more of Oconee County and less of Clarke County.
Gaines On Redistricting
Gaines began the discussion of redistricting by going back to 2001, when Democrats were last in control of the General Assembly.
|Rep. Houston Gaines|
“The last time the Democrats had control of redistricting, it was unconstitutional,” Gaines said.
“The Republicans, the last time they had control over redistricting, it was 2011,” he continued. “Those maps were approved by Eric Holder, Department of Justice, the Democrats. They got pre-clearance from the Department of Justice.
“This year, 2021, we had the goal of making sure that once again we pass maps that were all legal–the Voting Rights Act, the Constitution, making sure we count the population,” Gaines said.
“That’s really what this process is all about, population growth and changes,” he continued.
“In the last 10 years, we’ve had over 1 million people added to Georgia’s population,” he said. “We’re the eighth most populous state in the nation.”
Wiedower On Redistricting
“It was in interesting time, because we set out to do two things,” Wiedower said.
“We discussed and we had two goals,” he continued. “One, just trust the process. It is about population. Period.
“And two, we didn’t want to be the punch line of any jokes or any stories 10 years from now when they started talking about redistricting,” Wiedower said. “We didn’t want to have anything to do with that kind of rhetoric.”
Wiedower said he and Gaines were not on the committees working on redistricting, so “We kind of just were hanging out in committee meetings.”
“We were there to review what had been presented and to vote on it,” Wiedower said.
“Both sides of the isle, those folks worked so hard,” he commented.
Wiedower said the population growth in the state dictated what could needed to be done because “the vast majority of that moved into north Georgia.
|Rep. Marcus Wiedower|
“So what you seen in almost every situation is the northern boundary of the district getting pushed more north. District 121, which is currently 119, it pushed north into Oconee a little bit.”
“Those districts got bigger, and it, just like a water balloon, you push on that thing, it has got to push out somewhere else,” Wiedower said.
“There is concern about your own community,” Wiedower said. “You’re looking at what happened in Oconee County.
“It is so much more complicated,” he continued. “When you start pushing on Walton County. You start pushing on Henry County. They’ve got to go somewhere. And it affects everything upstate.
“That’s what you really found out,” he said. “It’s very intricate.
“We accomplished our goals,” Wiedower said. “Nobody’s going to be talking about me 10 years from now. And I’m happy and proud to say that.”
Changes In Oconee House District
“There’s one major change in Oconee County,” Gaines said. “I’ve lost some folks that he picked up.”
“So, bottom line, in Oconee County,” Wiedower responded, “really the only thing that changed is that my district shifted north.
“And really, what it is, it picked up this Athens Academy, now considered East Oconee, Precinct,” Wiedower said. “That is the singular change in Oconee County.
“Houston had it last year. Or the 117 had it previously. They’re renumbered, so it gets really confusing.
“The 117 became 120. And 119 became 121,” Wiedower continued. “Literally, one precinct, right here (pointing to a map), that was the singular change in Oconee County.
“From his district to my district,” Wiedower said. “So I’m sorry for you guys that live there, but you’ll have to put up with me.”
“So that was the change,” Gaines said. “Obviously, I’ve lost a little bit of population in Oconee County.”
Oconee Changes Elaborated
Gaines said that both of the districts had about 3,000 to 4,000 “more people than the ideal district size, so we both had to loose population to get to an ideal population size which is about 59,800 for a statehouse district.”
“So we both lost 3,000 folks,” Gaines said. “I lost some people in Oconee, Clarke, and Barrow. And again I had to shift north.
“So my district is now quite heavy in Jackson County,” Gaines continued. “It is about 25 percent of the population now in District 120.
“So that’s the changes,” he said. “We both still have portions of Clarke. I always had Clarke, Oconee, Jackson, Barrow, and I do still have portions of all four counties.
“He had Clarke and Oconee,” Gaines said, referencing Wiedower. “So there were frankly minor changes in terms of population shifts within the districts.”
According to the data released by the Georgia Legislative and Congressional Reapportionment Office, the 117th House District had 3,067 residents above the ideal size of 59,511, and the 119th had 4,662 residents above that threshold
The 118th District, represented by Democrat Spencer Frye and entirely in Clarke County, had 2,024 too few residents.
The new 120th will have 58,982 residents, the new 121st will have 59,127, and the new 122nd will have 59,632. The 118th became the 122 in the approved maps.
Wiedower said “we only had three or four districts that got paired,” meaning two incumbents were put in the same district.
“I think that the process set out to do it equally and appropriate,” he said. “And I was proud to vote for it.
“Borders changed,” Wiedower continued. “The numbers are going to be tighter. That’s how it is.
“We are going to represent the people that are going to support us,” he said. “I appreciate it. The people that don’t support us, I’m, we’re, here for them, too.
“That’s what we are here to do,” he said. “We are public servants. We are just happy to represent these districts. And look forward to doing that in the near future.”
My analysis of the likely outcome of the districts, based on past voting in state legislative races alone, suggests both the 120th and 121st Districts are more likely to produce a Republican outcome than the current 117th and 119th.
“Oconee County is entirely within Senator Cowsert’s District,” Gaines said, referring to Senate District 46. “So there is no change there.”
Gaines did note that Cowsert added Barrow and Gwinnett counties to the District, which at present has only Clarke, Oconee, and Walton counties.
Clarke County continues to be divided between the 46th and the 47th Districts, Gaines noted, with Frank Ginn, like Cowsert, a Republican, representing the largely Democratic County.
“Spencer Frye’s District is entirely in Clarke County,” Gaines said. “And then Trey Rhodes, which is District 124, he will also be in Clarke County. So there will be four in the county.”
Rhodes also is a Republican, and the 124th will consist of the eastern part of Clarke County, Oglethorpe, Greene, Tiliaferro and parts of Putnam counties.
Gaines did not say that the largely Democratic Clarke County will have only one likely Democratic representative in its four House districts.
“Again, if you look at those lines, everything shifted north,” Wiedower said. “The Voting Rights Districts. They are protected. You cannot mess with them. And we did not,” he said.
“You saw that with the Congressional maps as well,” he said. “Those lines shifted north.”
“Per the Voting Rights Act, if a district is over 50 percent Black voters, made up of over 50 percent Black voters, essentially, it is a protected class by the Voting Rights Act,” Gaines said. “Those districts have to be drawn. So that is part of this process.”
“Everybody in Oconee County remains entirely in the 10th (Congressional) District,” Gaines said. “Clarke County was previously split between the 9th and the 10th and is now entirely in the 10th District.”
Both Gaines and Wiedower simplified the provisions of the 1965 Voting Rights Act.
According to the web site of the U.S. Department of Justice, “Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act is a nationwide prohibition against voting practices and procedures, (including redistricting plans) that discriminate on the basis of race, color or membership in a language minority group.
“It prohibits not only election-related practices and procedures that are intended to be racially discriminatory, but also those that are shown to have a racially discriminatory result,” the site states.
“The United States and private parties may file a lawsuit against a redistricting plan alleging that it violates Section 2,” according to the statement.
Kemp On Background
Gaines and Wiedower began their comments about halfway through the nearly hour-long meeting and were preceded by Kemp, who spoke for about 20 minutes.
When he first ran for office, Kemp said, he had been a small businessman in Athens, and “I was fighting the local government there, which is a lot different from the local government here,” referring to Oconee County.
“I just got frustrated with government and decided to do something about it,” he said.
Kemp said he always found Oconee County to be receptive and was glad to be back speaking to the gathering.
Kemp was elected to the Georgia Senate in 2002 in the predecessor of the current 46th Senate District and was appointed Secretary of State in 2010.
“I’m running on my record and I’m going to continue the record that we have,” Kemp said.
Kemp On 2020
Kemp said in 2020 “I was riding along with you, you all, very frustrated with the results that happened at the presidential election, losing our two Senate seats. A lot of things that happened. The mechanics of the election.
|Gov. Brian Kemp|
“And that is exactly why–we addressed those issues with the Election Integrity Act, Senate Bill 202,” Kemp said, “and I want to thank, I know Houston and Marcus are here tonight, I want to thank them for standing tall.
“There was a lot of pressure on Republicans to say, ah, you shouldn’t do this,” he continued. "But it is what we should have done.
“And despite the outrage from the left, being suppressive and Jim Crow 2.0 and everything else, they simply got their talking point before they knew what was in the final words of that bill,” he said. “We have a bill that makes it easy to vote and hard to cheat.”
Kemp acknowledged that the U.S. Department of Justice is suing the state over the bill.
“We’re going to fight that,” he said. “We’re going to win that law suit.
“I’m no stranger to these. I fought the Justice Department twice before on our citizenship check when you register to vote,” Kemp said, “and we defended our photo ID requirement.”
Kemp said the Biden administration was filing the suit against Senate Bill 202 to distract people from the “30-year high inflation” and from “the disgraceful exit from Afghanistan.
“I think most American agree that we needed to get out of there,” Kemp said, “but doing it that way was embarrassing, and it was heartbreaking for the men and women that served there.”
“The second thing is they’re trying to distract from the border,” Kemp said. “We have an immigration problem that has now turned into a massive migration crisis because of the simple policies of this administration.”
Kemp said he wants the federal government “to start building the wall again,” to “end catch and release,” and to “keep the troop levels and border patrol levels stable or increase it.”
“We’re suing the Biden administration three separate ways on the vaccine mandate,” Kemp continued.
“I personally don’t think people should be doing vaccine mandates.” he added. “I certainly don’t think the government should be doing it. I believe that you all talking to your doctors can figure out what is the best healthcare outcome for you.”
“We don’t believe the government needs to tell you everything that you need to do even in a global pandemic,” Kemp said, to applause.
“Give Georgians the ability to fend for themselves.” he added.
Kemp said as a small business man he struggled “during the Obama recession,” trying to figure out how to keep his businesses afloat. Kemp owned agribusinesses, financial services, and real estate companies.
The financial crisis of 2007-2008 was during the second presidential term of Georgia W. Bush, and Obama was elected in November of 2008.
“Our economy in Georgia in incredible right now,” he said. “We had a record year last year during the global pandemic. Eleven million dollars in new investment. A 46 percent increase.”
Kemp said Georgia has the lowest unemployment rate of the 10 most populous states.
Georgia’s seasonally adjusted rate in November was 3.1 percent, the eighth lowest in the country. None of the states with a lower rate is larger than Georgia in population.
“This year is going to be even better,” Kemp said.
Question And Answer
After Gaines, and Wiedower spoke, the audience was given the chance to ask questions.
According to a post on the Oconee County Republican Party Facebook page, prior to the meeting Kemp “elected not to take questions from the floor.”
The first question of Gaines and Wiedower was about the boundaries for the Western Judicial Circuit, which was not included in the redistricting process.
“Houston and I requested a boundary study for the judicial district, and basically, they were not suggesting any changes,” Wiedower answered.
“It is something that we initiated and looked into, obviously some huge concerns here,” Wiedower said.
The issue is not dead, he said, “but that is going to take time. It is going to take cooperation from other counties."
Gaines On District Attorney
“I know that a lot of people in this room have concerns on this district,” Gaines added. “I totally share those concerns.
“Our district attorney is choosing which laws to prosecute and which laws not to, and that is not the role of the district attorney,” he charged. His reference is to District Attorney Deborah Gonzalez, whom Gaines lost to and then defeated for his 117th House seat.
“The role of the district attorney is to follow the law and prosecute criminals,” Gaines said. “She has chosen not to do that. She has chosen a whole class of crimes she does not want to prosecute.
“Talk to law enforcement. Talk to people in the community. It is a major problem,” Gaines said. “This is not the only community in the state where that’s happening.”
Gaines said it is a national problem as well.
“That’s something that I believe the state must look at across the board, and I believe we will, and we will do it very soon because it is putting communities at risk.”
The Western Judicial Circuit consists of Oconee and Clarke counties, and Gonzalez, a Democrat, was elected in a special election last year because of her support in Clarke County.
The Republican Party did not field a candidate.
Voting Rights Act
A second question on the district attorney followed, and Gaines said the state needs an “oversight commission for district attorneys because that’s something that’s got to exist.”
The next questioner wanted to know which precincts in Oconee Gaines will continue to represent. Gaines said Bogart and Malcom Bridge, the former name of Marswood Hall Precinct.
Another questioner asked if it wasn’t “discriminatory” to protect a specific race through the Voting Rights Act. (The Act does not do that, as noted above.)
Wiedower said “we weren’t making the laws. We went down there for one reason-- to draw lawful maps. That’s what we set out to do, and that’s exactly what we did.”
Another questioner wanted to know if the legislature had targeted Rep. Philip Singleton of Sharpsburg for joining a lawsuit to find Georgia’s new voting machines out of compliance with state law.
Gaines and Wiedower said it was a matter of Singleton’s district boundaries moving north.
What turned out to be the last question of the evening came from a woman sitting in the front row of the audience.
|Screen Shot GOP Facebook Page|
“I guess I’m curious as to why no one has done a forensic audit of the November election when there has been so much evidence of fraud?” she asked. “Why was there not a forensic audit done of the November election?”
Kemp, who was not at the front of the room, came forward to respond.
"Only a superior court judge can order a forensic audit,” he said. “That’s what the law says in Georgia. You mentioned the evidence. What evidence do you have?”
“I think there are a lot of people,” the woman responded, but Kemp cut her off.
“Not you think. What evidence?” he asked.
“Well you know, it’s been a year. And I will tell you I’m not the only,” she responded before Kemp again cut her off again.
Kemp On Evidence
“All I’m saying, ma’am, you as a voter, if you have evidence, you can go in a courtroom,” Kemp said. “You can present that to a judge, and that judge can order to overturn the election, have a new election, do an audit, or whatever.
“That constitutional authority does not lie with me, nor does it lie with the legislature. That is what the law is.”
“We elected you,” she responded.
“I know you elected me, but I’m not a dictator. My wife held the Bible when I took an oath to defend the law and the Constitution of this state and this country,” Kemp said.
“Now, if you want to get these guys (pointing to Gaines and Wiedower) to change the law and let me be a dictator, then I can do something like that. But that’s what socialist countries do to overturn elections.
“I was Secretary of State for nine years. You didn’t have any of these issues. So all these people telling me to order a signature audit, order a forensic audit. I don’t have the constitutional or legal authority to do that.
“Anybody that’s telling you that, that I do? They’re lying to you. I can’t make you believe, but I’m not going to lie to you,” Kemp said.
“Because you as a citizen, if you have the proof, you can go to the courtroom,” Kemp said. “Or simply give it to the Secretary of State’s office. They can investigate it. Give it to the GBI. (GBI stands for Georgia Bureau of Investigation.)
“As you noticed, we got information the other day,” Kemp said. “Our office looked into it. We referred to the State Elections Board for Fulton County for further review on the way they were handling the ballot counts after the election.
“That’s the way the law and the process works,” Kemp said.
“So if you have the evidence--people always say: ‘We’ve got this evidence’ or ‘We saw this.’ If you’ve got it, bring it forward.”
Audience Joins In
“You ask yourself this one question,” Kemp said. “Of all these great lawyers that were down here parading during this whole process after the election, like Rudy Giuliani. Did they ever raise their hand and take an oath like I did and go into a courtroom with that evidence they said they had? No. Why is that?
“None would hear it,” someone back in the audience yelled out.
“None would hear it,” Kemp repeated. “You know why? Because the lawyers didn’t file the paperwork right. I worked with election lawyers for nine years. Anyone worth their salt knows what the rules are.
“Who’s stopping you now?” someone yelled out from the rear of the room.
“Rudy could have gone in and gone in a courtroom himself and presented it,” Kemp continued. “And he still has that opportunity. And I say, if he’s got it, bring it forward.
“I’m willing to look at it. GBI has investigated it. We’re willing to look at it, but we’ve got to have something to look at. We’re glad to do it."
At that point, Kemp handed off the microphone and left the front of the room.
A video pan of the audience shows some clapping and many not.
The Oconee County Republican Party has banned me from video recording its meetings or arranging to have someone else record them for me. (I am immune compromised and do not attend meeting, on the advice of my doctor.)
Kathy Hurley, party chair, has stated that this ban is to provide anonymity to questioners.
Despite that, about 6 p.m. on Wednesday the party posted on its Facebook page a three minute and 32 second video clip of the exchange between Kemp and the questioner on the forensic audit.
The post says that the video was recorded by the vice chair of communications for the party, who is Adam Hammond, a former television journalist and anchor.
The recording does not include the question posed and starts after Kemp began his response.
Explanation For Video
“In the internet and radio show commentaries, it was claimed that Governor Kemp yelled at the person asking the question,” the Facebook post states.
“We offer the video here so you can see the interaction for yourself,” the Facebook post continues.
The video is followed by a second post of pictures from the session.
As a comment on those pictures, someone who identified herself as Suzannah Hider Heimel responded.
“In a crowd of 200 people I was the only one to ask what we all came to hear. Was anyone shocked by Kemp's response? GOP is too soft on these politicians. No one should expect to be reelected without answering the tough questions,” the comment reads.
More than 200 people pre-registered for the event, Hurley said at the front of the meeting.
Independently, and prior to the Facebook posting, two different individuals provided me with audio recordings of the entire session.
I created the video below based on those audio recordings and the official pictures of the speakers.
I have not edited out anything from the audio.
Kemp is introduced at 5:45 in the video.
Gaines and Wiedower begin speaking at 26:07 in the video.
Gaines and Wiedower take questions at 40:44 in the video.
The question about a forensic audit is at 49:52 in the video.
NOTE: In two places in the original post, I wrote North Oconee rather than East Oconee. Oconee County does have a North Oconee Precinct. I apologize for the error.