Sunday, November 26, 2023

Rep. Spencer Frye, In Meeting With Oconee County Democrats, Says He Has Little Information About Upcoming Special Session

***Legislature Must Redistrict Following Court Ruling***

Spencer Frye, who represents the 122nd District in the Georgia House, told Oconee County Democrats earlier this month that he doesn’t know what is going to happen when the General Assembly meets in special session Wednesday to create new legislative districts for the state.

Frye said his district, which currently falls entirely in Clarke County, could be changed or left alone.

Frye is the only Democrat in the General Assembly from east of metropolitan Atlanta and north of metropolitan Augusta.

Frye in his comments, was critical of partisan redistricting, including by the Democratic Party, and said he is in favor of turning redistricting–required every 10 years after release of new Census data--over to a nonpartisan body.

The General Assembly has very little time to produce new district maps for the Georgia Senate, Georgia House of Representatives, and U.S. Congress.

U.S. District Court Judge Steve Jones set a Dec. 8 deadline for new maps to be produced by the General Assembly when he ruled on Oct. 26 that the maps produced by the Republican controlled Georgia House and Senate in 2021 violate the federal Voting Rights Act.

Frye said he expects he’ll be presented with maps already drawn when the session begins on Wednesday.

The changes mandated by Jones have the potential to impact the maps not only of Frey’s 122nd District but also those of House Districts 120 and 121, Senate District 46, and U.S. Congressional District 10, which are the districts that include voters in Oconee County, though most of the mandated changes in the General Assembly districts are in the areas in the west of the state.

Frye’s Comments

Frye’s was the featured speaker at the Oconee County Democratic Party meeting on Nov. 16 in the basement conference room of the Oconee Chamber of Commerce on Nancy Street in Watkinsville

Frye 11/16/2023

Frye, who is Executive Director of Athens Area Habitat for Humanity, began his comments with his expectations about legislative sessions generally.

“I can tell you a little about what I think is going to happen,” Frye said, “but it’s also kind of like working on a Habitat job site. Your get your list of everything you plan on getting done. You get out your volunteers and take out your list and crumple it all up and throw it in the waste basket. That’s like our sessions in the legislature. You never know what is going to happen.”

Frye said the special session is more narrowly focused.

Judge Jones has mandated that three “majority minority districts” need to be created in the House on the west side of Atlanta and two “majority minority districts” need to be created in the House on the west side of Macon, Frye said.

Judge Jones also is requiring legislators to draw one new Congressional Black majority district and two Black majority districts in the Senate.

“Honestly, I don’t even know what the House is up to,” Frye said. “I could be drawn into Jackson County. I could get drawn into an adjacent district. I have no idea.”

Call for Independent Districting

“I feel that we need independent redistricting,” Frye said. “It needs to be nonpartisan. I’m not knocking the rules that are in place right now. And I’m not being hypocritical.”

“I would point out that the Democrats did it for decades and decades and did it poorly,” he said. “So it’s just a tool that’s used for a party to maintain power, but I honestly feel like it shouldn’t be that way.”

With partisan redistricting, “I have a chance to choose my voters and my voters don’t have a chance to choose me,” Frye said.

Attempting to do that “is just as bad as storming the Capitol on Jan. 6,” Frye said.

On Oct. 26, following Jones’ ruling, Gov. Brian Kemp issued a proclamation convening the Georgia General Assembly to redraw the maps in a special session beginning Nov. 29.

“They’ve already got the maps drawn out,” Frye said, and he said he is hoping that the session will end quickly, possibly by Sunday.

“Chances are I’m going to get in my truck and come back to Athens” at that point,” he said.

Jones’ Ruling

In his Oct. 26 ruling, Jones said the maps drawn by the General Assembly and signed by Kemp in 2021 violated the federal Voting Rights Act by denying Black Georgians an equal opportunity to participate in the political process by electing candidates of their choice.

The new maps must be in place before next year’s elections.

Republicans hold a 102 to 78 majority over Democrats in the state House and a 33 to 23 majority in the state Senate, so redistricting is unlikely to change party control of the state legislature.

Nine of the state’s 14 representatives in Congress are Republicans. Republicans currently hold a very slim and fractious majority in the U.S. House of Representatives.

Civil rights and voting rights groups asked Jones to reject the maps drawn by Republicans in 2021 on the grounds that they diluted the voting strength of Black Georgians.

In 2011, the U.S. Justice Department in the Democratic Barack Obama administration approved the maps drawn by the Georgia General Assembly. It was the first time that Georgia Republicans had controlled the redistricting process.

In 2001, with Democrats in control, the General Assembly approved maps that were challenged in federal court.

In 2004, the U.S. Supreme Court affirmed the U.S. District Court’s judgment that Georgia’s legislative reapportionment plans for the state House of Representatives and Senate “violate the one-person, one-vote principle of the Equal Protection Clause.”

Subsequent Post, GOP Meeting

Frye spent most of his time with Oconee County Democrats on Nov. 16 talking about the legislative session that will begin in January. I will post on those comments closer to the opening of that session.

Attorneys Kevin Epps and Kalki Yalamanchili are the scheduled guest speakers at 6:30 p.m. tomorrow (Monday) night at the Oconee County Republican Party meeting at the Piedmont Athens Regional Health Campus on Jennings Mill Road.

Yalamanchili has announced that he plans to run as an Independent next year for district attorney of the Western Judicial District, consisting of Oconee and Clarke counties. That seat is currently held by Democrat Deborah Gonzalez.

Epps spoke to the Oconee County Republican Party about Gonzalez's performance in office in July.

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