ATLANTA – The Republican-controlled state House of Representatives approved a new congressional map Monday, the final act in a once-a-decade redistricting special session.
House members voted 96-68 virtually along party lines after Democrats complained Republicans drew a map that targeted a Black woman incumbent and spread minority voters thin in order to retain a GOP majority in Georgia’s congressional delegation through the end of this decade.
“This map puts power over principle, partisanship over people,” said House Minority Leader James Beverly, D-Macon.
Legislative Democrats proposed a congressional map that likely would have led to a 7-7 split in the delegation, which they argued would reflect the 50-50 partisan divide that has arisen in Georgia as a result of minority population growth since the last census in 2010.
Instead, the new map is expected to pave the way for Republicans to gain one seat on their current 8-6 majority for a 9-5 advantage.
To accomplish that, the map looks likely to re-flip the 6th Congressional District Democratic U.S. Rep. Lucy McBath of Marietta – who is Black - won in 2018 after it had been in GOP hands for decades. The district, currently concentrated in ethnically diverse suburban East Cobb, North Fulton and North DeKalb counties, now stretches into more exurban and even rural communities in predominantly white Forsyth, Dawson and eastern Cherokee counties.
“We should not be drawing maps that target women incumbents,” said Rep. Miriam Paris, D-Macon. “This congressional map does just that.”
Rep. Bonnie Rich, R-Suwanee, chairman of the House Legislative & Congressional Reapportionment Committee, bristled at the Democrats’ accusations of targeting. She said it’s necessary to move voters out of districts that have grown larger than the 755,000 legally required for even distribution and shift voters into other districts that are underpopulated.
“We don’t draw maps to protect incumbents,” she said. “We draw maps for the people.”
The other specific complaint Democrats raised Monday was over Republicans adding voters from heavily Black South Cobb County to the largely white, rural Northwest Georgia district represented by conservative firebrand Congresswoman Marjorie Taylor Greene, R-Rome.
But state Rep. David Wilkerson, D-Powder Springs, said there’s more to the issue than Greene, including the map splitting Cobb between four congressional districts, and dividing South Cobb alone three ways.
“This is not about Marjorie Taylor Greene or whoever else represents the district,” he said. “It’s about fairness.”
But House Speaker David Ralston said the decision to extend the 14th District to the south was not politically motivated.
“That district needed to pick up about 36,000 people,” said Ralston, R-Blue Ridge. “We had to go somewhere and find them. … That’s a challenge.”
Democrats are expected to file lawsuits challenging the congressional map and well as new Georgia House and Senate maps lawmakers adopted earlier in the special session.
Ralston said he’s confident the maps will be upheld.
“The maps - the rhetoric notwithstanding - are fair. They follow the law and the Voting Rights Act,” he said. “I was very proud of the process and the work that went into this.”