State senators approved new maps for the Cobb Board of Commissioners and the Cobb Board of Education in a pair of votes along party lines Wednesday.
With Senate approval, the maps will head to the governor’s desk for his signature. Gov. Brian Kemp is expected to sign both bills, making the maps law.
The redrawing of both maps has been contentious, with Democrats alleging their Republican colleagues have drawn the maps to protect vulnerable Republican incumbents and to oust certain Democrats from their seats by drawing them out of their districts. Republicans have said the maps are compact, were drawn in accordance with the law and combine “communities of interest.”
Districts — whether they be U.S. House districts, statehouse districts or county commission districts — must be roughly equal in population. District lines are redrawn every 10 years across the United States to reflect demographic changes captured in the decennial census.
In presenting the new map for the Cobb Board of Commissioners, state Sen. Kay Kirkpatrick, R-east Cobb, said it creates four districts with shared interests: District 3 in northeast Cobb, District 1 in northwest Cobb, District 4 in southwest Cobb and a District 2 that stretches along Interstate 75 from the Cumberland area and Truist Park to Kennesaw State University. It is a significant change for a district that currently encompasses parts of Smyrna and east Cobb.
“This is a vibrant district that has exploded over the last 10 years,” Kirkpatrick said. “It’s home to a lot of young professionals and many major corporations.”
The map also maintains the Cobb Board of Commissioners’ current partisan split of two districts that tend to vote for Democrats and two that tend to vote for Republicans. (The fifth member of the board, its chairperson, is elected countywide. The current chair is Lisa Cupid, a Democrat.)
But Democrats say Republicans have made an “unprecedented power grab” in breaking with a tradition in which the state legislature simply approves maps agreed to by the county delegation. There are presently 11 Democrats and 9 Republicans in the Cobb delegation. Both sides released maps of their own, but the state legislature declined to consider the Democrats’ maps.
“There was never a consensus among the Cobb delegation on any map,” Kirkpatrick said. “The local process works when an agreement can be reached. That is not the case with this map and a vote was never taken by the Cobb delegation.”
Democrats have expressed outrage that first-term Commissioner Jerica Richardson, a Democrat, would no longer live within the boundaries of District 2 if the proposed map takes effect next year.
Republicans, in turn, have said Richardson made herself vulnerable when she recently moved within her own district to a home near its border with Commissioner JoAnn Birrell’s District 3.
“She certainly knew that redistricting was about to occur,” Kirkpatrick said Thursday. “Incumbent protection is not a priority of redistricting.”
State Sen. Jen Jordan, D-Sandy Springs, attacked that line of thinking from the Senate floor Thursday.
“Y’all, this is a woman of color (who) is the first woman of color to represent this particular district. And she just gets drawn out?” Jordan said. “And we have members of the majority party basically saying, ‘Well, you know, she committed political suicide, it’s not my fault’?”
Jordan said the school board and congressional maps were no better. Republicans, she said, drew Democrat Charisse Davis out of her Cobb school board district and tried to “oust” U.S. Rep. Lucy McBath, D-Marietta, from Georgia’s 6th Congressional District. McBath recently decided to run for Georgia’s 7th Congressional District after determining a Democrat could not win a general election in the redrawn 6th district.
Jordan’s remark about Davis is inaccurate, Cobb school board member Randy Scamihorn told the MDJ. When in December the Cobb school board recommended the map the Senate has now approved, it drew school board member Dr. Jaha Howard into Davis’ district. Scamihorn said it only did this because Howard had moved so close to Davis that it was impossible to keep them in separate districts while complying with the standards governing redistricting as spelled out in the U.S. and Georgia constitutions. Additionally, Howard had already announced he was running for state school superintendent.
All in all, Jordan called the maps “an effort by the majority party to actually try to take back power after they’ve lost elections previously.
“In terms of reapportionment, this has been ugly,” she said. “Why don’t y’all just try to win elections, instead of changing the lines and changing the rules.”
In response, Kirkpatrick said “people make decisions, and I don’t think we bend district lines to follow a commissioner and a Realtor around the district. I think what we’re supposed to do is draw fair maps. This one’s fair and balanced.”
The map passed 33-18 along party lines, with four Democrats choosing not to vote and one Republican excused.
When asked about passage of the bill Thursday, Richardson had no comment but said she would have an update when it is signed by the governor.
State Sen. Lindsey Tippins, R-west Cobb, said he expects the governor to sign both bills early next week.
Tippins presented the school board map Thursday.
“This is a fairly drawn map, it’s a good map. It tries as much as possible to preserve communities of interest,” Tippins said. “There are more concise districts than currently exist, and you’ll see there’s no wild fingers on these maps.”
Nobody else spoke in favor of or in opposition to the school map, which was also approved along party lines in a 33-20 vote, with two Democrats choosing not to vote and one Republican excused.