MARIETTA — During an emotional conversation regarding government policy and its impact on Cobb’s Black residents, Lisa Cupid, chair of the county’s governing board, suggested Republican-drawn political maps were a racially-motivated attempt to disenfranchise the county’s Black voters.
The charge is not new — Democrats on the county’s legislative delegation have for weeks fumed over Republican-drawn maps for the Cobb Board of Education and Cobb Board of Commissioners, the body that Cupid chairs. Those maps would inconvenience Democrats Charisse Davis, Dr. Jaha Howard and Jerica Richardson, all of whom are Black, by drawing the first two into the same district and the third out of her district entirely. (Howard has said he intends to run for the state superintendent position rather than seek reelection.) But Cupid’s comments were the most forceful to date from the chairwoman, who, after the forum, said she had been reluctant to describe the maps as racist lest Republicans accuse her of playing “the race card.”
Cupid’s comments came during the third and final panel at Saturday’s county-organized “African American Public Policy Forum” at Jim Miller Park, billed as an opportunity to “learn about data, policy and initiatives impacting African Americans in Cobb County, GA.”
“My heart was a little full on that last panel,” Cupid said after the forum, as the couple dozen attendees spoke around her or made their way out of the building. “A lot of issues in here in Cobb, they do have a unique impact on African Americans that are here. And we’re so used to carrying that here,” she continued, tapping her heart. “It is sometimes very difficult to address those issues of disparity because you’re almost being viewed as being anti-Cobb. Or, you know, again, pulling the ‘race card.’”
Republicans have vehemently denied the charge, saying the maps were not driven by political or racial considerations but by a good faith attempt to account for the past 10 years of growth in the county and to maintain compact districts uniting “communities of interest.”
Both maps have been passed by the state House of Representative and the state Senate, and now await the governor’s signature. When senators debated the maps Thursday, state Sen. Kay Kirkpatrick, R-east Cobb, addressed Democrat’s furor over the fact Richardson had been drawn out of her district.
“She certainly knew that redistricting was about to occur,” Kirkpatrick said Thursday. “Incumbent protection is not a priority of redistricting.”
The first two panels at Saturday’s forum touched on public health and public safety, respectively. The third, on legislative updates, featured Cupid, state Rep. Erick Allen, D-Smyrna, and Cobb Board of Elections Chairwoman Tori Silas.
Allen, who is campaigning to become Georgia’s next lieutenant governor, began his remarks with an update on the year’s legislative session, eventually making his way to a pair of topics “closest to Cobb”: movements to create new cities in the county and the decennial redistricting process.
“I’m trying not to make this a political conversation,” Allen said. “But the realities of where we are — there are 159 counties in Georgia (154) of them have been allowed to follow the local process.”
Historically, the state legislature has deferred to county delegations when it came to redistricting. Lawmakers representing a particular county would vote on their preferred maps and the Georgia General Assembly would follow suit.
This year, the Republican-controlled legislature chose a different tack when it considered maps from Cobb, Fulton, Gwinnett, Richmond and Chatham counties, Allen said, counties whose legislative delegations in the last six years flipped from Republican to Democrat.
“I went to the budget research office for the House, and I asked the question: ‘when has it not gone through local legislation for commission and school board maps?’” he said Saturday. “Their response was, ‘there is no instance in recorded history.’”
Republicans, in turn, have accused Allen of misrepresenting the situation. They have argued that the local delegation route would not have worked anyway, since while Cobb’s House delegation is majority Democratic, Cobb’s Senate delegation is split evenly by party, and the parties could not reach consensus on one map.
“There was never a consensus among the Cobb delegation on any map,” Kirkpatrick said last week. “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.”
Cupid said the maps are an example of “the mental health burden” imposed on Black politicians.
“This decision has effectively undermined our leadership, and undermines the board in a way that it is hard not to call it for what it is,” she said. “When we talk about African American issues, we’re playing the race card, but somebody else is given more credibility to talk about issues that impact us.
“But this is very hurtful to me as an African American, because too many times, we see the bar moved when we get to a certain level of advancement,” she continued. “I wouldn’t even call this a ‘micro-aggression’ — this is a macro aggression,” she added, to applause.
At the end of their discussion, Allen called on attendees to pressure Gov. Brian Kemp to veto the maps, both of which require his signature to become law.
James Bruin Jr., a Gwinnett resident and the Omega Psi Phi fraternity’s state committee chair for government relations, asked Allen how he could apply such pressure, to which Allen said he would organize press conferences to denounce the maps.
“We’ll give you a platform to call them out,” Allen said.
Another attendee asked whether the maps could face lawsuits and whether such lawsuits were being prepared.
“Yes,” the lawmaker replied.