ATLANTA — Toward the end of the first committee hearing on the Republican-proposed district maps for Cobb’s local bodies, state Rep. Darlene Taylor, R-Thomasville, summed up the state today of bipartisan negotiation among the county’s lawmakers.
“You have problems in Cobb County,” Taylor said Monday to murmurs of assent. “And I think a lot of it could be solved, but this body does not want to be Solomon.”
Taylor’s utterance struck a chord after a bitter and colorful 90-minute debate over the local redistricting process that saw Democratic activists and officials flood the House committee’s deliberations. Republican legislators, meanwhile, defended themselves against charges that their maps constitute “voter nullification” and “a gerrymandered mess,” as Cobb Democratic Party Chair Jacquelyn Bettadapur saw it.
The maps in question are proposed by state Reps. John Carson, R-northeast Cobb, and Ginny Ehrhart, R-west Cobb, for Cobb’s Board of Commissioners and Board of Education respectively. Ehrhart’s school board map is the same one drafted by consultant Taylor English Duma and approved by the Cobb school board’s Republican majority in December.
Carson’s commission map controversially draws sitting Democratic Commissioner Jerica Richardson out of her east Cobb district, which puts Richardson’s political future in jeopardy and attracted significant attention Monday.
Carson said his map was one that “reflects the political composition of the county,” preserving the existing 3-2 Democratic majority on the board. It shifts the current map, roughly divided into east, north, west, and south Cobb, into one that has districts for northeast, west and south Cobb, with District 2 taking up the I-75 corridor from Vinings to Marietta.
“A significant portion of District 2 has become more of a city center and less of a suburban community, and this map reflects that,” he said in defense of the proposal.
Ehrhart likewise referred to the school board map as one that upheld “local control, legal compliance, equal representation, and the stability of the seven school posts and the school district as a whole.”
Traditionally, local commission maps have gone through the House’s Intragovernmental Coordination Committee, the most common channel for local legislation. But in Cobb and Gwinnett counties, Republican legislators have filed maps through the Governmental Affairs Committee, allowing them to advance without majority support of the county’s delegation.
State Rep. Rhonda Burnough, D-Riverdale, asked Carson why his maps had gone around that channel. Carson replied that local legislation “is an avenue for adopting legislation on a quick basis when there is consensus among the delegation,” and that consensus was absent this redistricting cycle.
Democratic attendees seized in particular on what they alleged was the targeting of Richardson. State Rep. David Wilkerson, D-Powder Springs, questioned whether drawing her out of her seat and potentially ending her term early was even legal. Richardson’s colleague, Democratic Commissioner Monique Sheffield, was more direct.
“The voters of District 2 should be appalled — and I mean appalled — that they are regarded as not being intelligent enough to know what is in their best interest,” Sheffield said, a remark that got a stern rebuke from Rep. Taylor for making “untoward comments.”
Richardson, for her part, said the map would mean “I only get one year of full representation of being a representative, and then another year (as a) relative lame duck,” and would split the Cumberland Community Improvement District across districts for the first time in its history.
Added Bettadapur, “There is no community of interest called the central transportation corridor. That is a fabrication used to crack District 2 and draw Commissioner Richardson out of her seat, effectively ending her term.”
State Rep. Erick Allen, D-Smyrna, chairman of the Cobb County Legislative Delegation, reiterated that in drafting his own slate of maps, he and his Democratic colleagues had followed “a very clear, open, transparent process.”
‘Cheater, cheater, cheater’
Near the meeting’s close, it would be Republicans hitting back at, in the words of state Rep. Ed Setzler, R-Acworth, “partisan activists (coming) down here, saying cheater, cheater, cheater.”
Carson took clear umbrage with Allen’s claims to openness. He brandished an email sent by Allen to the commissioners, as well as two Democratic lawmakers, asking them to provide their feedback before he shared it with the full delegation and Republican legislators.
“This is an example of Rep. Allen’s clear, open, transparent process,” Carson said.
(Allen, asked to respond, said Carson took the email out of context and said he was happy to share correspondence on the maps he had sent to his GOP legislative colleagues.)
Setzler likewise seemed to lose his patience, saying opponents of the bills had been “lied to” by his rivals and the General Assembly shouldn’t bend to where “(Richardson) and her Realtor decided to plant a flag.”
He continued, “Someone came up a moment ago and said, ‘Erick Allen’s map got voted on by a 3-2 vote of the county commission, therefore that makes it legitimate.’ Well, the map that … Rep. Ehrhart’s presenting was voted 4-3 by our school board, but that’s now being attacked being illegitimate. People can’t have it both ways. People are talking out of both sides of their mouth here.”
Tuesday’s committee hearing yielded no vote on the maps. Though Rep. Taylor advised lawmakers, “you need to get together as a community,” the two bills will advance to the full Governmental Affairs committee Wednesday, according to Carson.