'Community integrity' theme of hearing
by Jessica Loeding
Jun 08, 2011 | 2196 views | 0 0 comments | 11 11 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Linda Kellogg, left, and Tracy A.D. Lewis review a map of Georgia congressional districts that were adopted in 2005 during a break at Tuesday’s reapportionment hearings at the Clarence Brown Conference Center.
SKIP BUTLER/The Daily Tribune News
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A crowd at the Clarence Brown Conference Center Tuesday evening let legislators know how they felt about the upcoming redistricting.

Speakers from Bartow County, Rome, Marietta and even Chattooga County expressed the same desire: keep our community together.

The format for the hearing -- one of 12 held across the state -- consisted of a panel of legislators guiding the session with members of the public allowed three minutes to express opinions on reapportionment. No questions were taken by the members of the General Assembly present and no feedback provided by the panel.

About 20 people spoke during the two-hour meeting, including representatives of Bartow's political parties and smaller communities.

Michael Huneke, who is active with the Bartow County Republican Party, asked that, when lines are redrawn, Bartow County be kept "whole."

Bartow County Democratic Party Chairman J.M. Prince seconded Huneke's thoughts, suggesting that lawmakers keep "community integrity" in place.

Reapportionment and redistricting are done after each U.S. Census. After the 2010 Census data collection, Georgia's growth demands that district voting lines be redrawn.

With the addition of 1.5 million people between 2000 and 2010, the state's 180 House of Representatives and 56 Senate districts will be either geographically compressed or expanded to ensure that politicians represent roughly the same number of people.

Along with a higher population status, the state will gain a 14th Congressional district that may be added to the area north of Atlanta, where a majority of the population increase occurred.

District 15 State Rep. Paul Battles said the requests of the public to keep communities together was not unexpected.

"I'm not surprised at what people have asked. I think just common sense and people who live in a community want to keep that community as close as possible with representation as few as possible," said Battles, who does not serve on the reapportionment committee and is experiencing the process for the first time.

Early in the proceedings, a lifelong Bartow County resident suggested legislators draw a grid across the state and adjust for population or, rather, let a fifth-grade class do it.

Redrawing the lines is not so easy.

"Well if it was that simple ... I would say we want to keep it as simple as possible," Battles said. "In the reapportionment, there's other considerations that we have. It's not just sheer numbers. There has to be a balance of minorities, of all different types of minorities, and because of that, we are under some federal restrictions of how we divide it up. We can't make it all one ethnic group or another. ... That's what makes it so difficult to just draw straight lines."

Because Bartow County grew at a rapid pace in the past decade, the chances of the area being impacted by reapportionment are high.

"You have to remember, we are a part of a whole and that whole is all of north Georgia," Battles said. "We know we are going to be encroaching on someone or someone is going to be encroaching on us. Now I say encroaching, I say that in friendly terms. It's just what has to happen in the redistricting process."

The state faced a number of hurdles, including lawsuits that reached the U.S. Supreme Court level, in the 2001 redistricting process. Maps were not approved by the federal government until 2004.

Battles does not see such a crisis occurring again. "The key to it is doing it right the first time."

A video of Tuesday's session, along with past and future meetings, can be found online at www.legis.ga.gov.