Friday, August 26, 2011

Word of the Day: Gerrymandering (Part 2)

Building on our conversation yesterday...

How has redistricting played out in Georgia in the past?
Georgia did not redraw its congressional districts at all between 1931 and 1964 – the reason for the large population deviations between districts noted in Wesberry. The Democratic Party had monopolized political power in the state since the end of Reconstruction, and just as in the rest of the pre-Voting Rights Act “Solid South,” state legislators aimed to elect conservative-minded white Democrats wherever possible, chiefly through vote suppression and secondarily through gerrymandering. When forced to redraw congressional and legislative maps in 1964, legislators essentially adjusted the old maps only for population deviation, and even then crafted maps with far greater deviations than courts would today consider acceptable.

Attempts to maintain political monopoly in Georgia have, at times, backfired. The U.S. Supreme Court ordered Georgia to redraw its state legislative maps in 1973 to comply with the Voting Rights Act’s minority protections. After that, neither congressional nor state legislative districts changed dramatically in the state until 1991, when the federal Justice Department announced it would reject any district plans from states needing pre-clearance that did not maximize the creation of black-majority districts.

Georgia was gaining a seat in congressional reapportionment, and legislators largely concurred in the necessity of creating a new seat designed to elect an African-American, in addition to the Atlanta-based 5th District. The General Assembly, at the time dominated by Democrats, also aimed to eliminate the congressional delegation’s sole Republican, U.S. Representative and future Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich, who had barely survived reelection in 1990. But incumbent white Democrats worried about the prospect of minority-friendly maps hurting their re-election chances by removing Democratic-friendly constituencies from their districts.

In the end, their fears were well founded. The Assembly passed a congressional plan that created a meandering black-majority district stretching from DeKalb County to Augusta and Savannah; in the 1992 election, not only was Gingrich reelected comfortably, but also a 9-1 Democratic edge transformed to 7-4 in Georgia’s representation in Congress. In the Republican wave year of 1994, GOP gains were solidified into a whopping 8-3 majority, and though the U.S. Supreme Court declared the 1991 districts unconstitutional in Miller v. Johnson (1995), forcing a remap, that 8-3 Republican lead that would hold until the next round of redistricting in 2001 implemented considerably more Democratic-friendly maps.

Republicans took control of the General Assembly in 2004 and redrew congressional districts before the next election to reverse the alleged Democratic gerrymander of 2001. The current congressional delegation consists of 8 Republicans and 5 Democrats.

Where does redistricting fit into the Russell Library’s collections?
Commonly referred to in our collections as “reapportionment” – several of the collections housed at the Russell Library address this in the early 1990s.

Don Johnson, a state senator from 1987 to 1992 served on the reapportionment committee. His collection contains committee folders filled with various proposed reapportionment maps and press releases on the proposals. Of particular interest are bits about the "Max-Black" plan supported by the Georgia Black Caucus – attempting to trade populations in Macon and Savannah to remodel three districts, making them friendlier to black candidates.

J. Roy Rowland, a six term Representative from Georgia’s “Bloody Eighth” district, of course had a stake in reapportionment maps. His collection contains memorandums, maps, and other correspondence that give an interesting perspective – that of a longtime incumbent facing potential changes to his voting constituency in the 1992 election. Also, news clippings that follow the plan to oust Gingrich and its ultimate fallout.

For more information on this topic, or on these particular collections, you can visit the Russell Library collections database HERE and browse on your own with keywords like “redistricting” and “reapportionment” (for starters). Or, hear what Rowland, and other legislators like Tyrone Brooks and Michael Thurmond had to say on the topic in their interviews for the Reflections on Georgia Politics oral history series.

So, how will redistricting play out in Georgia this year?
Governor Nathan Deal has signed new state legislative district maps passed on more or less party-line votes, the General Assembly’s Republican majority having drawn and supported the plans. State Senate maps can be viewed here and State House maps here. The Assembly is currently debating a congressional proposal that creates a new district in Northeast Georgia (including the Gainesville area) and maintains four districts with African-American majorities –three in metropolitan Atlanta and one in Southwest Georgia. Democrats like U.S. Representative John Lewis have accused legislators of attempting to “re-segregate” the state in targeting the congressional delegation’s long white Democrat, U.S. Representative John Barrow, for defeat.

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