By Billy Corriher
After a three-judge panel of the U.S. District Court, northern district of Georgia, ruled the Georgia state House and Senate district maps unconstitutional, legislators are scrambling to decide how to meet the court's March 1 deadline for new maps.
The decision to throw out the maps, which were drawn up by Democrats in 2001, drew praise from Republican Gov. Sonny Perdue. In the current maps, Democrats divided many districts, including two in Clayton County, into multi-member districts to include more Democrats in Republican-leaning districts.
Dan McLagan, spokesman for Perdue, said the governor has a "dim view" of the multi-member districts and would not support any maps that are inconsistent with the state Senate's principles of redistricting, which do not approve of multi-member districts.
McLagan said Perdue feels the multi-member districts disenfranchise voters.
"Multi-member districts serve politicians, not the people," he said.
Rep. Darryl Jordan, D-Riverdale, said that eliminating multi-member districts would have a "great impact" on Clayton County. Rep. Ron Dodson, D-Lake City, and Rep. Mike Barnes, D-Hampton, both represent District 84, which is partly in Clayton County.
Jordan also said that if Perdue refused to sign off on maps with multi-member districts, it would be tougher to find a plan that will pass both the Democratic-controlled House and the Republican-controlled Senate.
"We'll definitely have to put more time into it," Jordan said.
Sen. Mike Crotts, R-Conyers, who sits on the Senate redistricting committee, said Senate leaders already have a plan to replace the one that was thrown out. He said the map, which Republicans drew up during the last redistricting, would probably be considered today in the Senate.
Crotts said he thought the Democrats should come up with their own map for the House, and the two chambers would agree to pass each other's maps. He also said he hopes the Democrats would not appeal the court's decision.
"That's just costing the taxpayers more money," he said.
Crotts said the ruling would benefit voters because the districts will not be as split up as in the current map.
Dodson, who serves one of Clayton County's multi-member districts, said he did not vote for the current map because of the multi-member districts.
"I just felt like it was taking the proper representation away from the people," he said.
Dodson said that if the House and Senate can't pass new plans by March 1 and the courts have to redraw the lines, it might not be a bad thing.
Most of Dodson's district is in Clayton County, but he also represents a small part of Henry County under the current maps, even though he does not live there.
"I don't think I should be trying to tell them what's best for Henry County," he said, adding that it was "unfair" for a county outsider to be involved with legislation that impacts the county.
Dodson also said the judicial battles over redistricting probably left a "bad taste in voters' mouths."
"It kind of looks like you're not capable of handling things (when the courts get involved)," he said.
Clayton County is also represented by Democrats Gail Buckner of District 82, Victor Hill of District 81, and Darryl Jordan of District 83. Small portions of the county are now represented by Georganna Sinkfield from District 50 and District 59, a multi-member district that includes George Maddox, Joann McClinton and Howard Mosby.
In the Senate, the county is represented by Democrats Valencia Seay of District 34 and Terrell Starr of District 44.