Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Southern Districts Brace for Power Shift; REDISTRICTING Rural Georgia Is Likely to Lose Seats, and Thus Strength, after Districts Change Post-Census. NUMBERS COUNT It May Be a Hard Fight to Keep Votes in Some Areas, but Census Data Can Help Citizens Be Counted in Legislation

Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Southern Districts Brace for Power Shift; REDISTRICTING Rural Georgia Is Likely to Lose Seats, and Thus Strength, after Districts Change Post-Census. NUMBERS COUNT It May Be a Hard Fight to Keep Votes in Some Areas, but Census Data Can Help Citizens Be Counted in Legislation

Article excerpt

Byline: WALTER C. JONES

ATLANTA - The little federal forms that many Georgians are putting off completing until their April deadline could trigger a political tsunami across the state in three years.

It's not the tax forms, but the U.S. Census forms, required every 10 years by the Constitution to realign the election districts to reflect changing populations. For the state, it will bring at least one new seat in the U.S. House. For South Georgia, it means giving up General Assembly seats to metro Atlanta.

Already, the redistricting is casting a shadow over legislators. On Thursday, Rep. Alan Powell, D-Hartwell, implored his colleagues from rural Georgia to pass a bill governing how Atlanta and other cities needing water would seek to transfer it from other cities. The opportunity to act is fleeting, he argued, because reapportionment will sap their strength.

"That's going to change the entire makeup of the power structure, legislatively, of the General Assembly," he told reporters. "Rural Georgia has lost votes over the last three decades, and this is really an issue of the metro area and about fairness to the rural areas of the state.

"This needs to be dealt with once and for all before the power of the votes in the legislature changes," he said.

At least six seats will migrate from South Georgia to the Atlanta area when legislators draft maps in a special session next year for use in the elections of 2012. The 29 counties of metro Atlanta will control 100 seats in the 180-seat House, according to Rep. Roger Lane, chairman of the House Legislative and Congressional Reapportionment Committee.

"The time is passed when rural Georgia had control of the legislature," said Lane, R-Darien. "Some of my constituents don't like to hear me say that it's not us against them any more. We can't go out there and talk any more about 'Atlanta's doing this to us and Atlanta's doing that to us'. You can't get anything accomplished if you make it that kind of a division."

RELATIONSHIPS MATTER

Redistricting remains in the back of many legislators minds, according to Rep. Ann Purcell, R-Rincon.

"It's a big concern of all of us," she said. "We always lose representation for the Southern part of the state. That means instead of having 30 votes in that area of the state, we only have 20."

Often, the personal rapport between legislators is persuasive enough for Southern lawmakers to convince their Atlanta-area colleagues to vote for an issue that only impacts the lower part of the state, Purcell said. Other issues, like water and transportation funding, are a tug-of-war in which one side will give up resources that both regions want, and that's where sheer numbers become important.

Having fewer legislators from a region also decreases the opportunity to have local people in positions of power. …

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