Republican power play

New maps could guarantee GOP dominance for years

The crowning jewel of the Republican gains on Election Day is that the GOP can now ensure a repeat performance.

With a majority in the state Senate, Republicans will revisit that nastiest of all political processes — redistricting, where voting districts are drawn and sometimes gerrymandered to maximize a party's chance for gaining seats in the General Assembly and U.S. Congress.

By promising a few Democrats that they'd get a seat custom-drawn for them, Republicans could get enough votes to pass their own maps through the state House. A high-ranking member of the Black Caucus says the Republicans have already begun such deal making.

At least four redistricting bills have already been pre-filed, and GOP lawyers are working on new maps that'll be introduced to the General Assembly in January.

The question becomes, will Republicans do as much arm-twisting as the Democrats did to gain seats?

Republicans insist that they're re-entering the redistricting fray to give Georgians fair maps, not to try to wrest more power from the already zapped Democrats.

"The goal isn't Republican political performance. It's still fair maps — people may find that hard to believe but it really is," says one state Republican official. "The one person, one vote ideal is obviously out of whack right now on the current maps, all of them."

Republicans definitely will try to unmake the two multimember districts, in which two or more districts are combined and representation is shared by as many as four state representatives.

"The multimember districts are an abomination and distortion of the election process," says Thomas Price, R-Roswell, who'll be named Senate majority leader when the General Assembly convenes Jan. 13. "We'll work diligently to put an end to them."

Granted, the multimember districts could mean that your representatives all live on the same street 20 miles away from you. But those districts allowed Democrats to gain a foothold in areas that were becoming more conservative.

Doing away with them could net Republicans six seats in the House.

Control of the state House of Representatives is the ultimate goal. If they're successful, Republicans would have run of the governor's office, the state Senate and the state House — something that Democrats have enjoyed for more than 100 years — and will have the votes to push a truly Republican agenda. That would mean more conservative takes on issues such as abortion, tort reform, social welfare, would likely pass into law.

"If you just draw fair districts, then the state is a conservative and Republican state," Price says.

Republicans must forge the maps within specific parameters, as the Democrats did before them. Most important is that the maps comply with Voting Rights Act. That means that the new maps' minority representation can't retreat from the current benchmarks, which are the maps the General Assembly passed last year.

Districts also have to be drawn with a certain number of registered voters in them, and deviation from those numbers must be kept to a minimum. Districts are also supposed to keep communities of interest together, though Democrats stretched that philosophy to its limits with their current set of maps.

On one level, the Democrats have only themselves to blame. In their zest to maintain control of state government, some of the current districts look more like a squashed bug on a windshield than a voting district.

Currently, eight of Georgia's 13-member congressional delegation are Republicans. GOP map drawers don't see that changing, but the districts will be redrawn anyway.

"The problem with the Congressional districts is just the shape of them. They are just blobbed together based on Democratic political performance," says the official.

Price says Republicans will "put neighborhoods back together. We'll turn off the political data."

That strategy is a simple one, but effective. By redrawing districts without taking past voting patterns into account, Republicans will gain seats.

And, as the GOP official notes, "It smacks of truthfulness."