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Senators scolded over redistricting proposal

Athens-Clarke County

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Brent Allison and Cathy Emineth, both of Athens , look over maps of the idea proposed to redraw the border lines of the 46th and 47th districts before a meeting at the Athens-Clarke County Library on Wednesday.
Caleb Raynor/Staff

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By Blake Aued   |   |   Story updated at 10:37 AM on Thursday, January 19, 2006


Local officials took advantage of a home-field crowd Wednesday night to join rank-and-file Democrats in lambasting state Sen. Ralph Hudgens' plan to split Clarke County into two state Senate districts, hours after two Republican Senate leaders came to Athens to defend the proposal.

At a Thursday morning press conference, Rep. Chip Rogers, R-Woodstock, backed Hudgens' previous statements that he was acting on the request of the Madison County Commission and the Athens Area Chamber of Commerce when he introduced a bill to retool lines of Districts 46 and 47.

The chamber represents the will of the people more than the Democratic Athens-Clarke County commissioners who oppose the new map, the Senate Reapportionment Committee chairman said.

"The wisdom of the chamber of commerce, given the makeup of the chamber of commerce, may surpass that of the commissioners," Rogers said.

Athens-Clarke County Mayor Heidi Davison called Rogers ' comment "ludicrous" at a Wednesday night town hall meeting held by Reps. Keith Heard and Jane Kidd.

"I believe I was elected by the people of this county, 57 percent of them, and no one at the chamber was," Davison said.

Athens-Clarke County Commissioners George Maxwell and Charles Carter also reacted strongly.

"The chamber has been mad at us, because the commissioners have not done what the chamber petitioned us to do," Maxwell said.

"To say the chamber knows better than we do is to let the fox in the henhouse."

Maxwell and others urged Davison to let commissioners vote on a resolution condemning the proposal at tonight's commission meeting, but she said it was too late notice.

At least one chamber representative was present at the beginning of the meeting, but left early. Chamber President Larry McKinney did not return a call seeking comment late Thursday.

Chamber leaders sent an e-mail to members Thursday afternoon urging them to attend the town hall meeting, but if any attended, they stayed quiet.

"It does not matter to the business community whether those two seats are filled by two Republicans, two Democrats, or one of each," the e-mail said.

Others at the Athens-Clarke County Library turned their ire toward Hudgens, a Comer Republican, for proposing the new district map, and Sen. Brian Kemp, R-Athens, for signing off on it.

"When Sen. Hudgens was a state representative, he represented east-southeast Clarke County , that same little area," said Barnett Shoals Road resident J.C. Mullis, who would be in Hudgens' district on the proposed map. "I don't see any clamor to get him back."

Another man announced that North Georgia Democrats were planning a "silent protest" of the chamber at 3:30 p.m. today in front of its Hancock Street office.

Earlier in the day, Sen. Eric Johnson, R-Savannah, joined Rogers underneath the Arch to "tamp down emotions and partisanship on the other side," he said.

Johnson, the Senate's second-highest ranking officer, attacked Democrats as hypocritical for crying foul on Hudgens' plan after they attempted what he called "gerrymandering" in 2001 and 2003. "Any Democrat who voted for that map has no right to complain about anything that's happening here," Johnson said.

Johnson and Rogers argued that two senators representing Clarke County will help the county and the University of Georgia procure state funding, though both credited Kemp, currently the lone senator from Athens , with doing a good job.

Kidd and Heard disputed that notion. Two senators would pay less attention to Clarke County because they could depend on voters in other counties, they said.

Historically, Clarke County has been kept whole in one Senate district, though as Republicans point out, the 13 counties with more people than Clarke all have at least two senators.

Kidd, who is running to replace Kemp, a candidate for state agriculture commissioner, sounded more confident that she would stay in the race against Kemp's brother-in-law, Athens lawyer Bill Cowsert, than she did last week, after the surprise redistricting proposal passed the Senate.

"I'm still saying I'm running for Senate, but it's hard to say that for sure when you don't know what the district is," she said.

Kidd urged the audience to call or e-mail members of the House Reapportionment Committee to register opposition to the redistricting, and said there still is a chance it may not pass, though Hudgens called it "a done deal" last week.

Published in the Athens Banner-Herald on 011906