Savannah Morning News
February 28, 2007

AT LEAST once every 10 years, for as long as living memory goes back, the Georgia Legislature has been embroiled in a knock-down, drag-out fight over redistricting.

The fight usually centers on making sure someone else's ox gets gored, while ensuring the party in power increases its likelihood of staying in power.

Virtually since Reconstruction, the Democrats had the upper hand in redistricting, openly acting to solidify Democratic power while redistricting as many Republicans out of office as possible. The Dems made such an art out of gerrymandering that by the time Republicans took over in 2002, Georgia's district looked like a Jackson Pollock painting.

Not that the Republicans have been innocent of a little electoral sleight of hand.

Since taking power, the GOP has split Athens-Clarke County to ensure a Republican win. Democratic Congressmen Jim Marshall and John Barrow also had their districts jimmied a bit, although both won re-election.

The inherent problem is that legislators, tasked with drawing new district lines after each census, are the same ones who will either benefit or lose out in the redrawing. So why play fair when there's no second place?

That's why a proposal from Gov. Sonny Perdue merits support.

The governor wants to change the state constitution to create an appointed, seven-member "Citizens Redistricting Commission," which would draw new district lines after each population update.

Under the governor's plan, the commission would include one member each appointed by the lieutenant governor, the minority leader in the state Senate, the speaker of the House and the minority leader in the House. Two persons would be appointed by the governor, only one of whom could be of the same political party as the governor.

Finally, one person, selected by the other six members, would chair the commission.

The commission would operate independently, although the finished product would be subject to General Assembly approval. That provides needed accountability to the public.

If either house of the legislature declined to give approval, the report would return to the commission with specific suggestions. If either house voted it down a second time, the General Assembly would complete the redistricting process on its own.

You can't take politics out of politics, but you can cut down on some blatant abuses.

This commission should be less biased in drawing lines than the legislature. But in practice, true bipartisanship will depend on how the appointees do their jobs.

Still, this is a good bill. It should result in a more civil conversation over population numbers and a more logical decision-making process.

For the commission to become a reality will take a constitutional amendment passed by two-thirds of the House and Senate, followed by a public vote in 2008. The state legislators should clear the path to electoral equity and send this question to voters.