Republican redistricting proposal is a good idea

The Macon Telegraph
February 26, 2007

For decades one of the most contentious issues to surface in the state Legislature is redistricting. Until lately, the process was controlled by Democrats who had three distinct missions:

Assure re-election for the party's powerful.

Expand the party's power in the state, and

Stab Republicans openly in the chest.

That philosophy worked pretty well until the redistricting efforts following the 1990 census, when an unholy alliance formed with Republicans and black Democrats that eventually led to the Republican takeover of the House and Senate, and the governor's office.

In order to guarantee more black elected officials the '90s redistricting packed more blacks (assumed to vote for Democrats) into districts to make them safe for black Democrats. That meant more whites (assumed to vote Republican) were put in districts, assuring victory for Republicans.

By the end of 2001, it was apparent the Republican juggernaut was headed to Georgia, and redistricting, led by then-governor Roy Barnes, couldn't put the genie back into the bottle.

Redistricting efforts haven't calmed just because Republicans control state government. While they decried splitting areas of influence when Democrats were in power, they did the same. The most egregious example was the split of Athens-Clarke County that assured a Republican win. They also redistricted congressmen Jim Marshall and John Barrow, seeking to unseat the two Democrats. That effort wasn't successful as both won anyway.

Now Republicans are proposing an independent Citizens Redistricting Commission, and Gov. Sonny Perdue has endorsed the idea. He also recognizes the limitations of such a commission. "You can't take the politics out of politics," Perdue said, "but an independent commission would come closer."

Politics would still play a large part of the commission. The four Republican and Democratic leaders in the House and Senate would each have an appointment. The governor would fill two slots, but only one could be a member of his party. The seventh member would be chosen, and serve as chairman, by the other six appointees.

Of course the selection of appointees drips with politics, but this part of the proposal is about as good as it gets, short of having judges either appoint members or serve on the panel themselves.

Legislators would still have veto power. Whatever the commission came up with would still have to pass muster in the General Assembly. To form the commission a constitutional amendment is needed, meaning two-thirds of the House and Senate must approve the measure. It would be on the ballot in 2008.

The proposal isn't perfect, but it is far better than the system in place and Republican lawmakers should be applauded for pushing it.