11/20/2017

Aug. 6, 2001: Allow me to offer a slightly different perspective on the redistricting session currently underway at the state capitol.

The whole thing is about as meaningful as bifocals on a boar hog. It is a private party for politicians, special interest groups and assorted political junkies. No voters need apply.

I generally defend politicians because the vast majority are first-rate people trying to do a good job. They put up with a lot of unnecessary abuse and stereotyping they don’t deserve. But redistricting isn’t their finest hour. Rather, it is Exhibit “A” in why politicians have an image worse than almost anybody except column writers.

Our political leaders are supposed to be redrawing the state map to ensure that our congressional districts and legislative districts have about the same number of people in them. This is done every decade and is especially significant this time around because we have a lot more people than we did in 1990. Many of our new residents are Yankees who moved to Georgia because they thought they were escaping other Yankees, only to find out that a bunch of them were already here. Most chose not to move back when they remembered that the summer season in the Northeast runs from August 5th to August 12th, so we are obliged to count them.

You would think it would be easy – even for politicians – to take the number of people in the state and divide them up into similar sized districts. They could be home by midweek, even allowing for the fact that because of our growth, we have to find a place for two new congressional districts. (Currently, our state has ten members of Congress, plus Cynthia McKinney, who doubles as Special Ambassador to Outer Space, which is where her head is most of the time.)

But redistricting isn’t about redistricting. It is about power politics. It is the time when those in power reward their friends and punish their enemies. An example: You have a representative from your district that has done a good job for you. They have generally voted the way you expected them to. They have given you good constituent service. But your elected official may have had the temerity to vote against Roy Barnes a time or two or maybe he or she didn’t fawn hard enough over House Speaker Tom Murphy or maybe your representative is a (gasp!) Republican. Too bad. It makes no difference how well they have represented you. Redistricting will assign them to the political trash heap.

The fact that redistricting is under the firm control of Democrats is not good news for the Republicans. Like you and me, they will be standing on the outside looking in as special interest groups crawl under the covers with the Democratic leadership and draw up districts that will probably have most Republicans bunched together somewhere out in Wyoming. By all rights, Georgia should have a strong, viable Republican Party but they can’t seem to get their act together. Many of them think that defending the long-dead state flag is a cutting-edge issue that will catapult them to power in 2002. I suspect that Ralph Reed, chairman of the state Republican Party, will one day be able to convince his members that it isn’t the 19th Century anymore but it won’t be in time to stop the bleeding from this redistricting session.

This may be the Democrats last opportunity to maintain their stranglehold on state politics and they will take full advantage of the opportunity to weaken Republicans everywhere they can – except for the eight GOP congressmen who they don’t want running against their stealth senator, Max Cleland. They will be sure to take special care of their black members, even at the expense of other members of their own party. And a number of good, hard-working and dedicated legislators will be shown the door. Speaking of the door, it belongs to the Governor and it will be closed during most of the meaningful discussions on redistricting.

When the politicians finally get through this meaningless exercise, they will no doubt heap praise on themselves for their heroic efforts on our behalf, accompanied by eye-glazing analysis from political pundits on just what it all means. As for you and me, we will be expected to tamely accept the decisions of a group of wheeling and dealing insiders bent on protecting their turf. After all, we are only voters.

It is politics at its worst and it stinks.