Skip to comments.Conservatives in catbird seat
Posted on 03/21/2004 6:10:23 AM PST by Cincinatus' Wife
Not in more than 40 years has the face of Georgia politics so dramatically changed so quickly.
In one redistricting map, delivered last week by a special master working for a three-judge federal panel, the brutalization of Georgia by incumbent politicians determined to maintain party domination fell asunder. Whoosh. Gone. An era ended.
The drawing of a fair map that treats voters equally, regardless of where they live, is as significant as the 1962 Supreme Court decision that ended the county-unit system in Georgia politics.
The county-unit system, passed into law in 1917, decided elections on a county voting basis. Georgia's eight largest counties had six unit votes, the next 30 had four and the remaining 123 had two.
When Democrats last chose candidates by county-unit votes in 1960, the eight largest counties had 41.3 percent of the population and 12 percent of the vote; the 121 smallest had 32 percent of the population and 59 percent of the vote.
The allocation formula never changed despite population shifts and thus the inequity grew.
The redistricting formula adopted by former Gov. Roy Barnes and the Democrats who controlled both houses of the General Assembly was never that egregious, but the principle was the same. Judges ordered new districts drawn by the special master.
The result is compact districts that respect communities of interest, that rid the state of the archaic multimember districts. Next election cycle's massive turnover will bring scores of new faces to both the House and Senate.
For conservatives, it's Christmas. Both the House and the Senate will more accurately reflect the state's conservative majority. Republicans, who now hold 71 of 180 seats in the House, will gain -- and could gain enough to take control. But even without actual control, conservatives should control the floor.
In the Senate, where Republicans hold 30 of 56 seats, the new districts are likely to keep them in power. But while Republicans control the agenda, the floor is usually unpredictable. Not all Republicans are conservative, any more than all Democrats are liberal.
Three votes on the House floor last week bode well for the conservative future. The House, by 111-57, banned local governments from imposing their own minimum-wage laws, a reaction to a liberal-agenda campaign to force businesses to pay a "living wage."
The second was the defeat of a proposed constitutional amendment by state Rep. Jimmy Skipper (D-Americus) that would prohibit the state from ever experimenting with vouchers, no matter how warranted. It needed 120 votes and got 60.
The third was an education bill. In the power-sharing arrangement between the liberal black-and-beltway Democrats and their more conservative colleagues from outside I-285, the conservatives got the pocketbook, but they gave control of Georgia's legal system and public education to the liberals.
Both Judiciary, from which Chairman Tom Bordeaux (D-Savannah) was sacked last week after alienating his rural colleagues, and Education, headed by Chairman Bob Holmes (D-Atlanta), are conservative graveyards.
But when Holmes brought a committee bill to the floor last week, conservatives took charge -- and amended it to include remarkably progressive language offered by Rep. Jill Chambers (R-Atlanta) freeing charter schools from many of the barriers created to keep them from spreading. Had other amendments not been ruled out of order, the governor's entire package on school discipline would have been attached.
After this year, the compact between the two Democratic parties in the Georgia House will not hold. A huge philosophical divide exists. One way or the other, conservatives will control next year's agenda and legislation.
Jim Wooten is the associate editorial page editor. His column appears Fridays, Sundays and Tuesdays.
In Texas too.
Democrats push to protect places in Congress*** DALLAS - Congressional primary elections bearing the stamp of U.S. House Majority Leader Tom DeLay were set for Texas Tuesday with incumbent Democrats fighting elimination and GOP candidates poised to gain seats.
Voters cast ballots for the first time in congressional districts redrawn by the Legislature in October to benefit Republicans, despite two walkouts by Democrats. DeLay was instrumental in the redrawing, saying he wanted Republicans to take control of Texas' 32-member congressional delegation, now split evenly between the parties.
Republicans hope that after November, they'll have the largest Republican delegation in the country with at least 22 seats.***