Georgia View: The Fight For The 14th

Few things make an ambitious office-seeker salivate more than the prospect of an open Congressional seat. The 2010 U.S. Census indicates Georgia’s population has grown by more than 20 percent since 2000. That means the state will gain a 14th Congressional District in 2012.

Georgia’s General Assembly will meet in a special session beginning Aug. 15 to re-draw the districts.

Our current U.S. House delegation has 13 members (eight Republicans and five Democrats). The new 2012 district maps will likely further pack and stack Democratic voters into the five districts now represented by Democrats and create the new 14th District in safe GOP country. A rift and split within the Georgia GOP will likely occur over where to put the 14th District.

Georgia’s GOP was among those in the ’80s and ’90s that pioneered the ORViS (Optimal Republican Voting Strength) system of tracking voting patterns of individual precincts and households. Your precinct poll captain does not know how or for whom you voted, but there is a written record of which party ballot you selected during primary elections as well as presidential preference primaries. The Georgia GOP combined science and art to identify voting patterns and trends in subdivisions and on streets, right down to the individual households, based upon these prior voting patterns.

Arguably, most new residents and voters live in many of the spanking new GOP burgs of Dunwoody, Sandy Springs, Johns Creek and even the proposed county of Milton. These folks are clustered in subdivisions and high-end gated communities in North Fulton and western Gwinnett and up into Forsyth County along the growth corridors of Georgia 400, I-85 and I-75.

However, the most likely place to put the new 14th, or a revised Ninth District, is farther north, in territory where the population growth has been much slower.

Georgia’s current governor, Nathan Deal, formerly represented the Ninth Congressional District, which includes Hall and Forsyth counties before it heads up the I-75 corridor and spreads across 15 counties at the top of the state, from the northern and western borders of Alabama and Tennessee east to Blairsville, Gainesville and Dahlonega.

House Speaker David Ralston (R-Blue Ridge) and Lieutenant Governor Casey Cagle also hail from the Ninth District. That’s a lot of hometown clout.

Two counties, Forsyth and Hall, make up more than 50 percent of the Ninth District’s population. The struggling textile centers of west Georgia have lost population and have long complained of “taxation without representation.” The counties of Dade, Walker, Murray, Catoosa and even Whitfield and Gordon have little in common with Hall and Forsyth.

Expect the House-Senate Reapportionment Conference Committee to do some surgery on what are now the Sixth, Seventh, 11th and Ninth districts, potentially carving out Forsyth and Hall and dropping them into a more analogous pool with folks in Cherokee, Bartow and Floyd – or, heading west, running more up along I-85 and grabbing GOP bastions like Buford, Suwanee, Sugar Hill and Braselton, further splitting Gwinnett and Barrow counties.

Georgia’s GOP has never been fully in control of a reapportionment while holding both chambers of the legislature and the Governor’s mansion.

That said, I expect some red blood spilled over where the 14th lands, due in part to political ambition. Members of Congress must by law reside in the Congressional district they seek to represent. This means any candidate considering qualifying must have already lived in that new district for one year by the time of qualifying – in April of 2012. Basically, they need to be living there now.

Incumbent Congressional representatives are not guaranteed re-election; but in Georgia, once elected, it is a pretty sweet and reasonably safe gig. Even marginal incumbents are generally returned to office, absent major scandal or a national trend.

And if you don’t believe that politics trump logic and common sense, visit Georgia’s Go Fish Education Center, dry docked on 120 acres at the Georgia National Fairgrounds in Perry, hometown of Georgia’s former governor, Sonny Perdue.

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