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Reapportionment may hit close to home

Carlton Fletcher

Carlton Fletcher

Let's all work together and make life worthwhile.

-- Canned Heat

Now that the Aug. 15 date set by state officials for a special called reapportionment session at the Capitol is less than a month away, the idea of redrawing Georgia's House and Senate districts is becoming -- even for casual political observers -- more than just something politicians talk about in an effort to either (a) scare or (b) impress their constituents.

Our elected officials are finally going to redraw the state's various legislative districts to account for population shift. And while many shrug that off as mere big-city political foofaraw, the impact of reapportionment is going to be felt by every Georgian from Abbeville to Zebulon.

Since census figures have officially confirmed what everyone already knew -- Georgia's population increased dramatically over the last 10 years and most of the people who came to the state settled in and around metro Atlanta -- our government leaders must now draw district lines to reflect the census' population figures. In parts of the state that are not Atlanta, particularly in South Georgia, land area in each district must be increased to balance as near as possible the population located in each district.

There are as many ways to accomplish this balance as there are people in the state, but legislators also must adhere to state- and federally-imposed guidelines that keep them from artificially shifting the sphere of political influence or diminishing the power of minority voters in the state.

One way that reapportionment could tremendously impact our region is if, as many are forecasting, Albany and Dougherty County lose a member of their legislative delegation. Because of demographics, it is very possible that the House Reapportionment Committee will divide Dougherty County equally between current District 150 and 151 Reps. Winfred Dukes and Carol Fullerton, respectively, removing the part of the county that is currently part of Rep. Ed Rynders' District 152 from his district. If that happens, a new dynamic will immediately exist.

Dukes and Fullerton are both Albany-based Democrats, the minority party in the state House, while Rynders is a Leesburg Republican. With the current party-centric trend dominating state and national politics, losing Republican representation could very well hurt Albany and Dougherty County's chances of getting favorable legislation passed.

Many Albany leaders have openly (and surreptitiously) criticized Rynders, chiefly because of his conservative background, but even they have to acknowledge that he has been a champion for rural Georgia in general and for Albany in particular. His growing influence with the current power structure under the Gold Dome makes him a formidable representative for regional interests.

Dukes and Fullerton, meanwhile, share party affiliation, but they are often worlds apart philosophically. Dukes is more liberal in his approach, while Fullerton tends to be more moderate, sometimes siding with Republicans (GASP!) on key legislative measures that she feels will benefit her district.

If Dukes and Fullerton become the only members of Albany/Dougherty County's House delegation, their ideological differences could come into play when local legislation is introduced.

Each will, essentially, have veto power over the other, a situation that could leave important local matters at an impasse during what is a very short legislative session.

The three-member delegation that has served the county over the past decade has been subject to its own internal checks and balances as vital legislation has made its way through the House. If the Reapportionment Committee sees fit to change that, Southwest Georgia's commercial and business hub could find itself the focus of some crucial internal struggles that will be, to say the least, compelling to watch.

Oh, and it should be mentioned: Rynders is one of the members of the House's Reapportionment Committee.