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Public air concerns over reapportionment

Photo by J.D. Sumner

Photo by J.D. Sumner

ALBANY, Ga. -- A small of group of people from around Southwest Georgia gathered in Albany Monday to try to persuade state legislators how to draw local, state and congressional district lines before that issue is tackled later this year.

Republicans and Democrats, liberals and conservatives, each took to the podium Monday to request district lines that best suit each of their agendas.

Mike Keown, the failed 2nd district congressional Republican who nearly unseated longtime incumbent U.S. Rep. Sanford Bishop of Albany in last year's race, asked the more than dozen state representatives and senators in the room to draw Muscogee County out of the second district so that it wouldn't be "gerrymandered to ensure (Bishop) will be reelected."

"I'm also asking that you continue to give conservatives a half-way fighting chance in the second district. Please don't add to our burden by making a deal and leaving us without a chance ... by redrawing the map, you can sentence us to 10 more years of liberal leadership or you can give us a chance to change our own destiny. I'm asking you to give us a chance, I'm asking you to put politics aside," Keown said.

Keown lost the race largely because he lost the two urban hubs in the district -- Southern Muscogee County and Albany.

But there were some in the crowd like Terrell County Commissioner Lucius Holloway, Sr., who said that the district was drawn just fine and that legislators don't need to throw away the benefits of having a senior congressman to placate the state's Republican leadership.

"Mr. Chairman, (Chairman Sen. Mitch Seabaugh, R-Sharpsburg) I'd ask for your consideration to keep the districts to stay packed as they are and I urge you to let the congressional district to stay the way it is," Holloway said.

A common phrase kept coming up among those wishing the 2nd district to be changed -- "communities of like interest," -- a phrase to support the contention that most of the district is rural and agrarian and not urban centers like Albany and Southern Muscogee.

Christie Hayes, president of the chamber of commerce in Blakely, said that people in Muscogee and Albany just don't get people in Blakely and Early County.

"It's hard to talk to people in Columbus and downtown Albany about what's going on in Early County," she said.

But discussion wasn't focused just on the second district.

Several from around the region expressed concern over state house and senate districts that split counties.

Jamie Cater, the mayor of Tifton, asked legislators to avoid further chopping Tift County up.

"South Georgia continues to lose seats. It's important that we work together as a region," Cater said. "We're proud of the team we have and would like to keep it the way it is if possible."

The Albany metropolitan area is poised for changes, thanks to population shifts out of the various districts.

The four house districts that are in the Albany Metro Area and led by Rep. Bob Hanner, Rep. Winfred Dukes, Rep. Carol Fullerton and Rep. Ed Rynders, each follow well below the deviation from the ideal population numbers to avoid redistricting.

The challenge will be to preserve minority voting strength in order to comply with the Voting Rights Act of 1965 while still ensuring the principle of one-person, one-vote.

William Perry, of the non-profit and bipartisan Common Cause Georgia, said Monday that the redistricting process itself should be as devoid of politics as possible while being as transparent as possible.

"It's all about working towards good government and even in the reapportionment process we have to work to make sure that everyone is fairly represented regardless of what political affiliation they belong to," he said. "Districts should be drawn for the people not the parties."

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