News & Election Videos

Ga. GOP, Dems argue over redistricting effort

Shannon Mccaffrey

Partisan bickering erupted over redistricting on Thursday as Republican leaders created a new legislative office and tapped a prominent GOP lawyer to advise the effort.

Democrats complained they'd been left out of the decision-making and worried Republicans could be politicizing the process, in which new Census data is used to redraw congressional and legislative lines.

"That they did not include Democrats in this decision raises some serious questions about transparency and accountability," House Democratic leader Stacey Abrams said.

Senate Democratic Leader Robert Brown said he repeatedly raised questions about the plan for redistricting but got vague responses from GOP leaders. He said Thursday's news was "very much a surprise."

"It's obviously not nonpartisan," Brown said. "I don't know what this is. I've heard rumor after rumor about redistricting. We're not a part of this process."

Redistricting had been handled through a state contract with the University of Georgia's nonpartisan Carl Vinson Institute of Government.

But according to a memo obtained by The Associated Press on Thursday, Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle and House Speaker David Ralston are creating a Legislative and Congressional Reapportionment Office. The office will be staffed by many of the same employees from the Carl Vinson Institute and will have the same budget.

Ann Lewis, counsel to the state Republican Party, and her law firm will provide legal guidance for the effort.

Lewis has handled several politically charged legal efforts in the state, including the defense of the state's voter ID law and a brief then-Gov. Sonny Perdue filed with the U.S. Supreme Court challenging the Voting Rights Act.

But a spokesman for Ralston said Lewis and her firm will bring vast experience to a complicated process.

"This firm is an expert in this highly specialized field and will be an asset to the General Assembly as we go through this process," spokesman Marshall Guest said.

Guest said the effort was similar to the way other states handle redistricting. He said the process would remain nonpartisan.

Claims of politics are typical when redistricting happens as each party tries to gain the upper hand. In the last round of redistricting _ when Democrats in Georgia were in charge _ the maps faced a court challenge.

Georgia is expected to gain a congressional seat this year because of its population growth.

Legislators are expected to come back for a special session this summer to deal with redrawing the state's maps.


Associated Press Writer Errin Haines contributed to this report.

The Associated Press