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BERNARD COLUMN: Georgia split politically, but legislature not balanced

By Jack Bernard

In the 2020-2021 elections, Georgia was clearly a major factor in national politics. Biden winning Georgia was in itself historic. And then Senator Warnock, an African American, and Senator Jon Ossoff, a Jewish American, won versus their GOP competitors, giving the Democrats control of the Senate. 

How did this event occur? Obviously, Stacey Abrams astounding ability to organize and turn-out the black vote was a key factor. But that wasn’t the only variable in play.

The politics and demographics of the Metro Atlanta region and Georgia have changed dramatically over the last two decades. And nowhere is that change more evident than in suburban Henry County outside of Atlanta, once a white GOP stronghold. When we analyze this change using large, rapidly growing Henry as an example, it becomes clearer as to why Georgia’s GOP governor and legislature have decided to openly embrace the discredited Jim Crow strategy of voter suppression.

In the 2020 election in Henry County, Trump received 48,259 votes (8,148 mail-in) to 73,433 (20,934 mail-in) for Biden. In the 2021 Senate run-offs, Republican Perdue got 41,145 (5435 mail-in) and Ossoff 68,235 (15,786 mail-in). Republican Loeffler got 40,824 (5,436 mail-in) to 68,576 (15,890) for Warnock.

Contrast these results to just 16 years earlier in the 2004 election in Henry County. President Bush (W) got 67% of the vote versus Kerry. Senator Isakson got 65% versus Majette. As shown, Henry flipped from two-thirds GOP in 2004 to almost two-thirds Democrat in 2020.

In part, this can be explained by changing demographics. From 2000 to 2019 (est.), the county population nearly doubled from 119,341 to 234,561. In 2000, the county was 81% white whereas it is now 45% white and 48% black (https://www.census.gov/quickfacts/henrycountygeorgia).

The local political dynamics have also changed, with the Board of Commissioners now majority Democrat. These types of demographic and political evolutions in suburban Georgia counties have frightened the GOP leaders who have long controlled this state.

Even though the voters of Georgia are evenly split between Democrats and Republicans, there’s an imbalance in our legislature. The Georgia House is split 103 GOP to only 76 Democrat. The Georgia Senate is split 34 GOP to 22 Democrat. So, although the voters are evenly split 50-50, the Georgia Senate is 61% GOP and the House 58% GOP.

Taking a look at how voting districts are structured around the state, it becomes obvious that gerrymandering is the prime culprit. The GOP dominated legislature has a redistricting committee which draws each district to ensure GOP domination of the state. Using Henry County as an example, let’s take a look at the 10thCongressional district which covers the eastern one third of the county. It goes from Clarke County, where it splits that liberal county in half to limit its impact, to Gwinnett where it also gets the more conservative eastern portion, almost to Augusta. This non-sensical district was drawn solely so that it will remain in Republican hands.

And gerrymandering can also be used to eliminate political enemies. I have personal experience in that it was used against me. In 2010, I was a GOP County Commissioner in a county near Henry. One of my political enemies was in the state House. She made sure to gerrymander my district, splitting my community in half, to get me out of office.

Last year, the US House passed HR 1 which died in the Senate without even being brought up for a vote.

That bill eliminates gerrymandering and other voter suppression abuses being used in Georgia, such as extensive voter purges which were utilized by Kemp to get elected.

HR 1 has once again been passed by the House and is on the Senate’s agenda. But the chances of it passing with 60 votes (needed to prevent a filibuster) are slim. Until it does, Georgia will remain dominated by a party which is losing voters but undemocratically controlling elections.