ATLANTA (AP) — The Republican majority in Georgia's congressional delegation is likely to grow after state lawmakers on Monday gave final passage to a redistricting plan that will give the GOP a strong advantage in nine of the state's 14 districts.
But U.S. Rep Lucy McBath, a Democrat targeted by the map, announced Monday that she's jumping to a more Democratic-friendly district where she will challenge another Democratic incumbent, U.S. Rep. Carolyn Bourdeaux.
The 96-68 vote by the state House, largely along party lines, sends Senate Bill 2EX to Republican Gov. Brian Kemp for his signature.
The vote wrapped up a special session to redraw state and federal electoral districts during which Republicans moved to fortify their control for another decade, despite Georgia voters narrowly choosing Democrat Joe Biden for president in 2020 and electing two Democratic U.S. senators in January.
Republicans drew districts in which they are projected to win 64% of 14 congressional seats, 59% of 56 state Senate seats and 54% of 180 state House seats. The congressional map is projected to improve the party's position in Congress — the plan makes suburban Atlanta's 6th Congressional District much more Republican by drawing it northward into Forsyth, Cherokee and Dawson counties.
“This map makes your intent obvious: to legislatively draw and quarter Congresswoman Lucy McBath and scatter to the four winds all the Black and brown voters that put her in office," said Rep. Matthew Wilson, a Brookhaven Democrat. "For this map amounts to race-based sorting, pure and simple, all for political power. You want more seats in Congress and with this map, you’ll have them.”
McBath is a Democrat who won the 6th District in 2018 after decades of Republican control, including by former House Speaker Newt Gingrich. She rose to prominence as a gun-control activist after her son was shot to death. McBath announced moments after the House passed the plan that she would run in the 7th District. Bourdeaux won that seat for the Democrats in 2020. It will become much more Democratic under the new plan, covering parts of Gwinnett and northern Fulton counties.
“Simply put, I will not let Brian Kemp, the NRA, and the Republican party decide when my work in Congress on behalf of my son is done," McBath said in a statement. “Black women are often expected to stand down and step aside, and those are two things I simply refuse to do.”
House Legislative & Congressional Reapportionment Committee Chair Bonnie Rich denied that McBath's 6th District is protected by federal law.
“It does not mean that a majority white district like the 6th that elects a minority candidate all of the sudden gets a lifelong protection under the Voting Rights Act for that incumbent," Rich said.
Rich, a Republican from Suwanee, defended the map as fair.
"It complies with the law, the Constitution and the Voting Rights act, regardless of what activists and candidates for statewide office say,” she said.
Republicans will give ground in the state House and Senate, a recognition that Georgia's 1 million population growth over the past decade has come from nonwhite residents.
“I think Republicans played it conservatively, giving up some seats,” said University of Georgia political science Professor Charles Bullock. “They gave Democrats probably six seats in the House and one in the Senate immediately.”
Kemp has yet to sign any of the plans, the last step needed for them to become law. Liberal-leaning groups are threatening lawsuits.
Democratic lawyer Marc Elias tweeted Saturday that if the congressional plan is enacted, “Georgia will be sued.” Any lawsuit would be arduous, though, with plaintiffs forced to prove that the districts violate the federal Voting Rights Act by blocking minority voters from electing their chosen candidate.
Democrats have proposed a 7-7 congressional map. On Monday, they again objected to a predominantly Black part of southwestern Cobb County being drawn into the heavily Republican 14th Congressional District, now held by Republican U.S. Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene.
Rep. Erica Thomas, an Austell Democrat, said her constituents ended up “so clearly where they do not belong.”
Georgia’s population rose nearly 10%, to 10.7 million people over the past decade, but results from the 2020 census show the growth has been uneven. The Atlanta and Savannah areas boomed, while rural areas mostly lost population.
Fair Districts Georgia, a nonpartisan group, has argued that an 8-6 split would most fairly represent Georgia’s current political landscape, in which many Democrats are tightly clustered in urban areas. That group and some others are also critical of the Republican congressional map because none of its proposed districts are likely to be competitive among the two major parties.
Democrats and Republicans in legislatures nationwide have been using the redistricting process to try to increase their party’s edge in the narrowly divided Congress. Republicans control more of the 50 statehouses, and hope to leverage this advantage to flip the U.S. House to a GOP majority next year.
It's the first time in decades that Georgia hasn't had to seek approval from the U.S. Justice Department for district lines after the U.S. Supreme Court struck down part of the Voting Rights Act.
Follow Jeff Amy on Twitter at http://twitter.com/jeffamy.