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General Assemby district changes affect McDuffie County

Hollie Reese often feels like she got a raw deal when it comes to one of the lawmakers who serve as her voice at the state Capitol.

Out with old maps, in with new maps
 • Population base: Northwestern suburbs of Augusta (Evans, Martinez, Thomson, Washington)
 • Under old map: 12 counties (one whole, 11 partial); max. width of 135 miles
 • Under new map: Seven counties (five whole, two partial); max. width of 85 miles
 • Result: Five fewer counties; 50 miles narrower

 • Population base: Northeast Georgia (excluding Athens)
 • Under old map: 16 counties (5 whole, 11 partial); max. width of 110 miles
 • Under new map: Five counties (1 whole, four partial); max. width of 60 miles
 • Result: 11 fewer counties; 50 miles narrower

Georgia voting districts
To see the current legislative maps, as well as the new maps drawn by a federal court order, go to the following Web site:

It's nothing personal against the actual legislator. Ms. Reese simply worries she lives too far away from her state senator for him to understand her community's issues and concerns.

"If someone's going to represent a certain area, they need to be familiar with it," said Ms. Reese, a 25-year-old veterinarian at the McDuffie Animal Hospital in Thomson.

Ms. Reese lives and works near the far-southern boundary of Senate District 47, a sprawling constituency that passes through 16 counties in Northeast Georgia.

Sen. Ralph Hudgens, R-Comer, represents the district, although his home in Madison County is a good 60 miles away from Ms. Reese.

If Ms. Reese were to move across the street from her office, she would be in the district belonging to Sen. Joey Brush, R-Martinez, who lives in a much closer Augusta suburb, less than 25 miles away.

"To me, it doesn't make sense that people on the same street are represented by different people just because they live on different sides of the street," Ms. Reese said. "I think it's best if an entire town is represented by the same person."

Voters like Ms. Reese aren't the only ones to take issue with the odd-shaped legislative districts, drawn in 2001 by Democrats in an attempt to maintain their party's control over the General Assembly for the next decade.

The districts snake through various communities, slicing up counties and cities like a "coed in a slasher movie," as one legislator put it.

Republicans sued in 2002, claiming the maps violated the one-man, one-vote principle by making south Georgia districts too sparsely populated, which in turn created an imbalance of power for rural Democrats.

A three-judge federal panel ruled the maps unconstitutional in February and issued a new set of districts for both the Senate and the House in March.

The new maps will be used for the first time in this year's elections in which all 236 seats of the General Assembly are up for grabs.

The court-crafted boundaries offer districts that split far fewer counties and will probably keep lawmakers from having to travel far and wide to see all of their constituents.

McDuffie County would benefit from the maps because it would no longer be split by two districts in both the House and the Senate.

Under the new plan, McDuffie would rest entirely within the boundaries of House District 124, where incumbent Rep. Sistie Hudson, D-Sparta, is the only candidate running for election.

The district includes all of Hancock, Glascock, McDuffie, Taliaferro and Warren counties, as well as a portion of eastern Putnam County.

In the Senate, McDuffie would lie in the new Senate District 24, where Brush is running for re-election against Democrat Chuck Pardue of Martinez and fellow Republican Jim Whitehead of Evans.

The district takes in all of Columbia, Glascock, Lincoln, McDuffie and Wilkes counties, as well portions of Elbert and Warren counties.

The new maps have many legislators under the Gold Dome smiling.

Sen. Hudgens said he had been struggling to keep up with his far-flung district, which stretches from the north Georgian mountains to the western suburbs of Augusta.

"It just makes it real difficult to travel when you're as spread out as I am," he said.

One time, Sen. Hudgens was invited to appear at Chamber of Commerce meetings in Wilkes and Banks counties at the same hour on the same day.

He had to make a choice to skip one and attend the other.

"I couldn't be at both ends of the district at the same time," Hudgens said.

Voters who have had a chance to eyeball the new maps were full of compliments, including Lynn Thomasson, a 38-year-old Wilkes County resident.

Under the old maps, Ms. Thomasson's home in Tignall sits just barely within the boundaries of Hudgens' sprawling district.

But under the court-ordered maps, Ms. Thomasson would be in the new District 24 and could be represented by someone closer to her home and her equestrian supply business in Thomson.

Ms. Thomasson feels people in the area could benefit from the new maps.

"With it being seven counties, I think they would have a better voice in state government than if it were 16 counties," she said.

Most lawmakers said they look forward to running for re-election under the new maps.

"It's easier to service people when you live in a district where you run into them in the Piggly Wiggly, and you can attend the Rotary Club meeting and the garden club meeting," said Senate President Pro Tempore Eric Johnson, R-Savannah.

Under the current maps, Johnson's turf runs through eight counties in southeast Georgia, picking up Republican enclaves along the state's coast before jutting inland 50 miles to another conservative stronghold near Blackshear.

Sen. Johnson says he has only visited the southern end of his district about three times since he was elected in 2002.

"The farther away people are, the harder they are to see," he said.

However, Sen. Johnson will only compete for voters in three counties under the new plan, all of them near Savannah.

The old maps aren't all bad, according to some lawmakers.

Sen. Brush found at least one positive thing to say about traveling through his current district, which stretches through 12 counties, from Atlanta's southern suburbs to the South Carolina state line.

"I got to meet a lot of new people I ordinarily wouldn't have met," he said, smiling.

Web posted on Thursday, May 13, 2004

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