The big news coming out from Atlanta during the last few days, as least as far as Athens is concerned is, of course, the planned redistricting of Athens-Clarke County to give us two State Senate seats. Athens is currently the center of one State Senate district, and we’re represented by Brian Kemp, who is leaving his Senate seat behind to run for Commissioner of Agriculture. Everybody all caught up now? Great.
The thing is, this is obviously a political move. Heck, even most of the Republicans are rubbing their hands together in glee over their political prowess, while the Republicans who sponsored the redistricting and a few others cling to the “It’s time Athens had two State Senators” rhetoric, if only for decorum’s sake.
So, it’s political. And that’s just fine. When your party is in charge, you get to make changes like this. If you’re a Democrat and you’re pissed off, we don’t blame you. We’re pissed off too. But we all, and we include your crack editorial staff, are to blame. Maybe we should have worked a little but harder for Becky Vaughn in 2004. Of course even had Becky been elected, this thing would still be plowing through the Legislature. We would also point out, in fairness to our Republican friends, that the Democrats certainly made the most out of redistricting in 2000 when they controlled the pencils and the maps.
Anyway, we’re going to try really hard not to get worked up about this. Fact is, it’s going to pass (it still has to make it through the Department of Justice up in D.C., but we’re not sure if there’s a legitimate Constitutional objection here, so it’ll probably fly), we’re going to get two State Senators, they’re probably both going to be Republican, and if you’re pissed off about it – and we are – then go volunteer for Jane Kidd (if she’s still running) or whoever runs in the other district against Ralph Hudgins.
So, that being said, we’d rather talk about two issues that are related to this whole nonsense. First there’s this article from Tuesday’s Athens Banner Herald which implies that Kidd may not run for Senate after all, if the redistricting goes through. Now that’s a bad idea for a couple of reasons. Kidd is arguably the most prominent Democratic member of the Athens legislative delegation, and whether or not you believe that, she is the big fish in the electoral pond around these parts. The Clarke County Democratic Party has high hopes for her future, and it would be quite a boost to the GOP to more or less scare Jane Kidd out of the race with their redistricting hijinks. And if someone with Jane Kidd’s election cred (meaning she’s run for and actually won office, a rarity among the ruling Democratic elite in ACC) gets scared out, what kind of message does that send to any other candidates, maybe running for the first time, who might be thinking about jumping into the race?
There’s also the more idealistic part of it. Jane Kidd is a good legislator. She does her homework, and she fights the fights she should, most of the time. She’s got character, and she looks out for her constituents. However, when she talks about dropping out of the Senate race when the chips get down, we can’t help but be a little disappointed. You see, as we said before, Kidd is a good legislator, and talk like this makes it sound like she’s more interested in winning than governing. We know, we know, you’ve got to win before you can govern, and if Kidd dropped out and went back to run for her current House seat, she would both win and govern. But, the Senate seat is a better fit for Kidd. She could do us proud there, which is not to imply that she wouldn’t or hasn’t in the House. The thing is, it’s time she started angling for a promotion. If there’s anything Kidd lacks as a politician, it’s that fire in the belly that makes you good and angry and juiced up for the rough and tumble of campaign politics. So Jane, if you’re reading this, here’s some advice. We like Bill Cowsert; he’s a nice guy, and we honestly think his heart is in the right place. But do us a favor. Go out there and wipe the floor with him.
The other issue that we wanted to address is the topic of redistricting itself. Call us crazy, but isn’t it about time we had some redistricting reform in this state? You’ve got the Democrats monkeying around with maps in 2000, and the GOP doing the exact same thing in 2004. Now, we have a well-deserved reputation for being pretty partisan here, but we say, and we hope you agree, that you can’t trust either party to make truly representative maps. Of course, good luck getting any kind of meaningful redistricting reform through the state legislature, since no matter who’s in charge they have a vested interest in maintaining the status quo.
Still, here’s what we’d like to see. An amendment to the state constitution that takes redistricting out of the hands of the politicians, and places it in the hands of a non-partisan redistricting commission, with the help of the best technology we can get our hands on. By technology, we mean computer programs that analyze the data and crunch it into meaningful districts. Those districts would then be pored over by actual human beings to make sure that they are common sense, and the map then gets approved by a nonpartisan panel, and, since it’s the law, reviewed and pre-cleared by the federal Department of Justice. Now, notice we said a non-partisan commission, not a bipartisan commission. Bipartisanship naturally lends itself to the brokering of deals, which is sometimes a good thing for legislation, but never a good thing for redistricting. Of course, a non-partisan commission is harder to find, since everybody has some sort of partisanship, but we would suggest that retired federal or upper-court state judges are a good place to look. But who appoints the non-partisan commission? Eventually the politicians have to get involved. We’re not sure how to keep the politics out of the appointments, to be honest, but we’re open to suggestions. Maybe a 2/3 majority in the State Senate? We don’t know. In any event, systems like this are in place in a handful of states, and have been suggested in others. And, it’s long past time to take redistricting out of the hand of the politicians. It’s kind of like asking Microsoft to appoint the members of the SEC, if you think about it.
Oh and remember when we said good luck getting something like this past the state legislature? Well, there may be a ray of hope. We’re going to check into this, or maybe one of you guys know, but if we’re not mistaken, citizens of Georgia can put a referendum on the ballot if they collect enough signatures.
Finally, back to the whole redistricting mess that sparked this post. We’ve got one other thing to say, in reference to this quote by Sen. Ralph Hudgens. Sez Hudgens, “Monroe (in Walton County) has a lot more in common with Athens than anything else.”
Really, Senator Hudgens? We can think of one place that Athens has more in common with than Monroe. It’s called the other friggin’ half of Athens!!
(Related: Reps. Kidd and Keith Heard are hosting a town hall meeting on this issue on Wednesday at 7:00 pm at the ACC Public Library. The ABH writes it up today here.)