Panel hears requests to keep 14th Congressional District intact, push for transparency in the redistricting process

Keep Georgia's 14th Congressional District as intact as possible during upcoming redistricting.

That was the message from numerous speakers from across the district Wednesday night at a joint town hall meeting held by the Georgia House of Representatives' Legislative and Congressional Reapportionment Committee and the state Senate Reapportionment and Redistricting Committee at Dalton State College. The district is comprised of all or parts of 12 mainly Northwest Georgia counties, including Whitfield and Murray.

"Preserve as much as possible our Northwest Georgia district," said Gordon County resident Jesse Vaughn.

The town hall was the fourth of 11 planned by the two legislative committees.

"The people tonight have been very specific about why they like their district boundaries," said state Sen. John F. Kennedy, R-Macon, chairman of the Senate Reapportionment and Redistricting Committee. "That's instructive to us about what works and what doesn't work."

But Kennedy cautioned that redistricting is driven by population numbers. He said the census numbers won't be available until the end of September. The legislature will then hold a special session to redraw not only congressional districts but also state House and Senate districts.

Nicole Robinson, a policy analyst at the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Georgia, noted that "the Greater Dalton Area, Whitfield and Murray counties, has grown more diverse in the last 10 years. The voting-age population has increased by about 4%. And on top of that, the Black voting-age population has grown by 15%. The Asian voting-age population has grown by 25%. The Hispanic voting age-population has grown by 23% And the white voting-age population decreased by about 2%. So overall, the people of color voting age population in the Greater Dalton area has grown by 22%."

She said those demographic changes should be reflected when lawmakers draw new legislative district lines.

"The maps that are drawn in this need to take diversity into account and ensure that voters of color have the same opportunity to elect candidates of their choice as white voters do," she said.

Robinson also called for more public hearings across the state after the census data have been released and for the legislature to create a way for the public to give feedback on any proposed maps before they are approved.

Elton Garcia, a community organizer with the Georgia Association of Latino Elected Officials (GALEO) and a member of the Georgia Redistricting Alliance, also called for the public to be allowed to comment on proposed maps before the legislature approves them. He also also called for lawmakers to make any materials it makes public to be published in Spanish and other languages so that those who cannot read English can read them.

The U.S. Constitution demands that every 10 years, after the results of the latest census, U.S. House of Representatives members be reapportioned among the different states based on their share of the population, with each state guaranteed at least one House member. It also requires that within states with more than one House member congressional districts be redrawn to keep the population within them as equal as practical.

Georgia's 14th District was created in 2011 after the state received an additional House seat following the 2010 census. It consists of Catoosa, Chattooga, Dade, Floyd, Gordon, Haralson, Murray, Paulding, Polk, Walker and Whitfield counties and part of Pickens County. It is represented by Marjorie Taylor Greene, R-Rome.

Before the creation of the 14th District those counties were split among multiple congressional districts. Several of the northernmost counties, including Whitfield and Murray, were in the 9th Congressional District, which then stretched across North Georgia from Dade to Rabun counties.

Whitfield County resident Naomi Swanson was one of a group of citizens from Northwest Georgia 10 years ago who proposed a Northwest Georgia congressional district and lobbied lawmakers for its creation.

"We are pretty happy with the results," she told lawmakers.

She noted that the district has several major north-to-south highways: Highway 27, I-75, Highway 41, Highway 411 and Highway 225.

"But there's no easy way to travel east to west," she said.

Vaughn agreed and noted that Northwest Georgia is united in having a manufacturing-based economy, unlike other parts of the state.

"Mohawk (Industries) may be based in Calhoun, and Shaw (Industries) and Engineered Floors may be based in Dalton, but they all have facilities all over this area," he said.

Denise Burns, a Catoosa County resident and chairman of the 14th Congressional District Republican Party, said Northwest Georgia is bound by numerous ties.

"You look at the map and the geography and it makes sense for us to stay together," she said. "But it goes beyond that. Our high schools play each other in sports. Our Rotary Clubs work together on various projects. Our local government officials know the people in neighboring counties. There are so many ties here."

She said she believes Northwest Georgia gets better representation now that all of the counties are in one district.

Several people also expressed concern that if some counties are removed from the 14th Congressional District they could lose Greene as their congressional representative.

Greene has remained popular in the district despite being a lightning rod for controversy. Most recently, the freshman congresswoman apologized after comparing the required wearing of masks to prevent the spread of COVID-19 in the House to the Holocaust. Greene continues to push the debunked claim that the 2020 presidential election was stolen from Donald Trump, and she has been an outspoken supporter of countless other conspiracy theories. Earlier this year, Greene was stripped of her Congressional committee assignments.

"We want her to stay in our 14th District," said Walker County resident Nancy Burton to applause.

Ray Blankenship, administrator of Catoosa County’s Second Amendment Sanctuary Group, said he wanted to make sure Greene continues to represent Catoosa County.

"My main focus is on gun owners' rights," he said. "I believe she is someone who supports gun owners and gun owners' rights."

One tweak several speakers supported is bringing all of Pickens County into the district.

To view the town hall and others that have been held go to the Georgia state Senate's Facebook page.

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