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|Two out of three openly gay reps may face incumbent opponents|
|Written by Laura Douglas-Brown & Dyana Bagby|
|Friday, 19 August 2011 00:00|
Redistricting maps created by Republican leaders in the Georgia House could leave two of the state’s three openly gay state lawmakers facing tough battles against fellow incumbents for re-election next year.
“Republican maps are forcing two of the three gay representatives (and the only two African-American LGBT representatives in the nation) into competition with fellow incumbent Democrats, resulting in the potential reduction of gay representation in the House,” Democratic Caucus leaders argued in talking points distributed to help build opposition to the proposal.
The Georgia General Assembly began meeting Aug. 15 in a special session to approve the maps, which were released Aug. 12. Redistricting takes place every 10 years after the release of results from the U.S. Census.
The process of reshaping the state’s legislative districts is often highly partisan as the controlling political party may attempt to craft districts that will increase its power. The maps approved by the Georgia legislature will also require federal approval to certify that they comply with the Voting Rights Act.
The proposed map released by the House Reapportionment Committee pits Rep. Rashad Taylor (D-Atlanta), who recently came out as gay and is black, against gay-friendly longtime Rep. Pat Gardner (D-Atlanta), who is white. Gardner strongly opposed the 2004 state constitutional amendment that banned gay marriage. The same year, Gardner defeated an openly gay challenger, Alex Wan, in the Democratic primary. Wan now serves on the Atlanta City Council.
State Rep. Simone Bell (D-Atlanta), the first out black lesbian in the nation to serve in a state legislature, may have her district combined with state Rep. Ralph Long (D-Atlanta), who is also black and who supported Rep. Taylor when he came out.
State Rep. Karla Drenner (D-Avondale Estates), Georgia’s first openly gay state legislator, does not have her district combined with another incumbent.
Jeff Graham, executive director of statewide gay political group Georgia Equality, said that he didn’t think the maps were intentionally drawn to hurt gay lawmakers, but urged LGBT Georgians to speak out about redistricting concerns.
“Considering the large number of incumbents who were pitted against each other, I don’t feel that gay and lesbian legislators were specifically targeted,” Graham said. “Folks who are upset that their district boundaries have changed, especially if those changes split neighborhoods, should weigh in with their state legislators and should communicate specifically with both the House and Senate leadership.”
Graham said the highly contentious redistricting process shows why Georgia should join other states, including California and Florida, that use independent commissions to draw their legislative maps.
“The gerrymandering that has been done to so many districts, especially in metro Atlanta, is a clear indication that we need a process that is far more fair and thoughtful and less overtly partisan,” he said.
The proposed House map, which had not been officially approved as of press time Aug. 16, pits incumbents against each other in 10 districts. Twelve Democratic incumbents, including Bell and Taylor, and eight Republican incumbents are affected.
Democratic leaders warn that if the Republicans are successful in gaining a constitutional majority in both the House and the Senate, meaning they have enough votes to pass constitutional amendments without any Democratic support, LGBT Georgians could be among those at risk.
“The effect of creating a Republican super-majority would be devastating to Georgia citizens, leading to constitutional amendments that have been introduced or passed in other states,” the talking points stated, listing “outlawing gay adoption” along with attacks on reproductive rights and immigration, as well as the potential passage of school vouchers and eliminating the income tax by increasing the sales tax.
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