J. Carter: Georgia Dems’ Last Hope for Political Relevancy

Forget about the Senate race. Georgia’s big battle is for governor in 2014 … and the stakes are much higher than simply winning West Paces Ferry’s big house.

For Georgia Democrats to return to political relevancy, Jason Carter has to become governor this year. Here’s why:

Let’s say Carter wins in 2014. He then has one midterm legislative election (2016) to increase his party’s numbers at the statehouse. That’s also a presidential election year, so turnout is going to be higher than usual.

Then, Carter no doubt runs for reelection in 2018; another legislative election to grow the Democrats’ presence under the Gold Dome.

Let’s also say Carter wins reelection. He then has one final ballot – 2020 – to elect more Democrats to the state House and Senate.

The next political battle? The biggest one of all: the 2020 Census and the new legislative and congressional maps that will come out of that process.

No doubt here; whichever party controls the governor’s mansion and the Gold Dome when those new maps are drawn, controls Georgia’s political future until 2030.

But if Carter loses, Georgia Democrats wander in the wilderness for another decade. Even if a Democrat wins the 2018 governor’s race, that hardly leaves enough time for him or her to make any substantive effort to elect more Democrats to the House or Senate. Democrats won’t regain anything close to a significant political presence in just two years. That effort has to start now.

So if you’re wondering why House Minority Leader Stacey Abrams and Ebenezer Baptist Church’s Raphael Warnock are working so hard to register minority voters — and why Secretary of State Brian Kemp is giving them such a hard time about it — look to the 2020 Census. That’s the end game in this year’s elections.

And it’s a big one.


  1. Ralph says:

    That’s a huge stretch.

    As if Democrats’ efforts would be any different if they were unconcerned about redistricting in over 6 years.

      • Have a commission set a “fairness” target for each map (such as Republicans won 55.2% of the two-way vote in 2010 so each map should be 55.2% Republican) and then let both parties draw their own maps.

        Whoever is closest to the the fairness target (absolute value) with say a good faith safe harbor of 5% gets the map implemented. Tie goes to the majority party.

        So basically, under that scenario, any map the Republicans draw that has no more than 60.2% of seats Republican (109 house, 34 senate, 9 congress) would automatically qualify to be put into place.

        Knowing that, the Democrats could draw 50/50 maps in each body and if the Republicans got too greedy they’d get their maps put in place.

        OR – the parties could realize where the game theory would end and try to work together to create fair maps.

        Ultimately, I don’t think you can take politics out of map drawing. The victors should have some spoils, and they might have good reasons for doing things in ways that a non-partisan commission wouldn’t consider (splitting a county a certain way, for example, or getting rid of a Sam Moore). But we do need some backstop of fairness and my approach (Basically the redistricting version of you cut the cake but I pick the slice) seems like a good way to do it that respects all the various aspects of the process.

      • Bobloblaw says:

        There is no such thing as an independent commission. Just ask the CA and AZ GOP how independent their commissions were. Plus as a southern state there have to be racially gerrymandered districts to elect minorities. Otherwise the state would only elect John Barrow types.

  2. Ed says:

    Tim is right.

    In Florida, for example, registered Democrats outnumber registered Republicans. IIRC it is by a non-insignificant margin. The ballots are almost always split 50/50 or pretty close. In the House, 63% of seats are Republican and in the Senate they have 65% of seats.

    There’s plenty of other states that maintain their power through redistricting; it happened here in Georgia with Roy’s maps.

    However, the biggest problem for the Democrats and other hopeful upsets is that the computers are so precise now with their maps that its virtually impossible to overcome the districts.

    • Bobloblaw says:

      The reason is that Dem voters live in tightly packed areas. GOP voters are more spread out thru the state. DEMs voters are highly concentrated.

  3. I think no matter what the Dems gain 10+ seats in the state house by 2020. Could also see them in places like Gwinnett going +5 in 2016, -3 in 2018, +5 in 2020 etc due to turnout.

    The Republican super majority (and arguably majority) is built on a LOT of districts that are currently about 44% Democratic. They’ll slowly go to the D’s and have the potential to break our way big time in a wave.

    By 2020, if the state has a Democratic governor, all he or she has to do is veto a Republican map and let a court draw one instead. If the state still has a Republican governor (or has one again depending on 2014’s result) it will still be difficult to do much more than just draw a map that preserves a majority but the structural changes that are in play at the state level will eventually make their way to the district level, especially when you have to draw 180 of them.

    Senate’s probably a little safer/easier to draw.

    • SmyrnaModerate says:

      definitely agree with this. Republicans took a lot of gambles with their quest for a supermajority that have lots of districts, in Gwinnett & Henry in particular, that could all flip at the same time when the demographic tipping point is reached. I think the Republicans hope was that the tipping point won’t be reached until they have another chance to redraw them in 2020

  4. Also the $64,000 question is now that Section 5 no longer exists can you still draw blatantly racial gerrymanders as was done in 2011? Section 2 will still exist (we think) so in majority minority areas you’ll still need to attempt to draw majority minority districts, but I’m not sure it will be allowable to explicitly carve up DeKalb and Fulton like what was done in 2011.

  5. David C says:

    Correct me if I’m wrong, but don’t legislative maps have to be signed off by the Governor (or overridden if vetoed) like any other bill? If so, Jason Carter’s ability to swing legislative seats (beyond the few seats required to get Republican majorities under 2/3) doesn’t matter that much. Simply having a D as part of the process would force a standoff that would basically result in no gerrymander. Georgia might actually have competitive elections, strange as that might be to some of the team players here.

    Beyond that, saying that winning or losing the Governors mansion this year is the difference maker for 2020s redistricting is nonsensical. As the article points out, there are three more legislative elections between now and 2020, and Jason Carter’s ability to sweep through them like some mongol horde seems vastly overstated. What’s going to matter more in 2016 and 2020 is what’s going on at the ultimate top of the ticket–Will Hillary and demographics end up making Georgia more competitive two years from now? Who is the Republican Nominee? Are they popular in the south? Who wins the White House? Who is the President running for reelection and what is their popularity in Georgia and nationwide? Who is the out party nominee–and are they local enough to have coattails? In 2018, is it an open seat race? If Deal is reelected, does he serve out a full term or is he felled by a Federal investigation? What’s happening nationwide in the run up to the midterms? If Carter is elected, is he popular or does he flail and lose after one term? W All of those are plausible variables that will make up what happens to the legislature. That Georgia Republicans have to pull out all this fearmongering to get even loyal partisans to back Gov. Deal is telling, however.

  6. Will Durant says:

    In a perfect world redistricting using a computer program that is blind to anything but population kept as close as possible to group communities by proximity would be an amendment to the State Constitution.

    • Baker says:

      For all our bluster about this policy or that policy, about action or inaction in Washington, every problem really boils back to redistricting. What is it? 80% of Congress & Senate are basically completely safe?

        • Will Durant says:

          As I posted on another thread, it is quite simple to do an algorithm that starts at the population centers and works its way out factoring in political boundaries like city limits, then county lines, followed by geographic ones (rivers, mountains, roads, highways, etc.) after that when needed. The biggest problem I see is that the justice department would never let it fly and of course each party wants to reserve their right to gerrymander when they are in power. The districts laid out by race and party today though are totally counterproductive to representational government of people who have chosen to live in the same community or area.

          • saltycracker says:

            Why would justice reject such a proposal unless they prefer the elected and legal challenges to gerrymander ?

            • Will Durant says:

              Precisely, all lawyers like to see each other getting work and job justification in the case of the government ones.

              I don’t know how much of the VRA still applies or if it could be considered discrimination if a program that is blind to race ends up creating a 90% black or white State House district. Even when people have chosen to live that way. I think everyone would prefer their representative to be a neighbor or as close as is possible to one. Just think about all of the time and money wasted on bickering that could be resolved in about 3 milliseconds of machine time.

              • saltycracker says:

                Exactly –
                Atlanta is 38/54/5% white/black/Hispanic (2010)
                The Asians (in the 3% group) want a voice
                Wonder what the demographics are on the city administration/dept heads?

  7. Tom Taylor says:

    Chris. We went by the letter of the law and the DOJ directives when drawing the current (2011) maps. And US DOJ signed off on them right away, unlike any other state under VOA. You could not have less than 50.1% Black VAP (Voting Age Population) nor more than 70% Black VAP. To exceed the 70% is called “packing”, a term meaning you are putting a disproportionate number of black voters into one district. Some of the DeKalb districts were at 93% Black VAP based on the 2001 district lines and we had to draw districts that complied.

    And yes, some of those districts, to quote my friend Elena Parent, look like “squashed snakes”. Bottom line is that we drew them to comply and the Obama / Holder DOJ approved them immediately.

    • Your 70% max thing is not true. It is not supported by previous case law. Someone at Justice may have said that but Ga and other states have numerous examples in the past of districts with > 70% BVAP.

    • Why did the DOJ pre-clear Alabama’s Senate plan if their District 26 is 73% BVAP?

      You guys just lie through your teeth.

      How is Hancock County (71% black vap) supposed to draw districts?

      You guys may have come up with a novel legal theory that districts couldn’t be more than 70% black vap or else you’d be accused of packing and bravo for coming up with that but it’s clear from other examples and from the past that nothing prohibits a district from being more than 70% black vap.

      If Hancock County was the exact size to be its own legislative district, no court or judge in America would throw it out because it is too black. The same goes for the communities in South DeKalb and SW Atlanta that are geographically distinct and heavily black. You just chose to go another way. But no one forced you.

    • More lies – how did these city of Atlanta council districts get pre-cleared, there are 4 that are over 70% black and all 4 actually exceed 85%.

      Yet by my calculations the city as a whole is only 55% black. So why didn’t the city do what the Ga legislature did and make 12 bacon strip districts that were each 55% black or no more than 70% black?


      You do realize that according to your logic, these Atlanta city council districts (which also had to be pre-cleared) would be illegal, right?

      • And also that if Atlanta city council districts were the same size as state legislative districts it would have been legal to draw legislative districts that mirrored the city council districts – 90%+ BVAP and all.

  8. HueyMahl says:

    Possibly the most cynical post about politics I have seen in a long time. That may be the way the author feels, but let me put another spin on it.

    Conservatives are scared to the point they are staining their pants on the coming demographic shift. Their base is almost entirely white males and it is trending older. Their policies are so dated, so ridiculous to a large majority of the population, that their only hope is to suppress voter turnout.

    Conservatives see the demographic writing on the wall. They need to evolve and change and do something to shed their bigoted image. But they can’t, because change and progress is anathema to conservatives (literally the opposite of what conservative means).

    So, to my esteemed poster, what you have written would be called “projection” by a psychologist. It may have been considered by Democrats, but I guarantee you it is not the driving force in this election. They do not fear the coming demographic and political shift. You and your fellow conservatives do.

      • HueyMahl says:

        I’m glad I found this forum. Some of the most intelligent discussions of local politics around. I mean that sincerely. No snark.

    • Bobloblaw says:

      “”Conservatives are scared to the point they are staining their pants on the coming demographic shift. ”

      Anyone with half a brain ought to be scared of the USA becoming a one party state where the Dem party looks more like the ANC or the PRI in Mexico from 1929-2000. A party which wins every election based not on debates, quality of candidates or national and international conditions. But based on identity politics. No recession, foreign policy failures or scandals result in a change in party control. The Dem party just keeps chugging along. Brain dead and corrupt. Interesting how liberals who hate business monopolies so much love political monopolies. Thank God I have Canadian citizenship. I think Ill keep it.

  9. northside101 says:

    The local weather forecasters can’t even accurately tell us what the weather forecast will be 5 days from now (remember a few days ago, basically “nice weekend with cooler temperatures”—and you are still wondering why is forecast to be about 90 today with high humidity?)—and here were are talking about political control through 2030?!?!?

    As for “blatantly racial gerrymanders”—well, the law can be a stubborn thing sometimes, eh? Basically the way VRA operates in redistricting, no retrogression is allowed in minority voting strength. There were 49 majority-black districts in the State House (for instance) in the 2010 census. So basically when redistricting got underway in 2011, legislators had to ensure there were at least 49 such districts in that chamber. Given the population patterns inside 285—heavily black below I-20, more white above—the only way you could avoid drawing 90%+ black districts is by going north-south. You can’t draw east-west districts inside 285 or they will be that overwhelmingly black—and then Republicans would be accused of “resegregating” the state. Can’t win for losing, right? Of course Congress could seek to change VRA by eliminating retrogression features—LOL on that.

    As for independent redistricting commission, how would that work? Would you have completely independent people on there? Would it be equal number of Democrats and Republicans? If so, how would a tie be broken? What about third-party representation? I think voters can see when redistricting has gone too far—as it did in Georgia in 2001-2002 under Barnes with snake-like districts, multimember districts in the House, and oversized Republican districts and undersized Democratic ones. In comparison, there were no multimember House districts drawn in 2011 redistricting, no oversized or undersized legislative districts (all within plus or minus 1 percent of ideal size) Outside of DeKalb and Fulton (previously discussed), most of the House districts have pretty regular shapes (and ditto with the State Senate). And nt court challenge to those maps (unlike in 2001-2002).

    What will be interesting to watch with both Nunn and Carter is whether they can significantly improve on the showings of Barnes (2010) and Obama (2012) outside of metro Atlanta (the 43 percent of Georgia voters in the other part of the state). Obama and Barnes each only got about 40 percent in the part of Georgia outside metro Atlanta, with Barnes narrowly losing metro Atlanta to Deal and Obama just barely winning the 29-county metro Atlanta area over Romney. Neither Nunn nor Carter can win statewide by just taking the 4 majority-black congressional districts (CD 2, 4, 5 and 13). Both probably would have to win at least two other districts (if not three), perhaps CD 8 (which includes Houston County, home area of former Senator Sam Nunn) and CD 12 (John Barrow’s district based in Augusta). But both those districts backed Romney last time, and easily in both cases (double-digit percentages).

    • You have no idea what you’re talking about on retrogression. The Republicans chose a (legal) interpretation of Section 5 whose purpose was 1) to increase the # of Republican seats and 2) eliminate white Democrats.

      But there are many ways to comply with Section 5. And among those many ways could include drawing compact, heavily black districts in places like South DeKalb and SW Atlanta. They just chose to go a different way, which served their political ends.

  10. George Chidi says:

    Redistricting is probably the most nakedly political process in government, short of appointing ambassadors. “Fair” is a myth. This will never be fair — this is where structural advantage is borne.

    The Voting Rights Act and similar rules exist to keep things from going completely off the rails. The lines suck. They’re always going to suck. The allegedly-human beings serving in the legislature with actual, physical addresses in these districts will want to avoid competing with one another or with a strong challenger, every time, and that’s how these maps will be drawn.


  11. northside101 says:


    Turns out some white Republicans also were eliminated also in 2011 redistricting. Yep, white Republicans…as some examples, Gene Maddox and Darlene Taylor were paired together in HD 173 in southwest Georgia (Maddox retired), and Chuck Sims/Tommy Smith were paired together in HD 169 in southeast Georgia (Smith called it quits).

    Turns out also, most of the underpopulated House districts were held by Democrats. And most of the overpopulated ones were Republicans. Going into 2011 redistricting, the largest State house district at that time had nearly 92,000 people (HD 105 in Gwinnett, then held by Donna Sheldon, a…yep…Republican). The smallest? A mere 37,096 in HD 61, then held by Democrat Ralph Long. As then-Rep. Ed Lindsey wrote in a piece that year (2011) “Under the guiding principle of one person, one vote, if an area loses population, it lose seats…This is simple math. In fact, the same thing (paring of inner city Democrats) is happening in rural South Georgia where 8 Republican legislators are being paired…”

    Turns out, when a federal court redrew the House map in 2004 (following the Larios decision), Republicans won a collective 56 percent of the total state legislative vote that year (adding up combined Democratic, Republican and write-in votes)—and have won a majority every year since, whether the federal court map or the 2012 redistricting map.

    So, seems like a lot of “sour grapes” from Chris…

  12. seenbetrdayz says:

    If you just take political party labels off the ballots and just have names, then it would be a huge step in reducing gerrymander abuse.

    I mean, as a political strategist, how could you redistrict if you aren’t sure whether or not the people in the district are party-line voters or not?

    Take the (D) and (R) off the ballot and you leave no choice for the voters but to familiarize themselves with the individual candidates (how cruel!), and who knows what sort of chaotic ballot selections we’d see then? A voter might vote for Nunn for Senate and Deal for Governor in the same election. What district do you gerrymander that voter into? You can’t, at least not with the sort of accuracy to make it worth the effort.

    Problem solved.

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