ATLANTA (AP) — James Burchett, loyal Republican, walked the plank for his party on Wednesday.
Burchett came forward as the Georgia House debated a map to redraw districts for its 180 members and asked members to vote for a plan that draws the Waycross resident into the same district as another Republican, Rep Dominic LaRiccia of Douglas.
“I may not come back,” Burchett said. “I do not relish the opportunity to have to run against one of my colleagues. But I’m able to set it aside because I feel confidently that this is what’s best for us.”
Burchett and LaRiccia are among four sets of House members who were drawn into the same districts under a House map that got final approval in the Senate on Friday on a 32-21 vote. The House map is projected to create districts likely to elect 98 Republicans, or 54% of the House’s 180 members. That’s down from 103 Republicans now.
The measure now goes to Gov. Brian Kemp for his signature or veto.
Other lawmakers paired in the House map are Democrat Winfred Dukes of Albany and Republican Gerald Greene of Cuthbert, Snellville Democrats Shelly Hutchinson and Rebecca Mitchell, and Republicans Danny Mathis of Cochran and Robert Pruitt of Eastman.
The number of paired House incumbents is much lower than 10 years ago, when six sets of Democrats and four sets of Republicans were pitted against each other.
No incumbents who plan to seek reelection to their seats were paired in a Senate map that passed that chamber and awaits approval in the House. It’s projected to elect Republicans in 59%, or 33, of the Senate’s 56 seats. That’s down from 34 right now.
Being paired presents difficult choices. Georgia law requires legislators to live in their districts for a year before election, and because the 2022 general election is now less that year away, lawmakers can’t move to another district where a seat might be open to try to seek an easier race. That means a lawmaker can run against another incumbent or find something else to do. At least two Republicans, Reps. Matt Dollar of Marietta and Wes Cantrell of Woodstock are also drawn into districts with other incumbents but don’t plan to seek reelection.
The General Assembly must redraw electoral districts at least once every decade to equalize populations following the U.S. Census. Georgia added more than a million people from 2010 to 2020, with populations in urban districts generally growing and rural districts shrinking. Slow-growing or declining populations in south Georgia directly influenced three of the four pairings.
“We’ve been hit with a sharp decrease in population,” Pruitt said of his current district, which includes some of the state’s fastest shrinking areas. “I understand the situation. We’re down 12,000 and we’re surrounded by others who need 6,000.”
Pruitt said he hopes he and Mathis can hold down the venom in a Republican primary.
“We just agreed that if we’re going to run against each other, we’re going to be very respectful of each other.”
LaRiccia, though, is more emphatic about his campaign plans.
“I’m running to win and whoever they draw me in with is going to get beat,” LaRiccia said.
Dukes might appear to be the favorite against Greene in their combined southwest Georgia district, but Dukes raised concerns during Wednesday’s floor debate that there may not be as many Democratic-leaning African American voters in the district as it initially appears because of a large state prison that is counted in the population. Prisoners in Georgia are disproportionately Black, but people convicted of felonies can’t vote while in prison.
Declining population wasn’t an influence in the pairing of Mitchell and Hutchinson in Gwinnett County, despite the creation of an open Democrat-leaning district next door. Senate Minority Leader Gloria Butler, a Stone Mountain Democrat, cited that pairing as one reason to reject the House map.
“Their map pairs two Democratic representatives in Gwinnett County, of all places, a majority-minority county that also saw the largest population growth in Georgia since the last Census, and despite the fact that there’s an open seat nearby that either one of them could have been drawn into,” Butler said.
This will be the first time in decades that Georgia lawmakers won’t be required to get federal approval of their maps after the U.S. Supreme Court struck down a portion of the Voting Rights Act.
Link to updated Georgia redistricting maps: Scroll down and click “Proposed Plans” tab to see the maps.