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Lawmakers, citizens anxious to see where lines are drawn
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Jon Burns and Ann Purcell will still be state representatives at the end of the year. Who they represent, however, could change.

The state’s Legislative and Congressional Reapportionment Committees held a hearing Tuesday at Savannah’s Armstrong Center to get input and comments on the upcoming special session that will redraw district lines for 56 state Senate districts, 180 state House districts and what could be 14 U.S. House districts.

Port Wentworth Mayor Glenn Jones prevailed upon the committee to do what they could to keep his city’s district lines intact. State Rep. Ann Purcell’s district includes Port Wentworth.

“I understand Ann’s district has grown tremendously,” Jones said. “I would make a push to keep her district the way it is. Every time I call her, she’s always there.”

Purcell’s district includes south Effingham, which has grown substantially since the last Census, Pooler and Port Wentworth. Port Wentworth’s population has doubled since 2000; Pooler’s has tripled since the 2000 Census, Mayor Mike Lamb said.

District 159, Purcell’s district, has 88,000 people, and it’s the third largest in the state.

Georgia’s population stands at nearly 9.7 million, up more than 18 percent from the 2000 Census. The state is expected to gain a seat, giving it 14, in the U.S. House of Representatives. With the rise in population in the Atlanta suburbs, that additional Congressional seat is likely to carved out of the metro area.

The state’s Senate districts averaged more than 146,000 people after the 2000 Census. That average will jump to more than 172,000 for the next round of reapportionment.

Many of Tuesday night’s speakers asked that their federal district lines stay intact.

“I would ask you not to change the 12th District,” said Sandra Blissett of Garden City. “I vote for the person, not the party, and I’m very happy with my current Congressman.”

U.S. Rep. John Barrow’s 12th District covers parts or all of 22 counties. Three of its counties — Baldwin, Richmond and Chatham — are split with another Congressman.

Charles Frasier, a Hinesville City Council member, urged the committee not to gerrymander districts and dilute voting strength. The current lines were drawn in 2006 under a court order.

Other speakers wanted their representation consolidated, telling lawmakers of the difficulty of sometimes figuring out who their state representative is when a rural county has as many as three House districts slicing through it.

There also were repeated calls for transparency and citizen input in the redistricting process. Though Rep. Roger Lane (R-Darien), chairman of the Legislative and Congressional Reapportionment Committee, said they wouldn’t answer questions at the hearing, they would accept the questions as they continue the process. Tracy-Ann Nelson, executive director of the League of Women Voters of Georgia, asked about the schedule of responses to comment and questions and on how the public can access district maps before the reapportionment special session.

Nelson also asked if the committee would accept district maps from the public and about public review of maps after they are completed.

Lawmakers also were asked if maps already had been drawn up away from public view. Several speakers also implored the committee to make the process fair and transparent. There also were repeated calls to hold the meetings in rural Georgia and at times that were more accessible to working citizens.

State Rep. Don Lucas (D-Macon) has been through four reapportionments since he was first elected to the state House in 1974.

“Rural Georgia is going to lose members based on population alone,” he said. “Rural Georgia needs a voice.”

Tuesday’s meeting was the third in a series of 12 around the state. The legislature’s redistricting special session will commence Aug. 15.

Committee members will take comments and questions during their stops around Georgia. State Sen. Robert Brown (D-Macon) lodged a protest that Democrats were being frozen out of the process.

Rep. Burns said he and Purcell will have input on what their districts will look like.

“We’ll work for the best interest for our district. We’re in a good position to make sure Effingham County comes out in a good position. We feel like it will be very positive for our county. I’m working with Rep. Purcell to make sure we don’t have any concerns about fairness and make sure the citizens of Effingham County are fairly treated well in this process as are our communities of interest.

Rep. Purcell said it is more than likely that south Georgia will lose some of its seats in the General Assembly.

“We’re always worried about everything until those lines are drawn,” she said. “Jon and I work well together. The possibility of Jon and I continuing to work together is a plus for the county. We’re going to go do what we can to hold our communities together.”