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Population shift prompts map makeovers
Sen. Billy Hickman
Sen. Billy Hickman points out changes to Senate District 4 during the Eggs & Issues Breakfast at Effingham College & Career Academy on Dec. 8. - photo by Mark Lastinger/staff

RINCON — Sen. Billy Hickman believes the reluctance of some communities to stand up and be counted is likely to prove costly to south Georgians.

“I think most of the communities in south Georgia probably did a pretty lousy job on the (2020 Census),” the District 4 senator from Statesboro said during the Dec. 8 Eggs & Issues Breakfast at Effingham College & Career Academy. “Every time I would talk to people, they would say, ‘Oh, I know we’ve got more people in our community than what the census is going to show you.’ Well, that was our fault.

“We as a community did not get out and push it.”

Census data is used to determine how many representatives each state gets in Congress and how federal tax funding is shared. It is also used for redistricting purposes in the Georgia General Assembly.

According to the 2020 Census, Georgia’s population was 10,711,908. That is a 10.6 percent increase from 2010

The bulk of the growth was centered in around Atlanta, meaning more seats in the state legislature will shift to that area. South Georgia lost 200,000 people.

“We actually lost a Senate district down in Irwin County,” Hickman said. “... That Senate district got transferred to Gwinnett County so, technically, we have lost a voice for south Georgia.”

Hickman currently represents all of Bulloch, Candler, Effingham and Evans counties, and a large portion of Emanuel and Tattnall counties. Bulloch, Effingham and Evans grew over the last decade but the other District 4 counties didn’t.

“Overall, our district grew," Hickman said. "but, what happened is,  Max Burns’ district (23) — which is north of us (Burke, Columbia, Emanuel, Glascock, Jefferson, Jenkins, Jefferson, Johnson, McDuffie, Richmond and Warren counties) — he actually lost a little over 19,000 people over a 10-year period.”

In order to help District 23 reach the target of 191,284 residents, the part of Tattnall County in District 4 will be absorbed on the new legislative map that is awaiting Gov. Brian Kemp’s signature. The same thing will happen in District 19, which includes all or parts of Appling, Emanuel, Jeff Davis, Liberty, Long, Montgomery, Tattnall, Telfair, Toombs, Treutlen, Wayne and Wheeler counties.

“(Sen. Blake Tillery) lost 19,704 people so we had to help him out, too,” Hickman said  

Emanuel County was cut from District 4 and moved to District 19. In return, District 4 picked up the Godley Station area in Pooler.

District 161 Rep. Bill Hitchens and District 159 Rep. Jon Burns also discussed redistricting.

“My district is very different from most of south Georgia,” Hitchens said. “Mine is the third fastest-growing district in the state. I represent south Effingham, Pooler, Port Wentworth, part of Garden City and part of Savannah.”

Hitchens’ district grew by 23,500 over the past decade. It had to shed 18,500 people to get to the target number of 59,510 for a Georgia House seat.

Still, Hitchens is well aware of the big picture.

“We’ve got 10.7 million people in the state and six million of them live in the metropolitan Atlanta area” he said. “Atlanta pretty much controls our destiny ... If you look at the maps in Atlanta, you can’t even make out the districts because they are so small because the population is so concentrated.”

Burns district, which includes all of Screven County, stands to gain 5,000 people in Effingham County. It lost part of Bulloch County.

“You know, when you move one domino, another domino falls,” Burns said, “so you have to be cognizant of all those facts. When you move a domino in south Georgia where we lost population — we lost four seats in south Georgia — those seats might end up in metro Atlanta. So how do we balance that?”

While addressing a question from the audience about farming, Burns, the Republican House majority leader, offered an answer to the question he posed earlier. He said rural senators and representatives are determined to help each advance to key positions in their chambers.

“This is what the issue is with south Georgia,” he said. “We lost four legislators (during the redistricting process). Some of them were (committee) chairmen who have influence in (the House). They are losing senators from south Georgia that were chairmen in the Senate. 

“There are fewer and fewer of us from rural Georgia here so our ability to influence policy ... is because we are in leadership. That’s the bottom line.”

The Eggs & Issue Breakfast, an Effingham County Chamber event, was sponsored by Effingham County Farm Bureau and the Effingham County Industrial Development Authority.