published Thursday, August 18th, 2011

Northwest Georgia-only Congress district eyed

by Andy Johns
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    Staff Photo by Allison Kwesell Rep. Tom Dickson, r-Calhutta

ATLANTA — North Georgia's new congressional district should begin taking shape next week, and some at the Capitol say the idea of an all-Northwest Georgia District could become a reality.

Rep. Tom Dickson, R-Cohutta, who sits on the House reapportionment committee, expects a district that unites most of the northwest corner of the state.

"Our counties generally in Northwest Georgia have a lot in common," Dickson said as he was leaving a committee meeting in Atlanta on Tuesday.

Georgia lawmakers in a special legislative session will begin Monday or Tuesday drawing new districts for the state's federal representatives. The state is expected to gain a 14th district because of population gains, and most people believe that district will be in northern Georgia.

The current 9th District stretches from Lookout Mountain to Lake Lanier, meaning it's a prime candidate for reshaping, some lawmakers say.

Many Northwest Georgians, including Ed Painter of Dalton, hope the new lines will unite the northwest-corner counties to give the region a stronger voice.

"It's good for our whole area," said Painter, who founded the Northwest Georgia for Northwest Georgians Committee. "The pluses are a no-brainer."

His plan calls for a 13-county district from Polk County north to Tennessee and from Gilmer, Pickens and Fannin counties west to Alabama.

He said the plan has a shot of showing up in the maps next week, but gave it only 1-in-10 odds, acknowledging some high-profile competing interests.

Political observers have pointed to Gainesville as the likely center of the new district, in part because Gov. Nathan Deal and Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle hail from Hall County. That would seem to help Painter's cause, except that he's also heard that House Speaker David Ralston, R-Blue Ridge, may want Gilmer and Fannin counties in the territory for the new vacant seat.

Another complication may be U.S. Rep. Phil Gingrey, who now represents Chattooga, Floyd, Bartow and part of Gordon counties. Tom Crawford, who writes The Georgia Report political news service, said Gingrey, an OB-GYN, would not want to give up Floyd County because of close ties with Rome's large medical community.

Gingrey told the Rome News-Tribune he wanted Floyd County to stay a part of his constituency.

"While the General Assembly controls the process, it is my intention to fight to keep Floyd County in the 11th Congressional District and to represent it in the 113th Congress," Gingrey said.

But Floyd County's 96,000 residents would be a key piece of a Northwest district, especially if Gilmer and Fannin join the eastern district, Crawford said.

"It's real hard to draw a Northwest Georgia District that meets all of the population requirements without including all or most of Floyd County," he said.

U.S. Rep. Tom Graves, R-Ga., now represents the 9th District. He said he has seen several proposals but hadn't weighed in on his favorite shape.

After a meeting in Catoosa County last week, Graves he said he looked forward to representing the people in his district, no matter where that district might be.

Boards of commissioners in eight counties around the region have ratified statements of support for Painter's plan. Catoosa County commissioners passed theirs on Tuesday.

Catoosa Commissioner Jim Cutler said the fact that the district lines follow county boundaries is more important to him than which counties are included.

"If you look at it, it makes sense," he said of Painter's proposal. "We have full counties being represented rather than counties being cut in half and split up."

State Sen. Charlie Bethel, R-Dalton, who serves on the Senate reapportionment commitment, said the water, transportation, jobs and geography shared by the counties in the corner would make it important to keep most of the counties together.

"I really think the more connected and less divided the counties in Northwest Georgia are the better," Bethel said.

But different groups could pull the district boundaries in different directions.

"There's a lot of people that want a lot of things. That's part of the process," the freshman senator explained. "Nobody gets everything they want, and most people get something they want."

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about Andy Johns...

Andy began working at the Times Free Press in July 2008 as a general assignment reporter before focusing on Northwest Georgia and Georgia politics in May of 2009. Before coming to the Times Free Press, Andy worked for the Anniston Star, the Rome News Tribune and the Campus Carrier at Berry College, where he graduated with a communications degree in 2006. He is pursuing a master’s degree in business administration at the University of Tennessee ...

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