Local faith leaders, civil rights groups rally against what they say are racist GOP redistricting efforts

participants in press conference on redistricting line upPress conference on redistricting (Photo credit: Arielle Robinson)

By Arielle Robinson

Wednesday morning in Marietta Square the Cobb County SCLC, Cobb NAACP, local religious leaders and various community groups held a press conference where they denounced GOP efforts to override the Cobb Legislative delegation’s proposed redistricting maps.

They also rallied against what they say are racist attempts by Republicans to prevent Black and Brown people in an increasingly diverse Cobb County from voting.

Community activist Sally Riddle explained the issue as follows:

“So, basically the process that has normally been followed for redistricting — and the Republicans followed it in 2001 after the 2000 Census, they followed it in 2011 after the 2010 Census — is that the [Cobb County Legislative] delegation, under the leader of its chair, develops the maps. Those maps then go to the Intragovernmental Coordination Committee, which handles local legislation. In the past, those maps have been rubber-stamped by the legislature. It’s my understanding that what the local delegation decided on, that’s what they do. When the Republican local delegation changed hands from a Republican majority to a Democratic majority, all of a sudden that isn’t good enough.

“Representative Erick Allen, to my understanding, reached out and tried to create a group to work on the maps early on. Republican [members of the delegation] did not respond. So, the Democrats developed their maps that have very basic, minimal changes to accommodate the population shifts, and basically shifting lines gradually. [Allen] then sent those maps for input to not only the delegation members but also the Cobb County commissioners and others.

“One Cobb County commissioner, JoAnn Birrell, made a number of requests. Representative Allen actually told her, ‘I can accommodate just about all of those requests, if not all of them.’ She still came back and said, ‘I can’t support your map.’ Why? It’s like, what’s going on here? When the Republicans dropped their maps for the legislature, Representative Allen reached out, called a delegation meeting to see if a compromise could be had between the Democratic developed maps — since no Republicans wanted to take part — and these Republican maps that had been developed by several Republican legislators. Only one Republican delegate member came. That’s not cooperation. Basically, these three Republican representatives are thumbing their nose at the process. That’s why they’ve gone to the Governmental Affairs Committee instead of the Intragovernmental Committee, so they can get these bills through the Republican-controlled committees and bypass the delegation.”

Allen was elected chair of the 21-member Cobb Legislative Delegation last year.

Cobb SCLC President Dr. Ben Williams said three “renegade” GOP members of the delegation — State Reps. John Carson, Ginny Ehrhart, and Ed Setzler — refuse to support Allen as the elected chair.

Cobb SCLC Field Director Rich Pellegrino said that Cobb citizens have gotten no input on redistricting maps and what GOP delegation officials are doing contradicts the process of how local government should function.

“That’s why we are calling it a renegade process that does not represent the people of Cobb,” Pellegrino said. “ … There needs to be transparency and accountability.”

Cobb NAACP President Jeriene Grimes called Republican actions highly disturbing and says that their moves will disenfranchise women.

Carson’s proposed map would redraw the majority of East Cobb so it is in Republican JoAnn Birrell’s District 3.

Currently, lines are drawn so that East Cobb is split between District 3 and Democratic Commissioner Jerica Richardson’s District 2.

If Carson’s map is passed, Richardson would be drawn out of her district and would have to move.

Republican Board of Education members also approved a proposed map that makes East Cobb represented by one Board member — Republican David Banks.

Charisse Davis’ post is drawn so that she is lumped in the same district with fellow Democrat Dr. Jaha Howard, giving Republicans an advantage.

Republican delegation members such as Ehrhart, Carson, Matt Dollar and Don Parsons supported the Board of Education’s proposal. Ehrhart filed HB 1028 last month to back the Board, East Cobb News reported.

This came after Allen had previously proposed a map that would keep school board lines nearly the same.

At the rally, Riddle spoke about Richardson’s situation.

“One of the things that some of the Republican legislators who have been backing and introducing this plan said is that [Richardson] brought it on herself by moving to the edge of her district,” Riddle said. “What they neglect to tell the people of Cobb County, who elected this woman, is that they also carved out her original address.”

Riddle said the maps make no logical sense as far as constituencies go and that GOP members are trying to “get rid of a young, hardworking Black woman who is just barely into her second year of a four-year term.”

She called on letting voters decide the maps as the current proposals do not reflect the needs of Cobb County.

Cynthia Johnson, who supports people who have been evicted, moved to Richardson’s district in August, said she appreciated the commissioner’s outreach to constituents and would be disappointed to see her drawn out of her district.

“Normally when I reach out to elected officials, from our congressmen to our senators or anything, they do not respond back,” Johnson said. “I reached out to Ms. Richardson one time on Facebook and she offered me a meeting with her…she really listened and she made every effort to support the people that are in need. I believe that we the people of her district need to be heard.”

Ron Davis of the Austell Community Task Force’s social justice arm said that the maps are a threat to justice and democracy.

“Where does Cobb County want to be?” Davis asked. “How does it want to remembered in history? As one of those counties that contributed to injustice? … Let me put it like this, the world is looking at us right now, and it’s looking at Cobb County itself. Let’s not be the laughingstock of the world, of what democracy stands for.”

A couple of former elected officials also spoke out against redistricting efforts and in support of the Cobb Legislative Delegation and its chair.

Former Marietta City Councilman and Bishop Reggie Copeland said people’s voices are being muted and there is a blatant disregard for voters.

“What we should be about is not just looking at maps, but looking at best practices, policies, and procedures that will also improve the quality of life for all people,” Copeland said. “As I step back from the mic, let me say this to you — let us continue to be united and not untied.”

Former State Senator Vincent Fort, a progressive who last month announced his run to unseat District 13 United States House Rep. David Scott, also was present Wednesday.

He said that Republicans have greatly accelerated voter suppression tactics.

“I was in the General Assembly in 2003 and 2004, when the Republican voter suppression movement started. I saw it and fought it,” Fort said. “ … I’ve never seen anything like it, you would have thought that they had done enough in 2021. But now they come with more voter suppression tactics and unjust redistricting plans. What I have to say is just very simple to the people who are assembled here — keep fighting. Never give up. Never give out, because there will come a day when this veil is turned back and there’s going to be justice in Cobb County and throughout Georgia.”

Williams said that the ultimate desired outcome to combat GOP redistricting is for Congress to pass federal voting rights legislation that will protect historically oppressed groups.

He called on people to contact their legislators and said that a group was going to the Georgia State Capitol to attend mapping hearings.

“Let’s really call it what it is — it’s classic racism 101,” Pellegrino said. “Black people have voted in record numbers in Cobb and in Georgia and that is a threat. This is an arrogant, white supremacist attempt to dilute the Black vote.”

Arielle Robinson is a student at Kennesaw State University. She also freelances for the Atlanta-Journal Constitution and is the former president of KSU’s chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists as well as a former CNN intern. She enjoys music, reading, and live shows.