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Redistricting, next session discussed at pre-legislative breakfast
Pre-legislative
The Forsyth County Chamber of Commerce hosted, from left, state Sen. Greg Dolezal and state Reps. Todd Jones and Lauren McDonald at a pre-legislative session breakfast on Tuesday, Dec. 7.

Members of the public recently had an opportunity to grab breakfast and hear from some of Forsyth County’s state legislative delegation.

On Tuesday, Dec. 7, the Forsyth County Chamber of Commerce hosted a pre-legislative breakfast with state Sen. Greg Dolezal and state Reps. Todd Jones and Lauren McDonald at Lanier Tech’s Forsyth Conference Center. State Rep. Sheri Gilligan was also planning to be there but notified organizers the night before she could not attend.

“This morning’s event is unique in that it offers our business leaders and members of the community access to elected officials and insights into their plans for the next legislative session,” said James McCoy, the chamber’s president and CEO.

The meeting gave those in attendance and watching virtually a chance to ask the elected officials about this year’s session, including a recent special session to look at legislative districts, and the upcoming session in January.

Here’s what the officials had to say.

 

New boundaries

With new boundaries for Georgia’s Congressional and state House and Senate districts recently being approved by the Georgia General Assembly in a special session in November, delegation members presented at the meeting had several comments on the new maps and the once-a-decade process.

For the state Senate, currently, all of Forsyth County lies in District 27, represented by Dolezal, R-Cumming, except the area north of Hwy. 53, which is in District 51, represented by state Sen. Steve Gooch, R-Dahlonega, which includes Dawson, Fannin, Gilmer, Fannin, Union, Lumpkin, White and part of Pickens counties.

Under the proposal, all of Forsyth County would be in District 27, except for an area in south Forsyth approximately between Hwys. 9 and 20 south of the city of Cumming to the county line, which would be part of District 48 along with the city of Johns Creek and northeast Fulton County and the city of Sugar Hill and northwest Gwinnett County.

“Forsyth County is a really unique position in that process because we grew the fastest, and my Senate district, which essentially encompasses about 98% of Forsyth County, grew the most, which meant I had to lose the most constituents,” said Dolezal, a member of the state Senate’s redistricting and reapportionment committee. “I had to lose about 50,000 constituents, which is about 20% of everybody who I currently represent, I will no longer represent after the next election or whoever is selected in my place if I’m not re-elected.”

Dolezal said the new District 48 “was moved out of south Georgia because of population shifts around the state, and we will have a new elected Senator, there will not be an incumbent running for the seat… It is a south Forsyth, north Gwinnett seat, primarily.”

For the state House, currently, Forsyth County lies in parts of five state House districts: District 9 in northwest Forsyth, the majority of Dawson and Lumpkin counties, represented by Will Wade, R-Dawsonville; 22 in west Forsyth, east Cherokee and north Fulton, represented by Wes Cantrell, R-Woodstock; 24 in west Forsyth, represented by Gilligan, R-Cumming; 25 in south Forsyth and north Fulton, represented by Jones, R-South Forsyth; and 26 in east and northeast Forsyth, represented by McDonald, R-Cumming.

As proposed, Forsyth County would increase from five state Representatives to six.

Under the proposal, District 11 would be in northwest Forsyth, northwest Cherokee and Pickens counties, 24 in west Forsyth, 28 in north and northeast Forsyth and into west Hall County, 26 in central and east Forsyth, 25 in south Forsyth and north Fulton and 100 in southeast Forsyth, northwest Gwinnett and southwest Hall counties.

Jones said, like Dolezal, he had the fastest-growing state House seat over the last decade and lost some 19,000 constituents in redistricting, along with McDonald’s district being the third and losing about 17,000 and Gilligan fourth with around 15,000.

“We were in a unique position, and that’s why you ended up with a new district. For those of you who don’t know, from effectively the north end of Cumming to the northeast towards Hall [County], we have a new district that is open House District 28,” Jones said.

The map gaining the most attention would shuffle Georgia’s Congressional borders.

Though Forsyth County currently lies in the state’s 7th, represented by Rep. Carolyn Bourdeaux, D-Suwanee, and 9th, Rep. Andrew Clyde R-Athens, districts, the new map would mean the county would only be in District 6, represented by Rep. Lucy McBath, D-Marietta, along with Dawson County and portions of northeast Cobb, east Cherokee, west Gwinnett and north Fulton counties.

“The primary thing that we heard after the last 10 years being split between the 7th and 9th Congressional Districts is that to a tee almost, our constituents told us that they wanted to be represented by one Congressional member, as opposed to being split between two,” Dolezal said.

Dolezal said the county only having one member of Congress would increase Forsyth’s “weight” with the representative.

Jones said there had been “a lot of conversations” and “conspiracy theories” about the new district, such as critiques that the Democratic-controlled district would add heavily Republican areas.

Jones contended that the new district would represent the state’s growing technology sector.

“[Ga.] 400 has become the DNA or the backbone of our neighborhoods of our community,” Jones said. “When you start looking at communities of interest and you start looking at what we need to look at in terms of being consistent over the next 10 years, I think the hypothesis that from Sandy Springs up toward Dawson will become more of a tech corridor and have more, I’ll say relation, that necessarily north Gwinnett into Forsyth, I think that argument holds a lot of water.

McDonald said Republicans were already gearing up for lawsuits in response to the new district.

“They’re already waiting by the other party, and we’re preparing ourselves to fight that,” he said. “We had a good team that represented us in drawing the maps to help us with it, and I look forward to getting this process through.” 

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Upcoming session

Along with the new lines, the elected officials also touched on things they would like to accomplish in the next session, a question Dolezal said he gets often but feels might be misplaced.

“I am trying to start a movement, maybe it can start here, that the question we begin to ask our legislators is, ‘What do you want to stop this year… What regulation did you try to stop, what over the top spending plan were you able to stop, what infringement on somebody’s rights or liberties were you able to stop,’” Dolezal said.

“I think that is just as much our job, if not more our job, under the constitution that find some other law that we can add to a book of code that is somehow going to make somebody’s life something that they’ve got to figure out,” he said.

Dolezal used an example of other legislators wanting to spend the state’s reserve funds on projects ahead of the COVID-19 pandemic, when the money was needed.

He said he did have plans for this session, including to try to repeal the state’s income tax.

“In my opinion, there is nothing more that we can do to more significantly to attract small businesses to this state than eliminate the state income tax,” Dolezal said.

Jones, vice chairman of the state House’s science and technology committee, said he wanted to look into several technological projects, including adding air taxis in the state, preparing for larger numbers of electric and autonomous vehicles and policy for cryptocurrency but said focusing on technology would not only benefit metro Atlanta.

“We need to bring up the rural part of our state, and the way that we do that is we seed it with basically [technology], and there’s lots of ways that we can move tech down to the rural part of the state without necessarily hampering anything we’re doing in the metro [area],” he said. “We need to make sure the high-speed umbrella isn’t only in the metro areas, but also in all the rural areas.”

Jones said the state also needed to focus on preparing the workforce for new technology jobs.

“We’re seeing more and more the four-year degree is limiting or having a diminished value, but rather, microlearning is there and on-demand learning,” Jones said. “Anything from learning how to operate the forklift in front of you, anything … that you need to do in terms of using [the coding language] Python in terms of technology, those kinds of things.”

McDonald touched on a few local projects including those for Lanier Tech’s Forsyth Campus, where the meeting was being held.

Officials have plans to build a new $3-million building to foster health care careers and to renovate an existing building for engineering and other uses.

“I think it would be great for our community to grow this campus,” he said.

He said he also wants to look at ways to improve traffic conditions within the city of Cumming.

“I look at our one municipality that we have in the city of Cumming, and you see the growth that is going on in the city limits, the apartments that are coming up,” McDonald said. “We’ve just got a chokepoint … of where Hwy. 9 and Hwy. 20 come together. We’re going to have to partner with the state, the city, the county to get some relief in the city, to get people through the city of Cumming.”