Flashback: How re-drawing Congressional lines backfired in 1991

October 10, 2021
2 mins read

Republican lawmakers hoping to weed out their Democratic foes through redistricting efforts may want to take heed of redistricting efforts of the past when the shoe was on the other foot.

As we reported last month, Georgia republicans have released a Congressional district reapportionment draft that adds more republican voters to the 6th Congressional District — a seat currently held by Democrat Lucy McBath — and districts Democrat Carolyn Bourdeaux’s home out of the district she represents.

This same tactic was used by Democrats in 1991 in an effort to keep Republican Newt Gingrich out of Congress. Let’s take a look back at what happened and how it all panned out.

The Time: For this flashback, we will be going back to October of 1991, when Georgia politics looked almost the opposite of how it looks now. Democrats were firmly in control and, at least according to political pundit Dillard Munford, Georgia was increasingly becoming a two-party system. Republicans were just starting to gain ground in Georgia.

The governor at the time was Zell Miller, a democrat, and the State House was run by another democrat by the name of Tom Murphy, who wielded all the political power in the state for decades.

Nationally, George H.W. Bush was president and his re-election campaign was about to kick off. He would later lose to Bill Clinton. Clarence Thomas had recently been nominated for the Supreme Court and underwent a difficult confirmation hearing riddled with accusations of sexual harassment from Anita Hill.

The Atlanta Braves were having a miracle season, having emerged from the cellar and finally clinching the National League title for the first time in ages. They would later go on to lose the World Series to the Minnesota Twins.

Redistricting: Being that it was just after the 1990 Federal Census, it was time for the state house — under Murphy’s guidance — to redraw Congressional district lines. Newt Gingrich, whom many Georgians know as a Cobb County staple, was actually living in and representing Jonesboro. That is, until Murphy drew a map that took Gingrich’s house out of the old 6th district, which he represented. The newly reconstituted 6th district was drawn in Cobb and North Fulton counties.

Gingrich’s home, incidentally, now sat firmly in Democrat John Lewis’ 5th district.

Gingrich in turn, moved his family to Cobb County, positioning himself right smack dab in the middle of the new 6th district, in a place where future redistricting could not remove his home.

What Happened Next?: The newly drawn 6th district became a juggernaut in Georgia politics. Not only did Gingrich run and win there, he became Speaker of The House of Representatives and led the Republican Revolution of the 90s, making both his name and his Contract With America household names. He was an integral part of the Republicans retaking the House of Representatives for the first time in 40 years, and may have started the chain reaction that led to Georgia becoming a red state.

After Gingrich, Johnny Isakson was elected to the 6th district seat. He later became a Senator. Tom Price was also elected to the coveted seat, and later served a stint with the Trump administration before resigning after a controversy surrounding his use of chartered flights. The last Republican to hold the District 6 seat was Karen Handel, who lost to Lucy McBath.

Lessons From History: None of this means that McBath or Bourdeaux will rebound, come back better than ever, and become Speaker of The House. Gingrich was likely on his way to that prior to the redistricting effort of 1991. However, it is entirely possible that — as shown in the story of Newt Gingrich — that efforts to remove political opponents through the Constitutional process of redistricting, can and do backfire. Time will tell if that is the case for the current 6th and 7th Congressional Districts.

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