ATLANTA - Georgia's congressional and legislative maps should be drawn by an independent commission, a task force created by Gov. Sonny Perdue recommended Tuesday.
The panel's proposal would limit the General Assembly to an up-or-down vote on district lines proposed by the new commission, an effort to reduce the role of politics in the redistricting process.
"This commission is more than a paper tiger,'' said task force Chairman Harold Clarke, a former chief justice of the Georgia Supreme Court, shortly before the panel unanimously adopted an eight-page report. "It would be a force the people would recognize and, hopefully, the elected officials would recognize and appreciate.''
Perdue formed the task force last March and issued its 11 members marching orders that included determining how an independent redistricting commission could take over the mapmaking process from Georgia lawmakers and "improve public faith in the elective process.''
Historically, states have undertaken redistricting only once a decade following the census to adjust congressional and legislative lines to accommodate population shifts.
But the process increasingly has become a political weapon wielded by the party in power to protect its incumbents and make elective prospects more difficult for the minority party.
During this decade in Georgia, maps drawn by Democratic leaders after the 2000 census were redrawn shortly after Republicans seized control of the General Assembly.
A dozen states now use some form of independent commission to draw district lines. Some give the commission total control over the process, while others cut their state lawmakers in on the final product.
According to the task force's report, the panel considered three options: giving an independent commission complete power over redistricting, creating a commission that would advise the General Assembly but give the legislature final authority over the process, or forming a commission that would submit its recommendations to lawmakers for an up-or-down vote.
The task force dismissed the first proposal as impossible to get through the General Assembly and didn't like the second because the legislature likely would give little weight to advice that had no power behind it.
"This is middle ground,'' Clarke said of the third choice with its up-or-down vote for lawmakers. "Politics is the art of the possible. This is something that, I think, is possible.''
But Republican legislative leaders gave the idea of an independent commission a cool reception.
Senate President Pro Tempore Eric Johnson, R-Savannah, questioned how a commission could make redistricting less political when the report is calling for its members to be appointed by politicians, including the governor and leaders in the General Assembly.
"I think it's naive to think you can take politics out of redistricting,'' he said. "You still have a political process and call it by a different name.''
House Majority Leader Jerry Keen, R-St. Simons Island, said it was the Democrats who built a case in Georgia for independent redistricting by drawing such gerrymandered district lines in 2001 that Republicans took them to court and won.
"It doesn't mean the process is flawed,'' he said. "It means those people were flawed.''
Perdue wasn't taking a position Tuesday on his task force's handiwork.
"The governor looks forward to reading the report,'' said Heather Hedrick, Perdue's spokeswoman.
Considering the reaction of legislative Republicans, the proposal has an uphill climb. Creating the commission envisioned by the task force would take a constitutional amendment, which would require approval by two-thirds of the House and Senate before it could go to Georgia voters.