Officials have hope for minority districts

LAWRENCEVILLE -- Beni Dakar has lived in Duluth for 12 years, but Gwinnett has never really felt like home.

"Because there is no one politician that represents my viewpoint," Dakar said at a Human Relations Commission/League of Women Voters forum on the upcoming legislative redistricting process based on the 2010 Census. "I believe many of these people are well-intended, but they are not people who I believe have my best interest at heart."

Dakar, a black woman, was referring to the all-white Board of Commissioners and Board of Education, and the nearly all-white legislative delegation that represents Gwinnett -- which the 2010 Census revealed is a majority minority county.

But leaders said Thursday there is hope that the county leaders could soon include more minority membership with districts legislators will begin creating next week in a special session of the General Assembly.

In fact, Sen. Curt Thompson, D-Tucker, said a current proposal shows Gwinnett with the first majority Spanish-speaking district in the state, centered in the Tucker/unincorporated Norcross area.

"That shows you there is hope. There will be change," said Thompson, an attorney who informed the assembly about the impact of the Voting Rights Act on the process.

Because of the 1964 law, Georgia is one of 13 states that must be pre-cleared by a judicial panel or the Department of Justice that its maps do not dilute minority voting strength. Thompson said it is also the only state whose first maps have not survived a court challenge since the 1960s.

But pointing out that one of the last places where people are segregated is in the voting booth, Thompson said the county's minority population growth has created a very integrated community.

"Gwinnett County actually is probably an interesting testimony to Martin Luther King's dream," he said. "We are probably one of the most integrated counties I've ever seen when you look at where people live."

The representation, though, has been slow to reflect that population, he said.

Fred McBride, a redistricting coordinator for the American Civil Liberties Union, encouraged Dakar and others in the audience to become involved in the redistricting process and to even propose maps for the community to reflect minority strength. In fact, comments are currently being sought at www.gwinnettcounty.com.

"You can write letters or call the Department of Justice if and when you feel a plan has violated your community or these principles. You can play a role," he said.

"I think there is hope ... but it's going to take a little bit of work," said Eugene Rhee, redistricting coordinator for the Center for Pan Asian Community Services, who pointed out that one out of every five people living in Duluth and Suwanee are Asian.