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County to get congressmen overhaul
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Newton County's federal representation would be totally overhauled under the Congressional redistricting map proposed this week.

Gone are Republican representatives Austin Scott and Rob Woodall, replaced by Rep. Hank Johnson (D-Lithonia) of the 4th district and Rep. Paul Broun (R-Athens) of the 10th district.

Charles Bullock, a University of Georgia professor and expert on southern politics, said the two could hardly be further apart on the political spectrum.

"You're going to have the eastern half represented by one of the most conservative members of the U.S House and the western half by one of the most liberal members of the U.S. House," Bullock said Tuesday. "Not many counties in America have that wide of a range."

Newton County is a tale of two halves, and, if wasn't obvious before, the recent state and national redistricting maps provide a clear dividing line.

The east is old Newton County: rural, agriculturally-based and predominantly white. The west is the outgrowth from Metro Atlanta: dense (if not exactly urban), traffic-filled and largely black with some Hispanic presence.

Johnson's district was pushed southeast, following the natural population migration out of Atlanta, which has been taking place for the last 50 to 60 years, Bullock said.

Broun on the other hand was pushed southwest, and the two shifts met in the middle of Newton County.

"Some research indicates that people are happier and feel better about government and Congress if the representative of their district is someone they support and like," Bullock said. "Newton County residents may be happier because the more liberal residents will have a strong Democratic member of Congress, while the residents of the east will feel great about a strong conservative."

While the county will be divided down the middle, Bullock sees the change as positive, because it will give locals a line to political power regardless of which party controls Washington.

While Johnson, who is notable for being a Buddhist, is strongly entrenched and stands a strong chance of being elected to another term in 2012, Broun wasn't done any favors by redistricting, Bullock said. Broun lost the northern part of his district, which was shifted by changes including the newly formed 14th congressional district. His district remains staunchly Republican, but Broun will have to establish a connection with new voters in 2012.

"If some ambitious state legislator decides this would be a chance to go after him, when Broun runs in his new parts of his district he won't have the advantages of incumbency," Bullock said.

There have been some rumblings that Broun could instead run for the 9th District, Bullock said, which contains much of the northern section Broun held previously. U.S. representatives do not have to run in the district in which they live.

Spokespeople for both Broun and Johnson said the congressmen would make comments about redistricting at a later time.

When combined with the addition of Democratic state Sen. Ronald B. Ramsey, local Democrats will have a larger voice on a larger level. The move also brings prominent minority representation to Newton County.

Local Democratic Chairwoman Sarah Todd said the changes help Democrats, but she disagrees with the county being split.

"The people who drew the maps don't seem to understand that Newton County is a metro county. We don't have that much in common with those counties further east," Todd said. "The majority of people work in Atlanta and we are a bedroom community for Atlanta, which is the economic engine of the region.

"People always talk about the two Georgias (north and south), it seems like they're attempting to make our county into the two Newtons."