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SPIGOLON: Leadership needed for drawing Newton's district lines
Georgia Legislature
Legislators celebrate the end of the 2021 legislative session in the Senate chamber at the State Capitol late on March 31. - photo by AP

In the midst of approving a budget and other controversies, on the horizon are decisions that could have far-reaching consequences for Newton County taxpayers through 2030.

Newton County leaders will have the chance to show their leadership in including all the various political and cultural viewpoints in the county in the governing of the government and schools for the next decade.

They also could show they are only about ramming through political agendas on a county tired of squabbling.

State lawmakers recently discussed how to begin the process of reapportionment of state House and Senate districts to account for population shifts found in the 2020 federal census.

All states are required by law to redraw their congressional and legislative district boundaries every decade to accommodate population shifts that occurred since the previous U.S. Census and make sure districts remain as nearly equal in population as possible, according to the news service.

The state House and Senate committees in charge of redistricting were set to host a joint virtual town hall meeting this week to start gathering feedback from Georgia residents, according to the Capitol Beat News Service.

County leaders will be tasked with doing the same thing with Board of Commissioners and Board of Education districts this year.

The 2020 election made it clear that, while Democrats are the dominant party in Newton County, a large section of the county still is majority Republican.

Who knows how skewed the 2020 election results were because of lightning rod candidates on the ballots in former President Donald Trump and former Vice President Joe Biden?

Some Republicans likely were not happy with Trump’s leadership and temperament. Some Democrats probably were not satisfied with their chosen candidate being a man who had been in federal office off and on for half a century. 

Nevertheless, the more rural northern and eastern areas of Newton County went solidly for Trump while the more densely populated and suburbanized western part of the county went solidly for Biden.

If commissioners want to follow Chairman Marcello Banes’ stated goal of creating a #OneNewton — which they would be wise to do — they should continue to make sure at least two of their districts are majority Republican.

This action leaves the other three districts in majority Democrats’ hands and does not ignore the fact that 55% of Newton voters chose Democratic Party nominees for president and all countywide races.

It also does not ignore the fact 10 of the county’s 22 voting precincts voted solidly for Republicans, including as much as 70% to 80% for the GOP candidate in some precincts.

County election leaders earlier this year were looking at ways to better balance the number of voters in each precinct. Changes need to be made when more than 6,000 voters are assigned to a west Newton precinct and about 800 registered voters are assigned to the Newborn precinct.

I have no vote in this, but there are shifts I think should be made to provide representation more county residents can agree with. 

Move the Gum Creek and Oxford precincts in north Newton — which voted majority Republican — to District 5. Move the Livingston, Covington Mills and Cedar Shoals precincts — all Democratic strongholds in central Newton — to Districts 3 and 4 to compensate.

This shouldn’t be this hard. But old political alliances and agreements always seem to get in the way. 

Though not a perfect comparison, parents usually don’t want to see their children reassigned to new schools and many voters usually don’t want to get reassigned to new representatives.

In 2011, one commissioner reportedly was the lone holdout on the reapportionment of Newton County’s districts after saying he wanted the inclusion of specific neighborhoods in his district.

Commissioners and school board members share the same district lines. Both had to give their approval before the end of the year so that state lawmakers could give final approvals so the new districts could take effect.

Elected officials were told redistricting maps don’t need unanimous approval but such approval gives the maps much better chances of being approved by the Georgia General Assembly.

I hope county commissioners and school board members will be wise in their decisions on future representation. 

If they’re not, it could have the effect of driving an even larger wedge between Newton Countians already divided by numerous cultural and political issues.

Tom Spigolon is news editor of The Covington News. He may be reached at