‘We are affected from all angles’: Georgia Dems fight against attempt to bulldozer 2020 gains
The changes are expected to roll back many of the Democratic Party’s recent gains or dilute Democratic power. And with a high-stakes Senate race, a governor race, and several competitive House races in 2022, they could have implications that extend far beyond Georgia’s borders.
“We are affected from every angle,” said Dontaye Carter, former spokesperson for the Fulton County district attorney and also 2021 mayoral candidate in Sandy Springs, Ga., Less than 20 miles north of Atlanta. . “We are fighting against this. But the reality is, we just don’t have the political capital or the resources to make an impact.
Drastic demographic changes and historic black participation in Atlanta’s four largest counties – Fulton, Gwinnett, Cobb and DeKalb – have sent shockwaves through Georgian politics in recent years, returning two House seats to the Democrats over the past two election cycles, sending Raphael Warnock and Jon Ossoff to the Senate in January and making Biden the first Democratic presidential candidate in a quarter of a century to win the state.
The newly redesigned congressional map – currently awaiting the signature of GOP Governor Brian Kemp – is likely to erase one of those House gains. By splitting Cobb County, a former Republican stronghold that has evolved Democratic in recent years, into four congressional constituencies, Republicans have succeeded in diluting the county’s Democratic votes and forcing Democratic Reps Carolyn Bordeaux and Lucy McBath to fight one against the other.
“‘One person, one voice’ is eroded … the way [Republicans] cracked this map with laser precision, ”said State Representative Erick Allen, who is chairing the Cobb County delegation to State House and running for lieutenant governor. “I mean, they’ve shattered the voices of communities of interest and watered down their political voices tremendously.”
People of color are fast becoming the majority of the population of Gwinnett, one of the state’s fastest growing counties. Like Cobb County, it has shifted to the left as it has become more diverse. Last year, Democrats toppled a majority of Gwinnett County offices, taking control of the county commission and school board while winning the offices of the county sheriff and district attorney. All leadership positions in these offices and boards are now held by black politicians.
In early November, however, Republicans in the state Senate put in place legislation that could reverse those gains by doubling the number of county board members and making its school board non-partisan.
The practical effect would be to dilute Democratic power when the party took control. Even with newly installed Democratic majorities on both councils, their decisions will require the accession of new members who would likely represent largely white and Republican areas if the number of seats were increased.
“We are seeing this alarming trend of Republicans trying to usurp local control,” said State Representative Bee Nguyen, who is running for secretary of state next year. “They know that in Gwinnett it’s going to be difficult to have any Republican control there. And so they use other mechanisms to try to regain the control they lost.
These are not the only regional constraints under discussion.
Under Georgia’s New Restrictive Election Law, State May Dissolve Local Election administration and replace him with a superintendent appointed by the State. The state’s power to do so is limited – the law only allows the dissolution of electoral councils in four counties at a time. But if those four counties were Fulton, Gwinnett, Cobb and DeKalb, it could wreak havoc on the Democratic outlook as Republicans would have the power to challenge election results, suspend certification and announce inquiries in counties. which produce the bulk of Democratic votes.
In Atlanta’s Fulton County, a Republican-initiated Election Review Board has already been formed to look for evidence of unresolved errors or an election law violation in a county’s election monitoring since 2018.
Georgia Republicans have dismissed Democrats’ claims that any of their actions are racially or partisan. Clint Dixon, the Gwinnett-based Republican state senator who is the main sponsor of the two bills that would change the size of the county board and make the school board non-partisan, said the idea was “quite simply fake”.
“These are our children,” he said. “They’ve already been through a rough time with the pandemic, and a lot of them have fallen behind because of virtual learning. And, you know, we have to move on. We need to … get them back on track and focus only on children and their protection. It is quite simply what it is.
Dixon said he plans to expand school board legislation when it is revisited in the January legislative session to make it a statewide policy that would make all school boards in the county no supporters. He called it “the first step in getting politics out of our school system.”
But the timing of the bills – less than a year after Democrats won a majority on the county and school board as the latter elected its first black president – is suspect.
“As soon as we have elected all of the people of color to the Gwinnett County Commission and have a majority of people of color at the head of the school board, we see efforts to immediately remove people of color from positions of color. power, take away their power, ”said State Representative Sam Park, who chairs the Gwinnett County delegation to the legislature.
Democrats in the Atlanta metro area also remain wary of the as yet unknown implications of other provisions of the state’s new voting rights law. These provisions include limits on the number of drop-off boxes in counties, a shortened absentee voting schedule and stricter voter identification requirements, all of which could have a disproportionate impact in the four counties.
“I think we’ve been made vulnerable by what happened with the dismantling of the voting rights, and all of these things have been smaller, kind of like death by 1,000 cuts,” said Latosha Brown, co-founder from the Black Voters Matter organization, which aims to mobilize and engage black voters across the South. “At the end of the day, I think there is a fundamental question around, ‘Is democracy going to be protected and extended in this country?’ I think Georgia is a microcosm of what we are seeing happening across the country.
Democratic officials note that the proliferation of legislative actions recalls the precariousness of their recent gains. Despite the party’s victories at the top of the poll, the inability to break the GOP’s grip on state house threatens to unravel everything.
“Everyone was celebrating Georgia blue last year. And I was just kind of like, ‘Oh, no, we didn’t win the state legislature. We’re in trouble, ”said John Jackson, president of the DeKalb County Democrats. “Democrats really haven’t got our minds on how important the state legislature is and why we need to put more emphasis on winning state legislatures. Republicans stacked the cards in their favor.