Ushering in the New Era of Georgia Democrats with the Georgia governor’s race and Atlanta mayor’s race in full swing, it was inevitable that there would be some shake-up in the state legislature. The state senate will soon see the departure of its number two Democrat, Senator Vincent Fort, when he officially qualifies to run for mayor. Fortunately, there is no shortage of qualified candidates to replace him when the time comes.
House Democrats, on the other hand, have already seen a change in their leadership. Former House Minority Leader Stacey Abrams recently stepped down from her leadership role to run for governor, and the internal election to replace her occurred a week ago Monday. Representative Bob Trammell is the new House Minority Leader, a result that was viewed by some analysts as an upset victory. He beat a 24-year veteran of the House and member of Abrams’ leadership team, Representative Carolyn Hugley, to win the position in a vote of 32-24 on the second round of voting, though Hugley will continue to serve as minority whip. Representative Winfred Dukes, who previously ran against Abrams for the post, was eliminated in the first round with nine votes. Representative James Beverly was also selected to serve as caucus chairman and Representative Erica Thomas now serves as caucus vice-chairwoman.
This set of elections changed the geographical power balance in minority caucus leadership. Previously, of the four leadership positions, two were held by metro Atlanta area representatives and two were held by those outside the metro area. Now, only one representative (Thomas) lives in metro Atlanta, while the other three come from more rural parts of the state. If Democrats hope to make gains in the legislature and potentially retake the governor’s mansion in 2018, it would be wise to heed the advice of those who may have some insight into expanding the electorate.
It is a great sign for Democrats that all three of the candidates on offer boasted such impressive credentials, both professionally and electorally. Hugley’s 12 election wins speak to her skill as both an elected official and effective campaigner.House Democrats realized that her knowledge and experience would continue to be a strong asset, which is no doubt why they voted to keep her in a leadership position. Dukes has similarly been in office for 20 years, having won his last 10 elections. Interestingly, Trammell has only been in office for two and a half years, but his relatively young age (43) and ability to succeed in a competitive district bode well for Democrats who will be looking to challenge Republican incumbents, especially those who have been weakened by President Trump’s sullying of the GOP brand.
One of the main problems for Democrats nationwide has been a dearth of not just good candidates, but candidates period. The loss of over one thousand state legislative seats in the United States over the last eight years has been devastating. That fact cannot be sugarcoated.
However, the election of Trump, for all the horrors it has inflicted on this country over the last six months, has been the wake-up call desperately needed for new Democratic candidates. For example, there are already over 200 declared Democratic candidates for the federal House of Representatives who have raised over $5,000. As a long-serving political operative in the State of Georgia, I can also attest to the immense enthusiasm on display in every corner of the state from first-time candidates, from the most competitive districts to the most conservative.
New leaders such as Trammell and experienced veterans like Hugley and Dukes will be key in shaping the strategies that will turn Georgia blue again. With such skilled individuals in play, I am confident in Democrats’ ability to end Republicans’ veto-proof majority in 2018 in both the house and the senate.
Tharon Johnson is a consultant with Paramount Consulting Group and a Democrat strategist.