Election shuffles state lawmakers; redistricting chair loses on map she helped draw up

By: - May 25, 2022 8:31 pm

n January, a new group of Georgia legislators will take part in the state’s business at the Georgia State Capitol. Ross Williams/Georgia Recorder

This story was updated May 26 at 3:35 p.m. with state Senate candidate Nabilah Islam’s response to a letter about her campaign mailers. 
A redistricting process set new boundaries for many state legislators ahead of Tuesday’s midterm primary, which led to some surprising outcomes, including the defeat of an incumbent lawmaker who oversaw the drawing of her district’s ‌new‌ ‌boundaries.

Republican state Rep. Bonnie Rich of Suwanee, whose district was redrawn in her favor in a reapportionment committee she chaired, was unseated by Rep. David Clark, an outsider to many within his party and a thorn in the side of GOP House Speaker David Ralston. 

Meanwhile, Democratic state representatives Shelly Hutchinson and Rebecca Mitchell were forced to cannibalize the other in order to win in their new Gwinnett County district. And a large turnover in experienced lawmakers is underway in the Legislature with members of both political parties losing valuable members to retirement and others giving up seats to run for statewide positions such as attorney general, lieutenant governor, labor commissioner and ‌secretary‌ ‌of‌ ‌state.

The bulk of the attention from Tuesday’s election focused on the top of the ticket races for governor, U.S. Senate and Congress, but the GOP-controlled state Legislature oversees a $30 billion state budget that directly affects the lives of millions of Georgians.

For Rich, the loss to Clark is more surprising since she served as chair of the House majority caucus and of the House redistricting committee.

Clark, who is now set to take on Democratic nominee Louisa Shell Jackson in November, relished winning the primary by a 59% to 41% while fighting against the Republican political “machine.” 

“The voters were clear this seat isn’t for sale,” Clark posted on Twitter on Wednesday. “Thank you to all the voters of HD100 for sending me back to the Capitol to be your voice! I will continue putting you first and doing what’s right no matter what.”

The Georgia Freedom Caucus, a conservative GOP legislative faction launched last December, also celebrated wins for each of its members during the primary, giving nods to Clark for his win over the “hand-picked establishment candidate.”

While Democrats had to play defense to contest the GOP’s new political maps, as a result of the new district, Hutchinson of Snellville edged out Mitchell by a fewer than 900 votes to represent the Gwinnett County house district. Both candidates talked about the difficulties of‌ ‌running‌ ‌against‌ ‌a‌ ‌close‌ ‌ally.

Mitchell in 2020 defeated moderate Republican Rep. Brett Harrell. Hutchinson in November will face Republican Preston Wren.

And in rare intraparty public rebuke, a group of Democratic state legislators representing Gwinnett denounced the campaign tactics used by Nabilah Islam to win her Senate primary over Beth Moore, who is currently a state representative. 

Islam barely avoided the June runoff by earning above the 50% plus one vote threshold, after earning 5,740 votes to Moore’s 5,662, or 50.3% to 49.7%, according to unofficial results.

But her tactics of sending mailers claiming Moore voted with Republicans 90% of the time prompted criticism from the Democratic House members representing Gwinnett, who said she weaponized statistics about votes with widespread bipartisan support.

“The four mailers sent out so far by Ms. Islam use Trump-like tactics designed to spread lies and misinformation in order to deceive voters,” the May 16 statement said. “We cannot sit idly by while the truth is under attack, nor as the reputation of Beth Moore – our colleague, our friend, and a true blue Democrat – is tarnished with falsehoods.”

But Islam fired back at the claims that she was spreading misinformation about Moore, ‌claiming that Moore’s voting history was an outlier the‌ ‌majority‌ ‌of‌ ‌her‌ ‌Democratic‌ ‌colleagues. 

Most incumbents cruise to win

State Senate Majority Caucus Chairman John Kennedy, a Macon Republican, congratulated the slate of Republican state Senate nominees who now advance to the general election.

Each of the party’s Senate incumbents survived the primary, although the party will have to replace a group of retirees such as Rules Chairman Jeff Mullis and veteran Sens. Burt Jones and Butch Miller, who both ran for lieutenant governor. 

Kennedy oversaw the Senate redrawing process that resulted in his opponent getting disqualified because her home was moved 200 yards out of the district.

“With this historic ground game in place, we are confident that we will be able to preserve and grow the Republican Senate Majority that has delivered tremendous, conservative leadership for our state – and bolster Republican candidates up and down the ticket,” he said in a statement issued by Citizens for a Greater Georgia.  

Veteran Atlanta Democratic Rep. Roger Bruce is headed to a runoff against Rashaun Kemp next month.

House Democratic Minority Leader James Beverly, a Macon Democrat, said he’s impressed with the candidates that emerged from the primary and those heading for runoffs, especially new faces who will try to replace a wealth of institutional knowledge at the Legislature lost this year.

“The vacancies that they left, the people who stepped into the (races) are phenomenal, good, solid people,” he said Wednesday. “We want to make sure we get that core of people integrated into what we’re doing in the House.”

For example, in the Democratic Party primary for lieutenant governor, three metro Atlanta state Reps. Derrick Jackson, Renitta Shannon and Erick Allen failed to make it to the runoff but three potential Democratic replacements emerged from their House primaries Tuesday. 

Additionally, two incumbents running for seats in the opposite chamber, became the Democratic party’s nominees. Sen. Michelle Au, of Johns Creek, won a primary House district while Rep. Josh McLaurin of Sandy Springs earned the nod for a Senate race.

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Stanley Dunlap
Stanley Dunlap

Stanley Dunlap has covered government and politics for news outlets in Georgia and Tennessee for the past decade. The Georgia Associated Press Managing Editors named Stanley a finalist for best deadline reporting. The Tennessee Press Association honored him for his reporting on the disappearance of Holly Bobo.