A Tale of Two House Districts

During every election cycle, there seems to be a prediction that Gwinnett County will turn Democratic, or at least a shade of purple. While long viewed as being a Republican stronghold, changes in the county’s diversity, especially with the influx of Hispanic and Asian residents, appears to point the way towards a changing political dynamic. Races for two open seats in the state house in adjacent districts illustrate the changing political alignments in the county.

Hugh Floyd retired from his seat in House District 99 after six terms in the legislature. His district is south of I-85 in Norcross, running from the county line on the west to Beaver Ruin Road on the east. Its southern boundary is roughly Lawrenceville highway. In the 2014 election, the district voted 62% for Jason Carter, and 35% for Nathan Deal. According to the Statistical Atlas, the district’s population is 55.1% Hispanic, 20.5% black, 12.3% white, and 10.6% Asian. It may be the Peach State’s only majority Latino district, yet the Atlanta Journal Constitution reports that Hispanics comprise only 14% of voters.

Two Democrats are running to replace Floyd. Jay Trevari ran two years ago for the county commission seat held by Republican Lynette Howard, getting 40% of the vote. She’s a long time civic activist in the county, and has been endorsed by Floyd. Her opponent is Brenda Lopez, a Hispanic immigration lawyer who was born in Mexico and came to the United States when she was five years old. Her candidacy is not without controversy, however. A complaint has been filed with the Secretary of State’s office alleging that until just before she declared her candidacy, Lopez had been registered to vote at an address different from where she actually lived, although that address also lies within the district.

Should Lopez win her race, she will become the first Latina in the General Assembly. It would also show that Hispanics are a significant voting bloc in Gwinnett County. The winner will take her seat at the Gold Dome in January, as there are no Republicans running in the race.

Adjacent to and just south of HD 99 is House District 108. It includes most of Lilburn and the unincorporated area along Five-Forks Trickum Road that contains some of Gwinnett’s most Republican precincts. BJay Pak has held the district for three terms, and decided not to run in 2016, leaving an open seat. It’s a majority-minority district. Whites make up 47.2% of the population, followed by Hispanics at 19.6%. 16.5% is black, while Asians make up 14.4%. The district voted 60% for Nathan Deal in the 2014 gubernatorial race, and 37% for Jason Carter.

Two Republicans are on the ballot Tuesday. Clay Cox, who held the seat for three terms until 2010, when he ran to replace John Linder in congress. He came in third in that race, behind Rob Woodall and Jody Hice. Since that time, the district’s boundaries have changed, which could limit his appeal, however he has been the beneficiary of the Georgia Coalition for Job Creation, which has sent out numerous mailers supporting his candidacy. His opponent is Patty Gabilondo, a former president of the Lilburn Women’s Club who served as Pak’s legislative aide during the last session, and has been endorsed by him.

No matter which of the two ends up being the winner, the real test will come in November, when Democrat TR Radjabov will challenge the winner. Born in the former Soviet Union, the 32 year old is an entrepreneur who has started several companies. He also appears to be taking a page from the playbooks of David Perdue and Donald Trump. On his campaign website, he says, “TR is not a politician. He is an outsider whose experience, ideas, talents and determination will not only make our district and state to be the safest, most prosperous and happiest but our district and our state will become the model of success for other districts and states to emulate.”

Gwinnett’s demographics have changed tremendously from the days when it was a mostly-white bedroom community near Atlanta. Tomorrow, and again in November, we’ll see how much that demographic change is reflected in the election results.

 

Disclosure: I am a resident of House District 108.

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