Gwinnett County has often been cited as the next big county to turn Democratic. Many have said that the Peach State won’t turn blue until Gwinnett does. Its population as a whole became majority minority several years back, and this year, for the first time, whites make up a minority of registered voters, although not by much. So, how will the election results turn out in 2016? As a Gwinnett resident, let me throw out some ideas and profile a few races. Feel free to use this as a guide when the results come in on Tuesday.
First, a word on a few races that were unchallenged, or settled in the primary. The three Gwinnett School Board seats on the ballot this year went unchallenged, with no primary or general election competition. Republicans Carole Boyce and Mary Kay Murphy and Democrat Louise Radloff will serve another four year term. Radloff switched per party ID after new school board seats were drawn for the 2012 election. She was first elected to the school board in 1972. Murphy took office in 1997, and Boyce in 2005.
Gwinnett’s House District 99 became an open seat with the retirement of Hugh Floyd. The district is 55% Hispanic. In the Democratic primary Brenda Lopez faced Jay Trevari, who as a longtime Democratic activist ran for a County Commission seat several years ago. Lopez was heavily supported by the Latino community, and will take office in January without a Republican challenger.
Much has been written about how the minority majority county has an all white Board of Commissioners. For this election, GOP Chairwoman Charlotte Nash is being challenged by Jim Shealey, who is also the chairman of the Gwinnett County Democratic Party. Shealey is also African American. His platform is built around a desire to bring light rail to the county, and to have the county run the system itself, rather than joining MARTA.
While many in the county’s business community want to see additional transit options, Chairman Nash has been reluctant to pursue the idea until after the 2016 elections, and the hoped-for renewal of the county’s SPLOST. The county is expected to release an update to its transportation plan in early 2017, and that could the possibility for additional transit.
Nash, who served as county manager for a number of years, was elected in a 2011 special election to replace Charles Bannister. She is well regarded in the county, and had no primary opposition. She is widely expected to win re-election.
In the State House, the most vulnerable incumbent has to be Republican Joyce Chandler in District 105, which includes Grayson, Loganville, and the Harbins area on the eastern side of the county. The seat was created during the 2011 redistricting, and is trending Democratic. In the 2008 presidential election, the district’s precincts were split 50-50 between John McCain and Barack Obama. In 2012, the district favored President Obama over Mitt Romney, 52% to 47%.
Chandler faces Donna McLeod, a native Jamaican with a degree in Chemical Engineering. She is one of Georgia’s Democratic House candidates endorsed by President Obama. To her detriment, Chandler has been in the news, with reports that she and her husband owe over half a million dollars in back taxes, a charge she denies. Both parties have worked to win this seat, which could go either way.
House District 101 runs from Lawrenceville west and north to Suwanee. It’s held by Republican Valerie Clark, who was elected in 2010. The district remains Republican, with John McCain earning 54% of the vote in 2008, and Mitt Romney getting 53% of the vote in 2012. Clark is being challenged by Sam Park. Park is the American born son of Korean immigrants, and is a bankruptcy litigation attorney. His issues include economic growth, healthcare and reducing inequality. Openly gay, Park promises to oppose any religious liberty legislation introduced in the General Assembly.
Clark is a retired principal at Central Gwinnett High School. She is running on a platform of creating jobs, quality education, excellent health care, and improved transportation. Park appears to be a good candidate who is running a professional looking campaign. The house district is majority minority, with a 12.9% Asian population. One would expect Clark to retain her seat, but if Tuesday turns into a good night for Democrats, she could be in danger.
House District 108 is an open seat currently held by the retiring BJay Pak. It consists of a heavily Republican area in Lilburn and Mountain Park in the southern part of the county. The district voted 62% for John McCain in 2008, and 61% for Mitt Romney in 2012. Republican Clay Cox, who held the seat for several years before resigning in 2010 to run for Congress, is trying to get his seat back. However, the borders of his district changed somewhat during redistricting, and he will face voters unfamiliar with him. Cox runs a private probation company, and has been accused of self-dealing by introducing legislation while in the legislature that would have deregulated his industry.
Cox’s opponent is Tokhir Radjabov, an immigrant from the Soviet Union who goes by the initials TR. The 32 year old entrepreneur holds a Bachelor of Science in Nursing, and is running as a political outsider, whose issues are healthcare, transportation and small business promotion. This is my House district, and it appears that Radjabov is running a good campaign, although there is no mention of his political affiliation on his website or in mailers. The Democrat has a compelling story, but given the familiarity of the district with Cox and the fact that it is one of the most Republican leaning districts in the county, if he were to win, it would be a very bad night for the GOP.
And what about that presidential race? The county voted for Mitt Romney in 2012 by a 54-45 percent margin. In 2008, the county went for John McCain by a 55-44% margin. In the presidential primary, Donald Trump barely edged out Marco Rubio for first place, with Ted Cruz trailing in third place.
Polling in the Peach State has shown anything from a 4-6 point lead for Donald Trump to a virtual dead heat, with Trump and Hillary Clinton within a point of each other. My guess is that if the state flips blue, Gwinnett County will too. However, should Gwinnett join its Atlanta neighbors in supporting Hillary Clinton, that doesn’t guarantee the entire state goes blue this cycle. Donald Trump’s support remains very strong outside the Atlanta metro area.