At least five incumbent Republican legislators from Gwinnett County — four in the House, one in the senate — are vacating their seats at the state Capitol.
Some are retiring, and some are seeking higher office. But all five represent deeply diverse districts in a deeply diverse county, and their departures could open the door for a sort of Democratic reckoning.
At least that’s what Democrats are hoping.
“The momentum is certainly there and headed in that direction,” Gwinnett party chairman Gabe Okoye said.
MORE GWINNETT COVERAGE: Incumbent county commissioners to seek re-election; Democrats vow to challenge
Qualifying for November’s elections (and, if needed May’s primaries) starts Monday. And Okoye said Democratic candidates will be “competing very vigorously” for all of the open seats.
Those seats include:
- Duluth-based House District 97, which has been occupied by Rep. Brooks Coleman for more than a quarter-century. Coleman, a leader on education policy, is retiring.
- Lawrenceville-based House District 102, which is being vacated by Rep. Buzz Brockway. Brockway, who was first sworn in to the General Assembly in 2011, is running for secretary of state.
- Grayson-based House District 105, where Rep. Joyce Chandler was first elected in 2012. The district is considered one of the most competitive in the state — and is the subject of current gerrymandering allegations. Chandler is retiring.
- Lilburn-based House District 107, where Rep. David Casas became Georgia’s first-ever Hispanic GOP legislator when he first took office in 2002. Casas said he wants to spend more time with his family.
- Duluth-based Senate District 48, where Sen. David Shafer has served since 2002. Shafer is running for lieutenant governor.
Gwinnett County, long a conservative stronghold, voted for Hillary Clinton in the 2016 presidential election, the first time it had supported a Democrat since Jimmy Carter in 1976. With the exception of Coleman’s district, which is roughly 58 percent white, each of the now incumbent-free districts has a majority-minority population.
Of the 25 legislative seats that represent parts of Gwinnett County, 10 are currently held by Democrats. Most of the constituents in all but four of those districts, however, are in more traditionally Democratic Dekalb County.
Flipping the seats that are losing Republican incumbents this fall — which are all predominantly, or exclusively, in Gwinnett — would be a significant milestone for Democrats.
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Brockway said he thinks the wave of vacated Gwinnett seats is more coincidence than any kind of statement on the county’s current political leanings. He conceded that there likely will be battles for the seats in the districts currently represented by Chandler and Casas, but said he expects his seat and those of Coleman and Shafer to remain in the hands of Republicans.
“I’m not ready to say this is a Democratic county yet, or purple yet,” Brockway said.
At least three Democratic candidates have already made their intentions known for other incumbent-free Gwinnett seats.
Donna McLeod, who lost her most recent District 105 race against Chandler by just more than 200 votes, has said she intends to run again. Shelly Hutchinson, a social worker and adjunct professor, plans to run for Casas’ House 107 seat.
And in Shafer’s senate district, Democrat Zahra Karinshak — an attorney and military veteran — has already brought in a hefty fund-raising haul.
Gwinnett GOP Chairman Mike Seigle, meanwhile, sent a letter to supporters last month that served as both a solicitation for candidates and a rallying cry.
Seigle suggested that a handful of Gwinnett’s incumbent Democratic legislators — Reps. Brenda Lopez, Pedro Marin, Dewey McClain and Sam Park — may be the vulnerable ones come November. He called Lopez, Marin and Park underfunded. And he tied McClain, a former Atlanta Falcon, to the national anthem protests of current NFL players.
In other Gwinnett County news: