By Jim EllisJuly 20, 2020 — The death of veteran congressman and longtime civil rights activist, Rep. John Lewis (D-GA), on Friday spurs Georgia’s unusual political succession law to take effect.
Since Mr. Lewis had already won re-nomination on June 9th, the Democratic Party must now name a replacement nominee and do so before 4:30 pm today. Georgia law gives a political party only one business day to name a replacement if, for whatever reason, a vacancy occurs post the nominating election.
In response, Democrats quickly assembled a committee of seven 5th District and statewide Democratic leaders who will send a recommended three to five candidates’ names to the Georgia Democratic Party’s state executive committee. The qualified members will then vote electronically from around the state in order to choose a new nominee by noon. The state party officials say they will communicate the Executive Committee’s choice to Georgia’s Secretary of State before 4 pm EST today.
According to the New York Times and other news outlets, three members of the screening committee are Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms, former state House Minority Leader and 2018 gubernatorial nominee Stacey Abrams, and Jason Carter, the party’s 2014 gubernatorial nominee, an ex-state senator, and grandson of former President Jimmy Carter. They will quickly choose among the people who filed an online application for consideration.
Speculation as reported in an Atlanta Journal and Constitution article indicates that the favorite to emerge from this lightening quick party process is state Sen. Nikema Williams (D-Atlanta), who is also the chair of the Georgia Democratic Party. Other top contenders are former Atlanta Mayor Shirley Franklin, Atlanta City Councilman Andre Dickens, and ex-state senator Vincent Fort.
Lewis was first elected to the House in 1986, after serving for six years on the Atlanta City Council. Prior to his career in elective politics, Rep. Lewis came to notoriety as key civil rights leader and spokesmen beginning when he was a teenager in the 1950s. In the House, Lewis was the Senior Chief Deputy Majority Whip, a member of the House Ways & Means Committee, and chairman of the Ways & Means’ Subcommittee on Oversight.
Georgia’s 5th District is a safely Democratic seat (Clinton ’16: 85-12 percent; Obama ’12: 83-16 percent) that encompasses the entire city of Atlanta. Since Atlanta is dispersed between Fulton and DeKalb Counties, the 5th District occupies almost half of Fulton County and about a quarter of DeKalb. Just to the south, the CD’s remaining portion lies in Clayton County.
The 5th District is a majority minority seat, as 59 percent of the Citizen Voting Age population (C-VAP) are black, and predominantly African American. The Non-Hispanic white C-VAP figure is 32.8 percent, with Hispanics, Asians, and Native Americans all falling below 3.5 percent. With an average household income figure of just over $48,000, GA-5 ranks as the 99th poorest district in the country.
Lewis’ death now means that 46 seats will be open for the next election, just 12 of which come from the majority Democratic side. Gov. Brian Kemp (R) now has 10 days to schedule the special election to replace the late congressman, and most believe he will make that vote concurrent with the November general election.
The Republican nominee, Angela Stanton-King, is an author who received a pardon from President Trump for a previous felony conviction. She has little chance of prevailing against whomever the Democrats choose to nominate later today.