Democrat Taylor Bennett’s victory over Republican J. Max Davis in the Aug. 11 House District 80 election provided a rare win for his party in north DeKalb, and it effects the state’s political landscape.
Democrats now control the Fulton County delegation and can block state constitutional amendments in the House.
How much that will matter depends on who’s talking. The state Democratic Party chair, DuBose Porter, calls Bennett’s win a “turning point in Georgia politics.” State Sen. Fran Millar (R-Dunwoody), on the other hand, says he’s “not sure what it’s all going to mean.”
Bennett took 54.5 percent of the vote in the district that includes Brookhaven and parts of Chamblee, Dunwoody and Sandy Springs. He will replace Republican Mike Jacobs, who left the seat to become a judge.
“It’s just like playing football,” Bennett, a former Georgia Tech quarterback, said in an Election Night interview. “Enjoy the victory, but tomorrow we’ve got to get back to work. There’s a lot of work to be done and a lot of problems to solve.”
Porter was enthusiastic about the impact of Bennett’s win in a traditionally Republican district that said “yes” to his “progressive agenda.”
Strategically, it gives the Democrats a one-seat majority in the Fulton delegation, and tips them over the one-third margin of House seats needed to block potential constitutional amendments on such issues as “religious freedom” protections previously shot down as anti-LGBT rights. Bennett, whose mother and sister are gay, made fighting such bills a key part of his platform.
“It’s really kind of a turning point in Georgia politics,” Porter said, going as far as describing Bennett’s win as a sign of Georgia being a swing state in the 2016 presidential election.
Porter said the win also sends an issue-based message to the state GOP. “Republicans have felt very comfortable cutting education, cutting the HOPE scholarship, not expanding Medicaid,” he said. “But these are issues people really care about.”
Davis, in an Election Night interview, had a different view of a race that involved some bitter, partisan campaign flyers. Davis was repeatedly targeted over accusations that he engaged in sexual harassment while mayor and was involved in a cover-up.
“Obviously, the politics of personal destruction played a big role in this race,” Davis said. “A lot of falsehoods and untruths were thrown my way.”
Millar agrees and suggested that Bennett’s win came out of a particular situation with several Republicans fighting it out, rather than a sign of Democratic momentum.
“I think the Democrats ran a hard race,” Millar said. “They put a lot of mailings out against a Republican candidate that were pretty harsh. They worked.
“I don’t think it’s a bellwether for anything,” he said. “But if I was a Democrat, I think I’d be emboldened.”
Millar acknowledged that Democrats gained a strategic edge with Bennett’s victory, but he added that it remains to be seen how that plays out in upcoming battles.
“Technically, they have control of the Fulton County delegation,” Millar said. “But again, you’ve got to get things through two chambers [in the General Assembly]…I’m not sure what it’s all going to mean.”
For now, Bennett is sounding a spirit of bipartisanship. He and Davis spoke on Election Night, with each congratulating each other on the race. Bennett said that mirrors his approach to the office he will soon hold.
“I want to [have] open ears to everyone in the district, regardless of political affiliation,” Bennett said.
“I reached out to Taylor Bennett, said, ‘Congratulations,’” Millar said. “I’m happy to talk to him and go from there.”
According to unofficial results from the Georgia Secretary of State’s Office, 4,977 votes were cast in the election. Bennett earned 2,714 votes and Davis 2,263.
Bennett praised his campaign team’s hard work for beating Davis, Brookhaven’s first mayor and the son of a former state representative.
“Two and a half months ago, no one knew who we were, and we had zero dollars in the bank,” Bennett said.
Asked about any plans to continue in public service, Davis said his focus will be on his family and his business in the coming months, and “rebuilding my reputation” for his children’s sake.