A “blue wave” hit North DeKalb and Dunwoody hard on Election Night as state legislative seats long held by Republicans were flipped blue with decisive Democrat victories. Changing demographics in the suburbs and backlash against President Trump are some reasons elected officials say led to the seismic shift in party power.
Democrat Sally Harrell of Chamblee handed state Sen. Fran Millar (R-Dunwoody) his first loss in more than 20 years by defeating him with close to 55 percent of the vote for the Senate District 40, according to unofficial results. The seat encompasses Dunwoody and includes some of Sandy Springs and Brookhaven. The district also includes a portion of Gwinnett County. Millar has held the seat since 2011 after serving 12 years in the state House.
Harrell said SD 40 voters made their decision in her favor because they favor progressive issues such as expanding Medicaid, focusing on public schools, stopping gerrymandering that favors Republicans and supporting transit.
“Georgia state Senate District 40 voters have shown that they are tired of outdated, conservative government, and that they are ready for progress,” she said in a written statement. “I’m honored to serve this district, to demand action on these important issues, and to help rebuild trust in our state government.”
Millar congratulated Harrell in a written statement and said he was a “casualty of the Blue Wave that struck North DeKalb, the Sandy Springs panhandle and Peachtree Corners.” He congratulated Democrats on the “outstanding job” they did to get voters to the polls.
Millar said he noted several years ago that much of the suburbs will eventually be Democrat majority “and we are seeing that come true.”
“This year I don’t know what else I could have done to overcome the anti-Trump/Washington attitude and changing demographics,” he said.
In another major upset, Democrat Mike Wilensky, a first-time candidate, won the House District 79 seat that includes all of Dunwoody by defeating Republican Ken Wright, the city’s founding mayor, with nearly 54 percent of the vote, according to unofficial results.
HD 79 became an open seat after state Rep. Tom Taylor (R-Dunwoody) decided not to seek reelection. Taylor won the seat in 2011, succeeding Millar to the post.
Wilensky said the 6th Congressional District race last year between Karen Handel and Jon Ossoff following the election of President Donald Trump mobilized Democrats in Dunwoody and the surrounding area to create organized efforts to put Democrats in office. While Handel eventually won the 6th Congressional District, Hillary Clinton won the popular vote in Dunwoody.
Direct mailers from the Wilensky camp targeted state Republican’s support of “religious liberty” bills. Wilensky also spoke out on such issues as protecting the environment, women’s reproductive rights and LGBT equality, making a clear distinction between him and the traditional GOP values of the northern Dekalb suburbs.
“This district had turned in 2016 and reflects the true current balance of House District 79,” he said in an interview while driving around the city and picking up his yard signs.
“That motion didn’t stop, and my campaign got a ton of help. We knocked on 40,000 doors, some three to eight times. Many local groups were still motivated to bring more balance in the state legislature,” he said.
Millar noted that Harrell and Wilensky’s victory as well as Democrat Matthew Wilson’s victory in House District 80 over incumbent Meagan Hanson means there will be no Republicans in the DeKalb House or Senate delegations at the General Assembly.
Wright received public support from Dunwoody Mayor Denis Shortal and many City Council members and other longtime residents who tried to cast
Wilensky as an outsider because he’s lived in the city for a few years. Wilensky countered he was raised nearby in Sandy Springs.
“Ken is a great man who has done amazing things for the community,” Wilensky said. “But this is a state office and people voted on issues they believe in in going forward.
“This is no longer about party,” Wilensky added. “We are all in this together.”