From the Classroom

The changing fate of Georgia’s 6th District

The May primary is likely to determine the next member of Congress.

A photo of a congressional representative speaking on Capitol Hill.

Joe Biden is president thanks in part to Georgians living in the northern Atlanta suburbs who backed him in 2020 after decades of siding with Republicans by an average of 20 points.

It may have energized Democrats hoping to earn the Peach State long-term swing status, but it probably won’t last long given the new congressional boundaries are all but locking in the seat for the Republicans.

In fact, due to the departure of the predictably Democratic small cities in exchange for sprawling suburbs and rural towns, nearly half of the 6th District’s current residents are being pushed out. The district’s turf is now 24+ R — meaning a 24% advantage for Republicans based on voter registration — a fact that has some taking legal action.

Gov. Brian Kemp’s (R) signing of the new Georgia congressional district maps as part of the decennial redistricting process was immediately followed by three lawsuits that claim the lines were drawn with the intention of dampening marginalized voices.

“This is not a right or left issue; this is a right or wrong issue,” said Gwinnett County 13-year-old DJ Horton in an interview with NBC News. Horton has been one of the dozens of teenagers speaking out about Georgia’s redistricting process.

One of the lawsuits focuses expressly on the redistricting of congressional districts 6, 13 and 14. In the complaint filed by Common Cause, a nonpartisan democracy group that says it is dedicated to ensuring fair elections, and League of Women Voters of Georgia, a non-profit corporation that aims to protect the rights of voters, the plaintiffs wrote that the newly redrawn maps unjustly and purposely suppress Black and Latino votes.

The lawsuit argued that the State General Assembly, currently controlled by Republicans, “cracked District 6 by removing communities of color and eliminating the opportunity for Black voters and other voters of color to continue to elect their preferred candidate, a Black woman,” referring to Rep. Lucy McBath, a Democrat based in Sandy Springs, who represents much of the territory that is becoming the new 6th District.

McBath, who lives in Sandy Springs and will now be running in the likely Democratic 7th District, and her team echoed the sentiments of the lawsuits, calling Georgia’s redistricting a “remarkably undemocratic process” in a statement to Georgia Public Radio.

In June, the General Assembly held a joint House and Senate redistricting hearing. The hybrid-style session allowed residents across the state to voice their input on the maps. The remarks during this meeting represented an overwhelmingly disappointed response from Georgians.

High school student Bedrosh Pandry called for maps that represent the diversity and changing demographic of the state.

Civic participation manager for Georgia’s Latino Community Fund Michelle Zuluaga demanded maps that “unite our state and not divide our communities.”

The redistricting chairman, state Sen. John Kennedy (R), specifically dismissed these concerns in a lawmakers special session in November.

“We think this map fairly represents all Georgians and is a map that we can be proud of,” he said, adding that there was no gerrymandering involved in the process.

The controversy over the state’s new lines comes as communities of color drove the state’s 10% population increase, while the white population shrank by about 4%, according to the lawsuit.

The 6th District is a microcosm of the changes happening across the state. As it stands now, people in the district are wealthier and more educated than the country as a whole. It’s also proportionally more diverse than the country — over 40% of the district’s population is composed of people of color, according to the Census Bureau.

“We’re much more diverse than people think we are,” said Mayor Lynn Deutsch of Dunwoody, a city home to the most square footage of commercial office space in the southeast.

Despite the district’s diversity and its Democratic representative, the 6th doesn’t feel overwhelmingly liberal. Mask-wearing ended more than a year ago, Sundays are for church and, unlike in downtown Atlanta, it’s difficult to find “Black Lives Matter” signs in front yards.

After all, the district has just newly been swept up in the so-called Democratic wave after decades as a Republican stronghold.

Deutsch attributes the shift from Republican to Democratic to the mobilization of once-independents, especially women, after Donald Trump was elected in 2016.

“A big change may be that we have dedicated political volunteers who, six years ago, probably wouldn’t have known who their county commissioner was,” Deutsch said.

The Republican mayor of John’s Creek, John Bradberry, isn’t totally convinced the political change in the district is as drastic as people think.

“I shouldn’t say we’ve become more blue as much as we’ve become less red,” he said in a phone interview in February.

When it comes down to it though, both mayors agree that the issues they deal with in the district aren’t so much about Republican versus Democrat, rather about how to strengthen the community.

“They’re concerned about quality of life issues,” said Deutsch. “My residents are concerned about what kind of restaurants are here, they want their roads paved, they want less traffic.”

The types of communities that make up the 6th are ones where families attend free outdoor live music concerts on Saturdays and walk to the farmers market on Sundays. Neighbors wheel out their grills from their cluttered two-car garage to cook for the whole block and couples stroll through the park with margaritas from the hip new Mexican restaurant at which corporate millennials and young families alike vie for a table.

Greater North Fulton Chamber of Commerce president Kali Boatright shared insight on the generosity of the community. When the pandemic first hit, she explained, people would buy restaurant gift cards in the thousands just to keep their favorite businesses up and running. Residents really like to support their local shops, Boatright said.

Bradberry identifies the political culture of the area as “more pragmatic, less ideological” in part due to the lack of an in-your-face liberal Democratic vibe. The map of the district is just barely tinted Democratic blue, although in some places it feels the same as it might have felt in the 80s under Rep. Newt Gingrich (R).

The new maps, however, leave no questions — the 6th will once again return to its Republican roots after the November midterm elections. And since the GOP needs to net just 5 seats to win back control of the House, this district is going to be making headlines either way.

The open seat in the 6th leaves room for any number of mostly far-right Republican candidates to take over the district that was just starting to become a symbol of Georgia’s shift to blue.

The May primary is looking to be crowded on the Republican side with eight candidates vying for the position.

Emergency room doctor and ex-Marine pilot Dr. Rich McCormick has raised the most money so far. He lists among his priorities requiring ID to vote, ensuring concealed carry of guns is respected nationally and banning federal funding to schools that teach critical race theory — a concept that claims that U.S. social institutions are embedded in a history of racism.

Jake Evans, endorsed by Gingrich, looks similar on paper. He boasts on his website that he “fought for the counting of only legal votes during President Trump’s re-election in Pennsylvania all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court.”

While an extreme longshot, there is one Democrat in the race for representative in the 6th District. Kimberly Reuter, a mother of three, names Sen. Bernie Sanders as her mentor.