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An open seat race emerges in “a microcosm of the new Georgia”

By Tom Baxter

U.S. Rep. Rob Woodall’s announcement last week that he won’t run again for the 7th Congressional District seat which he won by a hair in the last election doesn’t guarantee that this former Republican stronghold will swing to the Democrats in 2020. But it does bring to a close an era of Republican history.

As a former top aide to U.S. Rep. John Linder, Woodall faithfully continued to carry the flag for the idea Linder and co-author Neal Boortz popularized in 2005 with “The FairTax Book.”

“By far, the piece of legislation that I am most passionate about is H.R. 25, the FairTax, and with good reason. It is the most exciting tax proposal to ever come before the American people,” Woodall writes on his congressional web page about the bill that would eliminate the Internal Revenue Service and replace the current tax system with a single, broad sales tax. The Georgia Republican even refused to sign Grover Norquist’s pledge not to support any new taxes — something on the level of GOP heresy — because it might conflict with a future vote on the FairTax bill.

The Republicans might hold on to the 7th next year, but even if they do, Woodall’s successor won’t owe more than lip service to the idea which fired up Republican voters a decade or so ago. The movement for a much more radical reform of the tax system hasn’t died out, but it has been overshadowed by the Trump tax cut and its aftermath. And in the rapidly changing 7th District, there are new issues to deal with.

State Rep. Nikema Williams, the newly elected Georgia Democratic Party chair, called the 7th “a microcosm of the new Georgia as a whole” in a statement last week, referring to the demographic changes which have transformed the former Republican stronghold into a minority-majority district with fast-growing Hispanic and Asian communities.

Map of the 7th District of GA

But the 7th isn’t entirely Gwinnett County, where Democrats made sweeping gains last year, and Democratic challenger Carolyn Bourdeaux led Woodall by more than 23,000 votes out of about 215,000 cast. An additional 66,000 voted in neighboring Forsyth County, and there Woodall led by more than 2 to 1. While Gwinnett voted for Hillary Clinton in the presidential election, that portion of Forsyth gave Donald Trump enough to carry the district by 6.4 percent. So the 7th can be viewed as a microcosm in other respects as well.

Bourdeaux lost no time after Woodall’s announcement in cranking her operation back up into full campaign mode. She trailed Woodall by little more than 400 votes and has let her intentions of running again be known. But if there was any doubt she needs to nail down the Democratic spot on the 2020 ballot quickly, former Fulton County chairman and Atlanta mayoral candidate John Eaves posted a photograph of his new Gwinnett County license plate on his Facebook page over the weekend. At least one other Democrat, Marqus Cole, was already in the 2020 race before Woodall’s announcement.

The last election dislodged a lot of Republicans in this area, which has swelled the list of Republicans who might be interested in succeeding Woodall. State Sen. Renee Unterman won reelection, but she was a big Casey Cagle supporter in the Republican primary for governor and lost her post as chair of the Senate Health Committee. Her unhappiness with the new Senate leadership was made clear when she was the only Republican to vote against rules changes which put more limits on the reporting of sexual harassment charges.

Unterman is the most interesting of the Republican names mentioned so far for this race because of the possibility for a debate over health care between opponents who know what they’re talking about. Unterman is a former nurse as well as having worked on health care issues as a legislator. Bourdeaux, a Georgia State professor, has had experience in making hard health care choices as director of the Georgia Senate Budget Office.

A lot has to happen before that debate materializes, but it’s fun to contemplate. No matter who emerges in the scramble for this open seat, we aren’t likely to be hearing much about FlatTax.

Tom Baxter

Tom Baxter has written about politics and the South for more than four decades. He was national editor and chief political correspondent at the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, and later edited The Southern Political Report, an online publication, for four years. Tom was the consultant for the 2008 election night coverage sponsored jointly by Current TV, Digg and Twitter, and a 2011 fellow at the Robert J. Dole Institute of Politics at the University of Kansas. He has written about the impact of Georgia’s and Alabama's immigration laws in reports for the Center for American Progress. Tom and his wife, Lili, have three adult children and seven grandchildren.


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