Georgia Democrats Name Finalists For John Lewis’ Seat

Georgia’s Democratic Party is considering five local leaders and politicians to run in Georgia’s 5th Congressional district, in a mad dash to fill the seat held by late civil rights leader Rep. John Lewis, who died Friday after a battle with cancer.

Those five are Park Cannon, a progressive queer state representative, Andre Dickens, an Atlanta city council member, Robert Franklin, the former president of Morehouse College, a historically Black men’s college in Atlanta, Nikema Williams, a state senator, and James “Major” Woodall, the president of the Georgia NAACP.

The state’s Democratic Party held a single-day open call for candidate applications Sunday, and received a total of 131 applicants that were reviewed by a committee of local politicians and party officials. A separate executive committee in the party, scheduled to meet Monday, will pick one of the five nominated candidates to run in November. The district, which encompasses much of the city of Atlanta, is 59% Black

Among those on the nominating committee were Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms and former Democratic leader of the Georgia House and gubernatorial candidate Stacey Abrams, as well as state party members and former leaders, like Jason Carter, a former state senator and 2014 gubernatorial candidate.

Since Georgia’s 5th is an overwhelmingly Democratic seat, the general election is little more than a formality. Hillary Clinton defeated Donald Trump in the district by a margin of 73 percentage points.

In effect, the Democratic officials charged with selecting a nominee in an unusually rapid, behind-closed-doors process could install a long-term successor for Lewis without the input of rank-and-file Democrats in the Atlanta-area district. 

The party has attributed the nominating process to Georgia’s election code, which requires the party’s executive committee to offer a substitute candidate by 4 p.m on the business day following the actual knowledge of the death of the candidate.

The nominee is all but certain to be an incumbent member of Congress in 2022, when the district next holds its Democratic primary. Given the advantages of incumbency, that makes it that much harder for voters to elect someone new.

Vincent Fort, an applicant for Lewis’ seat and progressive lobbyist who represented southwest Atlanta in the state Senate for two decades, denounced the process for depriving Atlanta Democrats of the chance to pick a nominee in an open primary for the first time since 1986 when Lewis defeated fellow civil rights leader Julian Bond. 

“Foremost voting rights advocate in last 65 years, Rep. John Lewis, is going to be replaced in [a] rigged process by a few dozen people most of whom don’t live in the 5th congressional district,” Fort tweeted.

Lewis, an iconic civil rights organizer, was a fierce voting rights activist for his entire career and a key supporter of the Voting Rights Act of 1965. He served in the House for 33 years, and died as a high-ranking lawmaker who chaired the powerful House’s Ways and Means oversight subcommittee — a group that in recent weeks oversaw inquiries into delayed coronavirus stimulus payments. Just a month before his death, he visited protesters demonstrating for Black lives in Washington, D.C.

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