Georgia Democrat Wins State House Seat On Platform Against Gay Discrimination

A heavily gerrymandered and conservative-leaning district elected a Democrat who campaigned against a "religious freedom restoration" bill.
Georgia State Captiol (Raymond Boyd via Getty Images)
Georgia State Captiol (Raymond Boyd via Getty Images)

Democrat and gay rights advocate Taylor Bennett won a seat in the Georgia state legislature in a special election on Tuesday, carrying a heavily gerrymandered district that was presumed safely Republican.

Notably, the Democrat campaigned against a so-called “religious freedom restoration” bill, arguing that it used religious freedom as a justification for permitting discrimination against gays. The bill has been stalled since an amendment was added “clarifying that it must not be interpreted to legalize discrimination,” according to Slate. Both Bennett’s mother and sister are gay, Daily Kos notes.

A former Georgia Tech quarterback, Bennett was up against former Brookhaven Mayor J. Max Davis. Despite being outspent 2-to-1 during the campaign, according to Daily Kos, Bennett cruised to victory, defeating Davis by a 10-point margin. He carried Georgia's House District 80 with 55 percent of the vote. 

Bennett and Davis were competing for a seat vacated by Republican Mike Jacobs, who moved on to a judgeship in state court. An initial election took place on July 14, but none of the four candidates gained a majority. The three Republican candidates in that contest took a combined 63.2 percent of votes. However, Bennett and Davis were the two candidates with the most votes, and advanced to Tuesday's runoff.

House District 80 had been believed to be a safe Republican district. Gerrymandered to the point of being shaped like a unicorn, Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney carried the district in 2012 with 56 percent of the vote, a figure comparable to what Bennett received on Tuesday. But given the district's location north of Atlanta, conservatism there tends to be much more fiscal than social. As Daily Kos pointed out, “anti-gay attitudes are very much out of fashion" in the Atlanta suburb.

The heavily gerrymandered District 80 looks a little like a unicorn.
The heavily gerrymandered District 80 looks a little like a unicorn.

"This isn't about me; this is about us. This is about our entire community coming together for a better future," Bennett wrote in a Facebook post after the announcement of his victory.

Bennett’s win ends the Republicans' two-thirds supermajority in the Georgia state legislature, which means state Democrats will be able to block amendment bills. The GOP maintains its supermajority in the state senate. 

Pundits have been discussing the possibly of Georgia becoming a purple state since its competitive U.S. Senate race last fall. Republican David Perdue narrowly defeated Democrat Michelle Nunn, who came within 200,000 votes of winning the seat.