Henry County has a competitive House race on it’s hands — with conservative incumbent Rep. Brian Strickland squaring off against Democratic challenger Darryl Payton.
Rep. Strickland has a clear, conservative record. He voted for the anti-gay “religious freedom” legislation Gov. Nathan Deal ultimately vetoed; for funding unregulated, anti-abortion crisis pregnancy centers (read more about that legislation here); in favor of campus carry; and supported Gov. Nathan Deal’s school takeover legislation.
He also sponsored a piece of anti-social safety net legislation presented as “fraud and abuse” prevention and a “religious freedom” lite bill that threatened school funding over the issue of “religious expression on the clothing of student athletes.”
But Rep. Strickland doesn’t live in a particularly conservative district. In fact, Barack Obama lost to Mitt Romney in 2012 by fairly small margins, with Romney getting just 51 percent of the vote to Obama’s 48 percent.
By the 2014 election cycle, however, Henry County favored democratic candidates Michelle Nunn and Jason Carter. Nunn was running against David Perdue for U.S. Senate and Carter ran against Nathan Deal for governor, and both Nunn and Carter beat out their conservative opponents in Henry County.
Located just south of Atlanta, and considered part of Atlanta’s “exurbs,” HD 111 in Henry County is a “majority minority” district. The most recent data shows white folks make up just under half the district’s population, and African-Americans are the biggest group of people of color in the district.
House district 111 also skews wealthier than the rest of the state, with a median income about $15,000 higher than Georgia as a whole (this trend holds true for white, black and latino households).
As Better Georgia previously reported, Henry County’s Board of Education opposes Gov. Deal’s school takeover measure, despite having no schools that would be eligible to be part of the takeover plan. Locally elected officials are simply concerned about the precedent it sets allowing the state to disrupt local control and local accountability of schools, and what this means for loss of resources to already underfunded school districts. However, the school takeover legislation is a measure that Rep. Strickland voted for.
Conservatives are looking to regain their supermajority in the state House of Representatives, as this would allow the Republican caucus to pass constitutional amendments and override the Governor’s veto without participation by Democrats. Meanwhile, Democrats are looking towards the HD 111 seat — and a handful of others — as seats they can flip.
The competition for this seat, and the importance of these competitive races in Georgia, really shows in the the behind-the-scenes organizing and fundraising that is happening. Democratic heavy-hitters like House Minority Leader Stacey Abrams and Jason Carter have both visited Henry County to publicly support Payton.
As the Better Georgia blog previously covered, Leader Abrams’ support has been unequivocal: “Small business owner Darryl Payton will be a welcome addition to the Capitol, joining our fight against those who would deny rights to others through the bigotry of ‘religious freedom’ and harm Georgia’s business climate. We are excited by his campaign and our opportunity to win this vulnerable seat.”
Meanwhile, Rep. Strickland has had funds pouring in from House Republicans. At least 30 House Republicans have donated to his campaign, indicating the House Republican Caucus is putting their weight behind Rep. Strickland in an effort to hold on to the seat. This has included the Georgia House Republican Trust, Speaker Pro-Tempore Jan Jones and Speaker of the House David Ralston. Sen. Butch Miller, Gov. Deal’s floor leader (a legislator that helps carry out Gov. Deal’s agenda), has also chipped in.
However, funds and support are only half the battle when it comes to waging a successful campaign. Voters in Henry County’s HD 111 will elect their next State House Representative on Tuesday, November 8.