Gwinnett County is a’changing, and local races can expect to feel that impact. State House races for Lawrenceville and Lilburn are predicted to play out Georgia’s purple future.
BJ Pak, who just retired from his HD 108 seat, representing Lilburn and surrounding areas, told the AJC he expects the seat to be competitive by 2020.
Pak, a Republican, is retiring after six years in office. He sees the district becoming more competitive, if not this year then perhaps by 2020.
“I do think that the Republican Party or the conservative candidates will have a harder time winning elections,” Pak said. “It’s going to be competitive, no doubt about that.”
Former state Rep. Clay Cox beat out Patricia Gabilondo to become the Republican candidate. Cox will face democrat Tokhir “TR” Radjabov in November. Radjabov came to the states as a teenager, after the former Soviet Union collapsed.
Cox owns a private probation company, the founding of which he describes as his origins for “serving the people of Georgia.” Radjabov also has a claim to small business ownership, in the form of several healthcare businesses.
Meanwhile, HD 101, which covers parts of Lawrenceville, will see Democratic challenger Sam Park facing conservative incumbent Valerie Clark.
Both Radjabov and Park are representative of the changing demographics of Gwinnett. Like Radjabov, Park’s family has a story of immigration, with both his parents immigrating to the States from Korea.
An Atlanta Regional Commission report that came out over summer documented the changes in Gwinnett’s student population, in particular.
“In 1995, 80 percent of Gwinnett County Public Schools students were white. By 2015, that number dropped to just 26 percent…,” the AJC reports.
However, Gwinnett voter registration only partially reflects this trend. Although there are many, many reasons that the student population and the registered voter population may not be aligned, it is telling that some of the disparities are so large. What is happening to parents’ voices and votes?
The student population of Gwinnett may only be 26 percent white, but about half of all registered voters are white.
Gwinnett’s Hispanic or Latinx student population increased from 4 percent of the student body to 29 percent over the past twenty years. Their parents and other Latinx (a gender neutral term for Latinos and Latinas, pronounced latin-x) adults still make up only 5 percent of Gwinnett’s registers voters. That is a huge disparity.
Asian or Pacific Islander (API) identified students have been holding steady at about 10 percent of the student population for the past ten years. Gwinnett voters that are API are also about 5 percent of all registered voters, similar to the rates of Latinx registered voters.
Black students now make up just under a third of Gwinnett’s student body (up from 9 percent in 1995). About 25 percent of registered voters are black, nearly on par with the student population.
Gwinnett got in hot water over ballot access earlier this year. Georgia Association of Latino Elected Officials (GALEO) and LatinoJustice requested Gwinnett County (and Hall County for that matter) provide Spanish-language ballots, following a provision of the Voting Rights Act designed to make ballots accessible to Puerto Ricans and other Americans that may not speak English as their first language. (Fun activity, here is how the incredibly racist D.A. King describes the push for bilingual ballots).
That issue remains unresolved.
Given the disparities that exist, what needs to happen to make sure parents are registered to vote and have a voice in their local elections? What barriers exist preventing Gwinnett’s communities of color from participating as voters? This is particularly pertinent given that Governor Deal’s Opportunity School District (aka school take over plan) will be on the ballot in November.
Even if nothing changes in the composition of Gwinnett’s registered voters between now and election day, what will happen in November when Gwinnett’s 99,559 registered black voters, 22,023 Latinx voters, and 21,247 API voters — collectively making up nearly 40 percent of registered voters — are asked to turn out?