Republican lawmakers drew redistricting maps this summer that solidify their majority in the state legislature. But Georgia’s changing demographics won’t guarantee that majority forever. If Republicans want to stay in power, they’ll have to woo Blacks, Asians and Latinos. Those are groups that haven’t voted in large numbers for the state’s GOP.
In a speech at the end of the special redistricting session in August, Atlanta Democrat Sen. Jason Carter made a bold prediction that his political party will soon have the upper hand.
“The future of this state is a multi-cultural, multiracial future,” he said from the well of the state Senate. “It is a future where people of all races will live together, work together, prosper together and will govern this state together. And today, only one Party can claim to be the Party of that Future.”
Carter is using data to conclude that Democrats will be in control in the future. More than 95 percent of voters in the state’s 2010 Republican primary were white. But the census shows that most babies born in Georgia are now black, Hispanic or Asian. The number of registered minority voters has similarly soared since 2001.
The question remains, which party will these new voters support?
BJ Pak is a Republican state lawmaker from Gwinnett County. Born in South Korea, Pak is one of only a few non-white Republicans holding state office in Georgia (there’s also a black Republican lawmaker from Warner Robins).
Reflecting on Carter’s statement at his Atlanta law office, the 37-year-old father of two says Democrats are taking the minority vote for granted.
“I think you’ll see Asian Americans tend to be more independent voters,” he said. “They go back and forth. And Latino voters, you can’t just count on them all voting Democratic.”
Pak says many Asians here are small business owners, concerned about taxes, and therefore a natural fit for the GOP.
But he admits the law Republicans passed this year targeting illegal immigrants could alienate Latino voters. It will require companies to verify employees’ immigration status, among other provisions.
“I think it’s harder to earn the Latino vote as a Republican,” he said. “We probably need to redefine what it means to be Republican and we do run that danger of losing a generation of voters who are of Hispanic descent.”
The biggest coup for the GOP, arguably, would be attracting black voters. They make up 30 percent of Georgia’s population.
“The Republicans need to start nominating Black candidates. And that’s the bottom line,” says Mark Rountree,a GOP strategist. “Good, quality black candidates, who are running as conservatives. That would be the biggest change that could take place in Georgia.”
But that’s a change Republicans seem unprepared to make, says Kerwin Swint, a Kennesaw State University professor.
“The Republicans, if they continue to rely on the votes of white voters, and white male voters in particular, they will run into trouble,” he said.
To be sure, some change in the GOP camp is afoot. Republican Presidential candidate Herman Cain is a black businessman from Stockbridge. And he’s not the only black fiscal conservative from Georgia.
At an Atlanta Young Republicans event last month, Chris Sanders says the GOP appeals to younger blacks such as himself.
“My generation, we’re more educated. We’re in more positions of affluence and power. We have more spending capital,” he said, standing near the bar at Five Seasons Brewing. “And when you make more, you start looking at your paycheck and you see a big chunk of that is going to the federal government or a big chunk is going to the state government and you start asking yourself, why? Where is this money going?”
For now, the 30-year-old government worker admits he’s typically one of only a few non-whites at Republican events.
Blaze Javier was the only black woman at a recent Republican bowling outing. The Georgia State University student says her party affiliation often surprises people – even fellow Republicans.
“I always get, ‘Are you seriously a Republican? Like Seriously?’” she said, taking a break from bowling. “Even at the Republican events, it’s kind of like, ‘So how long have you been involved?’ It’s kind of a roundabout way of saying, ‘How did you get here exactly?’”
It may be a while before the term black Republican fails to raise eyebrows, especially in Georgia.
At the end of the decade, non-whites could make up the majority of the state’s population. And they will decide the party of the future