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Tom Crawford: Battles actually brewing in some legislative races
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If you write about legislative races in Georgia, the last few elections have been downright boring in their predictability.

Republicans go into the November election holding a 2-to-1 advantage in legislative seats over their Democratic counterparts. Republicans come out of the election holding that same 2-to-1 advantage.

There are very few legislative districts that are drawn to be really competitive, so you can figure out in advance which ones will remain Republican and which will stay in the Democratic column.

That scenario could change a little this year. Events of the past two weeks have put at least two House seats up for grabs, raising the possibility of something you rarely see these days: competitive legislative races.

In southwest Georgia’s House District 151, Kenneth Zachary has been certified by the secretary of state’s office to run as an independent against Rep. Gerald Greene, R-Cuthbert.

Zachary is actually a fill-in for the Georgia Democratic Party, which originally qualified James Williams to run against Greene.

Because of an error by local election officials, Williams was disqualified when it was found he didn’t reside within the district boundaries. Zachary subsequently gathered enough petition signatures to get on the ballot against Greene.

The demographic makeup of House District 151 would make it promising for any Democratic candidate: its voting age population is 52 percent black and 5 percent Latino, and it went for Barack Obama in 2012 by 56-44 percent.

Greene, in fact, represented the district as a Democrat for his first 30 years in the legislature. He didn’t switch to the Republican Party until 2012.

Greene has more financial resources than Zachary for the upcoming campaign — he had $69,000 in his campaign account as of June 30 compared to $300 for Zachary, and House Republicans will give him more money in an attempt to hang onto the seat.

But in a presidential election year where black voter turnout is greater, this could develop into a competitive House race.

There could also be a very spirited race in Middle Georgia’s House District 145, probably the most evenly divided legislative district in the state. In the 2012 presidential election, the district’s voters went for Mitt Romney by exactly five votes over Barack Obama: 9,670 for Romney, 9,665 for Obama.

Rep. Rusty Kidd of Milledgeville recognized the divided nature of his district, choosing to serve as the only independent member of the General Assembly.

But Kidd said recently he won’t run again because of medical issues. That leaves the race to Republican Rick Williams, a former Baldwin County commissioner, and Floyd Griffin, a former state senator and mayor of Milledgeville, who both have experience in running for office.

House Minority Leader Stacey Abrams, D-Atlanta, was undoubtedly referring to these two districts when she said in a cable TV interview that Democrats had a shot at winning Republican seats in November.

“Right now, we are on track to flip three seats, but we can flip even more,” said Abrams, who didn’t identify the districts. “The demography has been leading us in this direction for quite some time, and (Donald) Trump is just the fuel we needed to accelerate our progress,” Abrams said. “He has had an extraordinary ability to unify every community that opposes him.”

On the other side of the rotunda, you could also see a possible party flip in Senate District 43, which includes portions of DeKalb, Rockdale and Newton counties.

Former legislator Tonya Anderson won the Democratic runoff election for this seat by a 10-vote margin over state Rep. Dee Dawkins-Haigler, D-Lithonia. That sets up a rematch of last year’s special election that was called in this district when Ron Ramsey stepped down to accept a judgeship.

Rockdale County Republican JaNice VanNess defeated Anderson by 84 votes in a low-turnout special election, despite the fact that the district is 59 percent black, 6 percent Latino, and gave 71.5 percent of its votes to Obama in 2012. In a regular election year, that result might be reversed.

If all these changes were to happen, it wouldn’t change the current balance of power in the legislature. No matter what, Republicans will still hold a strong majority in both the House and Senate.

But we may actually have some suspense on election night.

Tom Crawford is editor of The Georgia Report at gareport.com.

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