Brookhaven House seat switches to a Democrat

Democrats have gained a seat in the Georgia House of Representatives after Taylor Bennett, a 29-year-old discrimination attorney and former Georgia Tech quarterback, won a runoff election Tuesday.

Bennett defeated Republican J. Max Davis, the first mayor of Brookhaven and a leader of the cityhood movement that led to the community’s incorporation in 2012. Bennett received 55 percent of the vote.

Bennett will represent about 50,000 people in House District 80, which includes parts of Brookhaven, Chamblee and Sandy Springs in DeKalb and Fulton counties.

With help campaigning from his college teammate, Detroit Lions receiver Calvin Johnson, Bennett captured a seat that had been held since 2005 by Mike Jacobs, a Republican recently appointed by Gov. Nathan Deal to serve as a judge in DeKalb State Court.

Bennett, whose mother is gay, said he will fight against a “religious liberty” proposal pending in the Georgia General Assembly. Opponents of the legislation say it would lead to discrimination against gays and lesbians, but supporters say it would protect people of any religion from government interference.

“We, as a society, have to move in a direction that prevents people from being discriminated against,” Bennett said. “I believe in keeping intact people’s freedoms, but I believe that legislation that was proposed wasn’t necessary to do that. I want to make sure we’re not finding ways to discriminate.”

Bennett said he will also push for a law that requires campaign mailings to disclose who paid for them, and he supports a proposed expansion of MARTA.

Democrats hailed his victory — a rare event in a Republican-leaning district. No one had opposed Jacobs in a general election since 2010.

“The voters in Brookhaven and surrounding communities made it clear that they want an ethical leader to represent them under the golden dome,” said House Minority Leader Rep. Stacey Abrams, D-Atlanta. “He will be an outstanding legislator.”

Bennett’s election gives Democrats control of Fulton County’s legislative delegation, where Republicans had held a 13-12 majority.

His win also gives Democrats more than one-third of the seats in the state House, which is enough to block constitutional amendment bills from passing if the party votes together. There are now 117 Republicans, 61 Democrats and one independent in the House. One seat is vacant following the recent resignation of Rep. Ben Harbin, R-Evans.

During the campaign, Davis faced harassment accusations from a city employee he oversaw when he was Brookhaven’s mayor, a charge he denies.

He received support from top state Republicans, including Deal and House Speaker David Ralston, but his party’s local members were split between him and Catherine Bernard, a fellow Republican who finished in third place in last month’s special election. Bernard refused to endorse Davis in the runoff.

“Certain people did not want to participate on the Republican side because they didn’t like the candidate. How’d that work out?” said Sen. Fran Millar, R-Atlanta.

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Staff writer Jim Galloway contributed to this article.