Lilburn House district shows Gwinnett’s changing politics

State Rep. B.J. Pak’s Lilburn-area district was reliably Republican for a generation.

The GOP candidates competing to replace him say it still is and are campaigning on traditional conservative issues like tax cuts, the Second Amendment and the sanctity of unborn life. But, with changing demographics in Gwinnett County, Democrats believe they now have a shot at winning the House District 108 seat.

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.”

Two Republicans are battling in the May 24 primary to see who faces the lone Democrat in November.

Former state Rep. Clay Cox, a Lilburn Republican, is seeking to regain the seat. He represented the area from 2005 to 2011 before leaving the legislature for an unsuccessful run for Congress.

Cox, 47, owns a probation company that works for local governments. If elected, he says he would seek to cut spending, eliminate the state income tax and get rid of public funding for Planned Parenthood. He also supports the campus carry and religious liberty legislation that Gov. Nathan Deal recently vetoed to the chagrin of many conservatives.

Cox said his statehouse experience would serve the district well.

“I think experience is important,” Cox said. “I certainly know my way around the Capitol.”

Cox faces Patricia Gabilondo, 56, in the Republican primary. She’s a retired corporate executive and former president of the Lilburn Women’s Club. She said the General Assembly should “move away from the traditional professional politicians.”

If elected, she said she would address traffic, infrastructure and public safety problems in the district. Like Cox, she said she supports the Second Amendment. But she said she would ask constituents how she should vote on campus carry legislation.

Gabilondo said she wants to “take small steps and get it right” on religious liberty. She supports the Pastor Protection Act, which would ensure no member of the clergy could be forced to perform a same-sex wedding ceremony.

Tokhir Radjabov, 31, is the lone Democrat running in the race. A native of Tajikistan, he said his parents sent him to the United States at age 15 as the Soviet Union collapsed. After college, he worked as a nurse and founded a home health care business, a medical equipment company and other ventures.

Radjabov said his top priorities are education reform, health care reform (including expanding Medicaid) and improving government transparency. He also supports light rail or some other mass transit option for Gwinnett.

He believes those issues will resonate with voters.

“I’m a businessman,” Radjabov said. “If I didn’t think (I had a chance), I wouldn’t be wasting my time.”