Votes for change, fresh views alter Cobb, Gwinnett school boards

Although a few election results are still out, three Democrats on the Cobb County school board and two on Gwinnett County’s school board show that the two largest school districts in the state are in the thick of a trend of gradually moving to the left.

Voters like Jen Cox, a East Cobb County parent who voted for Democrat Charisse Davis, said they were looking for a change from the status quo.

“I, and a lot of other parents were tired of being ignored,” she said. “I want to see a school board that will listen to other points of view. And one that’s more reflective of the community.”

Cox was among a large number of whites who voted for Davis, who is black. In Cobb School District 4, 65 percent of the voters were white and only 17.8 percent were African-American. So Davis had to attract voters from across racial lines to win.

“I think voters were looking for someone with an education background,” Davis said. “I’m a parent and I’m an educator that’s part of what’s happening now. … When I’ve attended board meetings I was amazed that so much of the conversation had nothing to do with education.”

Cox added that as a woman, Davis brings a perspective that the all-male board doesn’t have. Coupled with Democrats Jaha Howard, a dentist who had no competition and was elected to his first office, and David Morgan, who is in his second term, there are now three blacks out of seven representing a school district with more than 30 percent black students.

Cox’s daughter, a student at Walton High School, was among those who participated in the March student walkout protesting gun violence.

“There were so many conflicting statements regarding what the schools were going to do, what the school board was going to do in terms of discipline or allowing the students to protest,” said Cox. “It was confusing and showed a lack of real leadership.”

Cox is part of a Democratic wave in the county that started in the last presidential election.

In 2012, Mitt Romney took the win in Cobb with 55.4 percent of the vote to President Barack Obama’s 42.9 percent, according to the MIT Election Data and Science Lab.

In the 2016 presidential election, the script began to flip. Hillary Clinton took 48.4 percent of the vote to Republican Donald Trump’s 46.2 percent.

The recent midterm election brought about other surprising changes.

Midterms typically do not attract the number of voters that a presidential election does. But in Cobb County, uncertified results from the Cobb County Board of Elections show 301,302 people voted Tuesday. That is near the 2012 vote for president, which was 310,116; but not as much as the 330,810 who voted in the highly polarized 2016 election between Hillary Clinton and now-President Donald Trump.

University of Georgia political science professor Charles Bullock agreed with many national pundits that Georgia’s gradiation to blue is pushback against the Trump administration — even on the hyperlocal level.

“The fact that the board races are partisan says a lot,” he said.

Bullock added that given that both Cobb and even more so Gwinnett have increasing minority populations, it was just a matter of time before they would have more representation in local government.

Everton Blair was aware of that as he went door to door seeking votes for the District 4 seat he won on Gwinnett's school board.

“I was part of a great group,” he said.

Fellow first-time Democratic candidates Jasmine Clark, who won Georgia House of Representatives 108th district and Ben Ku, who won the Gwinnett County Commission District 2 seat, had overlapping areas and kind of campaigned together.

“As young, educated professionals, we represented a sort of ‘Justice League,’ ” Blair laughed.

The proof is in the numbers.

In the 2012 presidential election, Gwinnett voted 53.87 percent for Romney, 44.65 percent for Obama.

That flipped four years later.

In the 2016 presidential election, Gwinnett voted 50.6 percent for Clinton, 44.76 for Trump.

Also, in Gwinnett District 4, 43.9 percent of voters who came to the polls in 2018 were white, and 30.3 percent were African-American and 15.7 were Asian or Hispanic.

Those demographics were reflected in Blair’s supporters. The election-night watch party at his home looked like a Coca-Cola ad, with people of varying ages and ethnicities cheering him on.

“I galvanized a group of people who were discontent with the way things were going,” said Blair. “The people of South Gwinnett were tired of the vast inequities. As a collective we want our fair share.”

It’s the way that he attracted a kind of human gumbo that made Blair an appealing candidate, said Shauna Young.

A resident of Sugar Hill for about a decade, she said she was pleased and excited to see someone so young who had passion for the future of this area.

“It’s time for fresh ideas and fresh faces on the school board,” she said. “We need someone who had new ideas and new ways of thinking.”

Steve Knudsen is the unofficial winner in the race for Gwinnett’s school board District 2, over another black candidate, Wandy Taylor, by a margin of just 175 votes.

Forty-eight percent of those who voted in Gwinnett Tuesday were white, 22.3 percent were black and 15.7 percent were Asian and Hispanic

But as Bullock pointed out, Gwinnett is beginning to look a lot like DeKalb County did 50 years ago. As areas in Georgia become less rural and suburban, they become more liberal.

“South DeKalb was predominately white and conservative back then,” he said. “The last two Republicans have been voted out. You’d be hard pressed to find a Republican there now.”