Many Democrats see her as a traitor to the party’s core ideals, an attention-seeking opportunist pursuing her own political agenda. They’re recruiting candidates to run against her, with one senator offering a $1,000 donation to jump-start the campaign of whoever steps up.
To Mainor, it’s her fellow Democrats who need to bend, not the other way around.
“I’m not a puppet. No one tells me how to do anything,” Mainor said. “Some of my Republican friends, they joke a lot, saying, ‘You should become a Republican.’ I’ve never thought about that. I want the Democrats to change.”
Rather than backing down, Mainor hopes she can use her maverick reputation and support for school choice to win higher office someday. She said she would consider a run for state schools superintendent.
Mainor’s Democratic Party peers have one word for her: “Disappointment.”
Credit: Arvin Temkar/AJC
Credit: Arvin Temkar/AJC
“We were screaming bloody murder during session, saying, ‘Please don’t vote for this,’ ” said Minority Leader James Beverly, a Democrat from Macon. “When it’s a value proposition around education or around elections, that becomes extremely important for you to stick with us.”
No Democrat votes with Republicans more often than Mainor, according to an Atlanta Journal-Constitution analysis of every vote on bills during this year’s legislative session.
Mainor voted “yes” on 95% of legislation in the Republican-controlled state House, including GOP-backed bills to allow $6,500 private school vouchers, create a state board to investigate district attorneys, ban government COVID-19 vaccination requirements and remove bipartisan appointments to a South Georgia elections board.
Almost all other Democrats opposed each of those measures. In comparison with Mainor, Beverly voted “yes” on 89% of bills that reached votes in the state House, most of which were bipartisan and uncontroversial.
Mainor, a single mother of two daughters, is a physical therapist whose political views were shaped by her personal experiences growing up near crack addicts who loitered around her Westside school bus stop.
After an Atlanta school board member told her to move to a different district if she wanted a better education for her daughter, Mainor supported vouchers, a proposal that ultimately fell a few votes short of passing this year.
When prosecutors didn’t pursue a stalker who continued to threaten her after he was convicted and imprisoned, she backed the district attorney oversight bill.
Two years ago, she voted in favor of a Republican bill that prevented local governments from passing budgets that “defund” the police by more than 5% to redirect money to mental health, homelessness or workforce development.
“Every election year I hear ‘Black Lives Matter,’ but do they? I see every other minority being prioritized except Black children living in poverty that can’t read,” Mainor said in a video she posted on Twitter. “We’ll send a million dollars to the border for immigrant services, but Black communities? Not even a shout-out.”
State Sen. Josh McLaurin, a Democrat from Atlanta, said Mainor is basking in the attention of the ruling party in exchange for political favors, a claim that she denies.
Mainor enjoys a front-row seat in the House, and she was able to get a bill passed that allowed historically Black colleges at the Atlanta University Center — Clark Atlanta, Morehouse and Spelman — to form a unified police force. Republican Gov. Brian Kemp signed it into law.
“She is proactively selling out her caucus so that she individually can be more successful,” said McLaurin, who made a public offer to donate to the campaign of a challenger to Mainor in next year’s primary. “Rep. Mainor seems to relish not just in bucking the party, but also sowing dissention and increasing disunity with Democrats, and Republicans couldn’t be happier about the way she does that.”
After Mainor posted the video about her feud with Democrats over education, the official account of the Republican National Committee amplified her position with a retweet that said, “Always good to see elected officials on the other side of the aisle call for more school choice!”
Conservative political commentator C.J. Pearson, chief strategist for Democrat-turned-Republican Vernon Jones during his run for Congress last year, said Mainor is taking a courageous stand on her principles, regardless of party labels.
“She’s not some conservative bomb thrower. She’s just simply someone who says, ‘I disagree with the party,’ ” Pearson said. “It can be a lonely fight for her, but there are a lot of people who are cheering her on.”
House Education Chairman Chris Erwin said Mainor’s outspoken advocacy shows that she cares for what’s best for children.
“She digs into bills and questions the people presenting the bill,” said Erwin, a Republican from Homer. “She does a very good job of coming prepared with her questions. I’m very proud of that, because that’s not always the case for all legislators.”
When Mainor was first elected in 2020, she took over for one of the most liberal members of the General Assembly, “Able” Mable Thomas, who after 22 years in office didn’t seek reelection to the district where 90% of voters supported President Joe Biden.
“She has been very good at presenting herself as if she is someone who came up with new ideas that, to me, aren’t so new at all,” Thomas said. “Most of the time she’s just not really representing what people really want or need, yet she is still focused on presenting a story with a smile.”
No one has stepped up yet to run against Mainor next year after she defeated two Democrats in the 2022 primary with 65% of the vote.
Mainor said she embraces each challenge from her own party, which only serves to strengthen her resolve and give her a broader platform to spread her views.
“I’m not afraid to go up against anyone,” Mainor said. “I have way too many people that support school choice. I’ve had constituents come and just want to tell me, ‘Thank you for fighting for us.’ ”