Georgia House Democrats select new leadership after so-so election showing

The House Democratic Caucus on Tuesday elected state Rep. James Beverly of Macon to be the party's new leader in the chamber. BOB ANDRES  /BANDRES@AJC.COM
The House Democratic Caucus on Tuesday elected state Rep. James Beverly of Macon to be the party's new leader in the chamber. BOB ANDRES /BANDRES@AJC.COM

Credit: Bob Andres

Credit: Bob Andres

Georgia House Democrats on Tuesday selected Macon state Rep. James Beverly to lead their party for the next two years, succeeding Minority Leader Bob Trammell of Luthersville, who lost his reelection bid last week after being targeted by national Republicans.

Trammell, one of the state’s last rural white Democrats, served as leader since 2017 and was targeted by about $1 million in spending by the Washington-based Republican State Leadership Committee, which made defeating him its top priority.

First elected in 2011, Beverly, 52, is an optometrist with private practices in Macon. He was elected as caucus chairman in 2017.

In a meeting of the House Democratic Caucus on Tuesday, Beverly defeated East Point state Rep. William Boddie — who served as the caucus whip — in the race for party leader.

Beverly sat talking with Trammell for much of the remainder of the meeting after his election, with the outgoing leader sharing the ins and outs of the job.

“Bob is a good man,” Beverly said. “I know at times people say, ‘You and Bob have a great relationship,’ That’s because it was forged in fire. We didn’t always see eye to eye on things, but it was always respectful. I couldn’t have a better friend.”

Beverly is taking over the House party leadership after it fell far short of its goal to flip at least 16 seats in last week’s election in its attempt to take back control of the House for the first time in 15 years. Instead, Democrats gained only two seats.

He will also lead the party’s battle for a say in the drawing of new district lines for legislative and congressional seats in 2021, when Republicans will try to add seats and cement in place incumbents who had close calls last week.

Georgia lawmakers draw their own districts — essentially choosing their voters — in a process that occurs every 10 years following a U.S. census. New voting maps are drawn to reapportion the state’s growing population.

Beverly said he’s spent the summer "working with the National Democratic Redistricting Committee to figure out how we could create fair maps for Democrats across the state in order to protect our members and expand our base,” he said.

When nominating Beverly as leader, state Rep. Karla Drenner of Avondale Estates said his strong character will get him through the process.

“For those of you that have gone through a redistricting process, it will be the biggest challenge that your character will face as a legislator,” she said.

House Republicans on Monday renominated Speaker David Ralston of Blue Ridge and Speaker Pro Tem Jan Jones of Milton for another term, which will be finalized by the House in January. Minority leaders are sometimes put up against majority nominees for speaker for a vote on the first day of the session, but the majority party — in this case Republicans — always win the vote.

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