Analysis: Georgia Republicans pursue ‘blatant’ attempt to oust Lucy McBath

U.S. Rep. Lucy McBath speaks during a roundtable discussion at The Good Samaritan Health Center In Norcross as a part of The Biden’s Administration’s ‘Invest In America’ tour on Monday, April, 3 2023. (Natrice Miller/natrice.miller@ajc.com)

Credit: Natrice Miller/AJC

Credit: Natrice Miller/AJC

U.S. Rep. Lucy McBath speaks during a roundtable discussion at The Good Samaritan Health Center In Norcross as a part of The Biden’s Administration’s ‘Invest In America’ tour on Monday, April, 3 2023. (Natrice Miller/natrice.miller@ajc.com)

When U.S. Rep. Lucy McBath announced a U.S. House run in 2018, it was such a closely guarded secret that even many friends and activists were in the dark. Why the clandestine act? Her aides wanted to delay the inevitable GOP attacks as long as they could.

From even before she got in the race, McBath was seen as a formidable Democratic figure – a former flight attendant who became a nationally renowned gun control advocate after the senseless murder of her teenaged son.

She won that seat in 2018, ousting Republican incumbent Karen Handel from a suburban stretch north of Atlanta months after Democrat Jon Ossoff lost a vote for the same seat in a special U.S. House election.

Ever since, Republicans have tried – and failed – to oust McBath from office. Handel’s comeback bid in 2020 fell flat. So did a GOP-engineered effort to draw her out of her district a year later; McBath switched to a neighboring seat and defeated fellow Democrat Carolyn Bourdeaux to keep her place in Congress.

Now she faces a new threat. Viewed as a potential candidate for governor in 2026, Republicans carved up McBath’s Gwinnett-based district in a proposed map released Friday that could defy a federal judge’s order meant to increase Black voting power.

The district she now holds was split between two Democratic and two Republican incumbents. To McBath it’s another “blatant attempt to make me lose my seat.”

“My worst fears have unfortunately been confirmed,” she said in a note to supporters. “The GOP has shown they’ll do anything and everything in their power to force me out of the Capitol.”

If the map is approved by lawmakers, as is expected next week, it won’t just set up a chaotic political shuffle of Democratic-held seats across metro Atlanta. It will also trigger a new phase in a legal battle to undermine the Voting Rights Act.

And the courts may well ultimately favor Republicans, given the conservative makeup of the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals, which could render the final verdict on the maps.

‘Special-master’ vibes?

Republicans say they followed the letter of U.S. District Judge Steve Jones’ ruling, which called for a new majority-Black district in west metro Atlanta. The new 6th District encompasses parts of Cobb, Douglas, Fayette and Fulton Counties.

Republican incumbents, meanwhile, emerged unscathed thanks to their GOP allies in the Legislature. U.S. Rep. Rich McCormick, a first-term lawmaker who captured McBath’s former district last year, was perhaps the most vulnerable Republican in an overhaul.

His allies quietly put out word that he could seek statewide office, potentially threatening other powerful Republicans, if he was drawn out of his seat. And he said in an interview hours before the maps were released that he was “not scared of a challenge.”

On Friday, his supporters breathed a sigh of relief. Lawmakers reconfigured the 7th District -- the seat now held by McBath -- into a deeply conservative territory that stretches from Sandy Springs to the north Georgia mountains. It seems tailor-made for McCormick.

Rep. Rich McCormick (R-GA) leaves a House Republican caucus meeting at the U.S. Capitol on Sept. 19, 2023, in Washington, D.C. (Kevin Dietsch/Getty Images/TNS)

Credit: TNS

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Credit: TNS

Infuriated Democrats believe Republicans are spoiling for a drawn-out legal fight that could threaten the Voting Rights Act, the landmark legislation that prohibits racial discrimination in elections.

State Sen. Josh McLaurin said the proposals are giving “special-master” vibes – a reference to the court-appointed expert who could wind up redrawing Georgia’s political boundaries if Jones so orders.

“Republicans are acting like they are following the court’s order by making any new majority-Black districts, regardless of where they are,” said Democratic state Sen. Josh McLaurin, a Sandy Springs attorney.

“But the court specified the locations where they have to go, and they have to be ‘additional’ to the majority-Black districts that are already in those specific locations. By that test, which is the actual legal test, the maps fail.”

As for McBath, she’s indicated she will fight to remain in Congress no matter how the district lines shake out. Her top aide Jake Orvis said “refuses to let an extremist few in the state Legislature determine when her time serving Georgians in Congress is done.”

The GOP’s focus on unseating McBath could also pose short-term legal consequences if Jones decides the Legislature was “thumbing their nose” at him, said University of Georgia political scientist Charles Bullock, a redistricting expert.

“It’s a head in the sand approach,” he added. “If the judge finds problems with these maps, he’ll just bring in a special master to draw them again. And then Republican lawmakers suddenly could find themselves in hot water.”

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