Senate district flipped by new map causes first-term Democrat to eye House seat

Credit: Hyosub Shin/AJC

Credit: Hyosub Shin/AJC

Recently approved maps redrawing lines for legislative districts have pushed a first-term Democratic state senator — and the first Asian American woman to serve in the Georgia Senate — to attempt to switch chambers after her seat was drawn in a way that drastically changed its racial and partisan makeup.

State Sen. Michelle Au, a Johns Creek Democrat, said she made the practical decision to switch races and run for the House seat now held by Democratic state Rep. Angelika Kausche, who isn’t seeking reelection.

“I compare it to getting a bad diagnosis,” said Au, who is a physician. “You eventually say, ‘This is what we’re working with and now we’re going to have to move on.’

“We look at what our goals are. I realize that my goal in doing any of this is to keep doing the work. It’s not about ego, it’s not about the title, which seat you’re sitting in, which desk you’re at. It has to be about doing the work.”

House District 50, which Au declared her candidacy for on Friday, will continue to be a safely Democratic district, according to analysis by The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

Members of the Republican majority who drew the maps disagreed that the new district was unwinnable, but they also added that they weren’t required to protect incumbents.

“Our first responsibility is to balance the population under the United States Constitution,” Senate Redistricting Chairman John Kennedy, a Macon Republican, said during the redistricting session last month.

Redistricting is required every 10 years to ensure that districts have the same populations following the U.S. census. Georgia’s population increased by 1 million over the past decade to a total of 10.7 million. And all the growth came from people of color — who predominantly support Democrats — while the number of white Georgians — a majority of whom support Republicans — declined.

The new Senate District 48 includes parts of north Fulton County and swaps voters from Democratic Gwinnett County for more conservative voters in Forsyth County. The AJC’s analysis shows voters in the district swing from supporting Democrat Joe Biden in 2020 to voting for Republican Donald Trump.

But Au said that when she studied the results of local races, Democratic candidates fared even less well than Biden in the new district.

“In down-ticket races, it’s a far more Republican seat than it even appears,” she said. “My assessment after a lot of consideration — and I agonized about this — is I don’t think that seat is winnable for a Democrat, at least not in the short term.”

The district also changed drastically in terms of racial demographics. Senate District 48 is currently a “majority-minority” district, where white residents make up about 35% of the population. Asian American residents account for about 28% of the population, with Black and Hispanic residents forming about 17% and 15% of the population, respectively.

While the new district slightly increases the percentage of Asian American residents to almost 32%, the percentage of white residents grows to 49%, and the Black and Hispanic populations shrink to about 8% each. When looking at the voting age population, the district flips from being majority-minority to majority white, with the share of white voters in the district growing to 52% — an increase of more than 14 percentage points.

Cindy Battles of the Georgia Coalition for the People’s Agenda, a civil rights organization, said that having the Senate lose its first and only Asian American woman to serve in the chamber does a disservice to residents in metro Atlanta.

“It’s not making sure that there’s enough Democrats and enough Republicans, it’s that the General Assembly reflects the diversity the census tells us it has in the state,” she said. “It doesn’t now, but with the new maps its going to be even less.”