Stories about Georgia

Rate of state legislative incumbents facing contested primaries in Georgia at its highest since 2014

Image of the Georgia State Capitol in Atlanta, Georgia.

Sixty-three of the 188 Georgia state legislators running for re-election this year—27 Democrats and 36 Republicans—face contested primaries. That equals 34% of incumbents seeking re-election, the highest rate since 2014. The remaining 66% of incumbents are not facing primary challengers.

A contested primary is one where more candidates are running than there are nominations available. After redistricting, it is common to see primaries where two incumbents run against one another. This can happen if a district’s lines are redrawn to place two incumbents in the same district.

This year, there are three incumbent versus incumbent primaries in Georgia. In these races, since only one candidate can win the nomination, one incumbent is guaranteed to lose:

  • House District 100: Reps. David Clark (R) and Bonnie Rich (R), from House Districts 98 and 97, respectively, filed to run against one another.
  • House District 106: Rep. Shelly Hutchinson (D), from House District 107, filed to run against Rep. Rebecca Mitchell (D).
  • House District 149: Rep. Danny Mathis (R), from House District 144, filed to run against Rep. Robert Pruitt (R).

The total number of contested primaries—including those without incumbents—also reached its highest point since 2014. With 236 districts, there are 472 possible primaries every election cycle.

This year, there are 104 contested primaries—51 Democratic primaries and 53 for Republicans. For Democrats, this is up from 49 in 2020, a 4% increase. For Republicans, that number increased 71%, from 31 in 2020 to 53 in 2022.

This is also the state’s first cycle since 2016 with more Republican primaries than those for Democrats.

The filing deadline for candidates running for state legislative office in Georgia this year was March 11. Candidates filed to run for all of the state’s 56 Senate districts and 180 House districts.

Fifty-one of those districts were left open, meaning no incumbents filed to run, the most since 2014.

Overall, 495 major party candidates filed to run this year: 238 Democrats and 257 Republicans. That equals 2.1 candidates per district, up from 2.0 in 2020 and 1.9 in 2018.

Georgia has been a Republican trifecta Republicans won control of the state House in 2004. Republicans currently hold a 34-22 majority in the Senate and a 103-76 majority in the House.

Georgia’s primaries are scheduled for May 24, the fifth statewide primary date of the 2022 state legislative election cycle.

Additional reading:

Georgia has the most candidates running for the U.S. House in at least a decade

The filing deadline for candidates running for Congress in Georgia this year was March 11, 2022. Eighty-two candidates are running for Georgia’s 14 U.S. House districts, including 31 Democrats and 51 Republicans. That’s 5.86 candidates per district, more than the 5.5 candidates per district in 2020 and the 3.42 in 2018.

Here are some other highlights from this year’s filings:

  1. This is the first election to take place under new district lines following the 2020 census. Georgia was apportioned 14 districts, the same number it was apportioned after the 2010 census.
  2. The 82 candidates running this year are the most candidates running for Georgia’s U.S. House seats since at least 2012, when 44 candidates ran.
  1. Two seats — the 6th and the 10th — are open, meaning no incumbents are running. That’s one less than in 2020 when three seats were open. There were no open seats in 2018, one in 2016, and three in 2014.
  2. Rep. Jody Hice (R), who represents the 10th district, is running for Georgia Secretary of State. Thirteen candidates — five Democrats and eight Republicans — are running to replace him, the most candidates running for a seat this year. 
  3. Rep. Lucy McBath (D), who represents the 6th district, is running in the 7th district this year. She is the only incumbent running in a different district than the one she currently represents. 
  4. Rep. Carolyn Bourdeaux (D), the incumbent in the 7th district, is running for re-election. That makes the 7th district the only district featuring two incumbents running against each other.
  5. There are eight contested Democratic primaries this year, the same number as in 2020 and 2018. 

There are nine contested Republican primaries, one more than in 2020 and the highest number since at least 2012. 

  1. There are eight incumbents in contested primaries this year, the most since at least 2012. 
  1. Five incumbents are not facing any primary challengers. 
  2. Candidates filed to run in the Republican and Democratic primaries in all 14 districts, so no seats are guaranteed to either party this year. The last year in which a party was guaranteed a seat because no candidate from the other party filed was 2018, when then-incumbent Rep. John Lewis (D) ran unopposed in the general election for the 5th district. 

Georgia and two other states — Alabama and Arkansas — are holding primary elections on May 24. A candidate must receive a majority of votes in order to win a primary election in Georgia. If no candidate wins an outright majority of votes cast, a runoff primary between the top two vote-getters will be held on June 21.

Additional reading:

Georgia voters to decide timber equipment tax exemption on Nov. 8

Georgia voters will decide whether to exempt timber equipment from property taxes on Nov. 8

The measure would exempt any equipment owned by a timber business and used in the production or harvest of timber from ad valorem property taxes. The House approved House Bill 997, which proposed the measure, on March 15 by a vote of 171-0. The Senate approved it on March 30 by a vote of 50-1. Gov. Brian Kemp (R) signed House Bill 997 on May 10, sending the measure to the ballot for voter approval.

The Georgia Constitution requires legislation exempting property from taxes to be approved by a two-thirds vote in each chamber of the legislature, signed by the governor, and approved by a majority of voters at a statewide election.

In addition to HB 997, Kemp signed multiple bills on May 10 concerning conservation, natural resources, hunting, and fishing. Kemp said, “The bills I signed into law will help us treat the forestry industry the same way that we do agriculture as well as protect hunting, fishing, and conservation land, and more.” Agriculture equipment is currently exempt from property taxes.

This measure was the fourth statewide measure certified for the Nov. 8 ballot. Voters will decide another legislatively referred state statute to expand the existing agriculture equipment tax exemption to include merged family farms and to extend the exemption to dairy products and eggs. Voters will also decide two constitutional amendments:

  • an amendment to suspend pay for certain public officials if they are suspended from office for being indicted for a felony and
  • an amendment to allow local governments to grant temporary tax relief to certain properties that are damaged or destroyed due to a disaster.

Georgia voters decided 84 statewide measures from 1996 through 2020, averaging seven per election and ranging from two to 12. Voters approved 71 (84.5%) and defeated 13 (15.5%).

Additional reading:

2020 presidential election at the center of Republican primary for Georgia Secretary of State

Image of the Georgia State Capitol in Atlanta, Georgia.

Four candidates are running in the Republican primary for Georgia Secretary of State on May 24, 2022. Incumbent Brad Raffensperger and Jody Hice have performed best in polling. If no candidate receives more than 50 percent of the vote, the top two finishers will compete in a runoff election.

Former President Donald Trump (R) endorsed Hice on March 22, 2021. In his endorsement, Trump said, “Unlike the current Georgia Secretary of State, Jody leads out front with integrity. I have 100% confidence in Jody to fight for Free, Fair, and Secure Elections in Georgia, in line with our beloved U.S. Constitution. Jody will stop the Fraud and get honesty into our Elections!” Joseph Ax of Reuters wrote that Raffensperger “has been one of Trump’s most frequent targets ever since he refused, emphatically and publicly, to capitulate to the demands of the former president, his fellow Republican, to ‘find’ enough votes to overturn the results in Georgia’s 2020 presidential vote.”

Raffensperger was elected as Secretary of State in 2018. Raffensperger has disputed Trump’s claims about election fraud in 2020 and directly criticized Hice over those claims. During a January 2022 appearance on CBS’ Face The Nation, Raffensperger said, “Congressman Hice, he’s been in Congress for several years. He’s never done a single piece of election reform legislation. Then he certified his own race with those same machines, the same ballots, and yet for President Trump, he said you couldn’t trust that.” Raffensperger’s website highlighted a #1 ranking in election integrity from the Heritage Foundation as an example of his leadership and conservative values.

Hice was elected to the U.S. House in 2014. Hice has supported Trump’s claims about election fraud in 2020. At a May 2022 debate, he said, “The ‘big lie’ in all of this is that there were no problems with this past election. This past election was an absolute disaster under the leadership of Brad Raffensperger.” Hice objected to the counting of Georgia’s electoral votes during the joint session of Congress on Jan. 6, 2021. Hice said he would “aggressively pursue voter fraud” and would seek to make final election results available on election night.

The Secretary of State is responsible for a wide range of services and regulatory duties, in addition to being the keeper of the Great Seal of Georgia and the custodian of the state flag and other state symbols. The secretary of state also chairs the Claims Advisory Board, which receives, investigates, and hears civil claims against the state. Responsibilities of the secretary’s office include supervising and monitoring elections and providing campaign finance disclosure, managing and preserving public records, and licensing, monitoring, and registering professionals and businesses.

Also running in the primary are Torri M. Hudson and David Belle Isle.

Additional reading:

Six candidates running in U.S. Senate Republican primary election in Georgia

Six candidates are running in the Republican Party primary election for U.S. Senator from Georgia on May 24, 2022. Gary Black, Kelvin King, Latham Saddler, and Herschel Walker have led in fundraising and media attention. Josh Clark and Jonathan McColumn are also running.

NPR‘s Domenico Montanaro said, “Walker, a former Heisman-winning University of Georgia Bulldog who has Trump’s endorsement, may have high name identification in the state, but he’s untested as a candidate. Walker has written about his battle with dissociative identity disorder and is facing allegations of domestic abuse from past relationships and that he exaggerated his post-football business success.” Politifact‘s Louis Jacobson wrote, “Walker’s primary opponents aren’t hitting him on policy. Rather, they are focusing on past allegations of domestic violence made between 2001 and 2008.”

Black was elected Georgia Commissioner of Agriculture in 2011 and occupied the office at the time of the election. Black worked as a cattle rancher and held positions in the Georgia Farm Bureau and Georgia Agribusiness Council. “I’m running for the U.S. Senate to take America back! We need our government to focus on its fundamental responsibility — not the change to the foundations of our country being pushed by Raphael Warnock and Joe Biden,” Black said. Black challenged Walker’s electability based on past allegations of domestic abuse, saying, “Folks, he can’t win in November. The baggage is too heavy. It’ll never happen.” Former Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal (R), U.S. Sen. Cindy Hyde-Smith (R), and U.S. Rep. Andrew Clyde (R) endorsed Black.

King served as an officer in the U.S. Air Force and worked in procurement, business development, and construction. King founded Osprey Management, a construction firm. “I believe our nation deserves better than President Biden and his weak leadership, just as I believe our state deserves better than Senator Warnock’s divisive far-left representation,” King said. King’s campaign released an ad focused on allegations of domestic violence against Walker: “After the violence, the abuse, the stalking, the death threats, Herschel Walker still has not been forthright with the people of Georgia, not about his violent behavior or the threats he has made against women and police.” The Georgia Republican Assembly endorsed King.

Saddler served as a U.S. Navy SEAL officer and was Director of Intelligence Programs for the National Security Council. Saddler also worked as a White House Fellow from 2018 to 2019. Saddler said his platform is based on the “three foundational pillars” of security, liberty, and prosperity, and his campaign website said, “Latham Saddler has fought for our nation abroad and at home to ensure just that — an America that is strong, secure and free. For you, your children and many generations to come. As your United States Senator, Latham will be relentless in this pursuit.” Saddler criticized Walker’s absence at debates and GOP events, saying, “If Herschel Walker can’t even debate Republicans, how is he going to hold Raphael Warnock accountable in a general election?” The Republican Jewish Coalition of Georgia endorsed Saddler.

Walker was a professional athlete and Olympian and worked for a number of food-supply businesses. Former President Donald Trump (R) appointed Walker as chairman of the Council on Sports, Fitness, and Nutrition in 2018. Walker said his campaign was about “saving our country and the great state of Georgia from President Biden’s disastrous agenda which has led to higher prices, out-of-control crime, dangerous open borders, and ‘America Last’ foreign policy.” Responding to criticism of Walker’s electability, campaign spokesperson Mallory Blount said, “The other Republicans in this race are at less than 15% combined. Their only strategy to gain any sort of relevance is to obsess over Herschel. Herschel is solely focused on beating Raphael Warnock.” Trump endorsed Walker in September of 2021, and Walker also received endorsements from Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R), Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R), former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, Fox News host Sean Hannity, and evangelist Franklin Graham.

The Cook Political Report rated the general election a Tossup, meaning neither party has an advantage. In the last regular general election for the seat, incumbent Johnny Isakson (R), who assumed office in 2005, defeated Jim Barksdale (D) with 55% of the vote to Barksdale’s 41%. Gov. Brian Kemp (R) appointed Kelly Loeffler (R) to the Senate seat after Isakson resigned in December 2019 for health reasons. Raphael Warnock (D) defeated Loeffler in the special general runoff election on Jan. 5, 2021, with 51% of the vote to Loeffler’s 49%.

Calvin Smyre, longest-serving member, resigns from Georgia state House

Image of the Georgia State Capitol in Atlanta, Georgia.

Calvin Smyre (D) resigned from the Georgia House of Representatives on April 4, 2022, after being appointed ambassador to the Dominican Republic by President Joe Biden (D). Smyre served from 1975 to 2022, most recently in District 135.

Smyre was elected to the state House in 1974. He is the longest-serving Georgia state lawmaker according to Axios. Smyre also served as executive vice president of Synovus Financial Corporation from 1976 to 2014.  

If there is a vacancy in the Georgia General Assembly, the vacant seat must be filled by a special election. The governor must declare a special election no later than 10 days after the vacancy happens. The election must be held no less than 30 days and no later than 60 days after the governor calls for the election. The counties representing the vacant district are responsible for conducting the election.

As of April 5, there have been 51 state legislative vacancies in 28 states during 2022. Twenty-two (22) of those vacancies have been filled. Of the 51 vacancies, 33 are Democratic and 18 are Republican. Democrats have filled 15 vacancies, while Republicans have filled seven. 

Additional reading:

Georgia legislature votes to refer two measures to the ballot during 2022 legislative session

Image of the Georgia State Capitol in Atlanta, Georgia.

The Georgia State Legislature voted to refer a constitutional amendment and a state statute to the 2022 ballot during the final days of the 2022 legislative session. The legislature adjourned from its 2022 session in the early morning hours of April 5.

The constitutional amendment, passed unanimously in both chambers, would authorize local governments “to grant temporary tax relief,” with additional details to be defined in statute, to properties that are damaged or destroyed due to a disaster and located within a nationally declared disaster area.

The constitutional amendment was introduced as House Resolution 594 (HR 594). On March 11, the Georgia House of Representatives approved the measure in a vote of 150-0, with 29 members not voting or absent. On April 1, the Georgia State Senate passed the bill by a vote of 55-0 with one member excused.

The legislature also voted to refer a state statute to the ballot that would exempt timber equipment, defined as a timber business’ equipment that is used in the production or harvest of timber, from ad valorem property taxes.

Legislation for property tax exemptions requires a two-thirds vote of each chamber of the Georgia State Legislature and voter approval.

The property tax exemption measure was introduced into the state Legislature as House Bill 997. On March 15, 2022, the Georgia House of Representatives voted 171-0, with eight members not voting or absent, to approve the bill. On March 30, 2022, the Georgia State Senate voted 50-1 with five members absent or not voting to approve the measure. To be certified for the ballot, the governor’s signature is required.

Two other measures were also referred to the ballot by the state legislature during its 2021 legislative session: (1) a constitutional amendment to allow the suspension of compensation of certain public officials while the individual is suspended from office for being indicted for a felony and (2) a measure to expand certain property tax exemptions provided for agricultural equipment and certain farm products.

A total of 84 measures appeared on the statewide ballot in Georgia from 1996 to 2020, of which, about 85 percent (71 of 84) were approved and about 15 percent (13 of 84) were defeated.

Additional reading:

Georgia enacts new state legislative district maps

Georgia enacted new legislative districts on Dec. 30, 2021, when Gov. Brian Kemp (R) signed a proposal approved by the legislature into law. The maps will take effect for Georgia’s 2022 state legislative elections.

On Nov. 9, the Georgia State Senate passed a map redrawing the state’s 56 Senate districts in a 34-21 vote, which the House then approved on Nov. 15 in a 96-70 vote. The Senate proposal signed by Kemp was released on Nov. 4.

On Nov. 10, the Georgia House of Representatives passed a map redrawing the state’s 180 House districts in a 99-79 vote, which the Senate then approved on Nov. 12 in a 32-21 vote. The House proposal signed by Kemp was released on Nov. 8.

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution’s Mary Niesse and Maya Prabhu wrote that the new Senate and House maps may result in a net increase of likely Democratic districts—one in the Senate and five in the House—while Republicans maintain a majority.

After Gov. Kemp signed the maps into law, two lawsuits were filed against them alleging racial gerrymandering. Sean Young, legal director of the ACLU of Georiga, said, “[P]oliticians have failed to draw maps that give many of these new Black voters new opportunities to elect candidates of their choice.”

Following the passage of the two maps, Rep. Ron Stephens (R) wrote in an editorial, “Our overriding objective was to ensure that the power of every Georgia citizen’s vote is equal,” adding, “we have ultimately produced constitutionally and Voting Rights Act-compliant … maps.”

As of Jan. 3, 27 states have adopted new state legislative maps for both chambers, one state adopted a map for one chamber, one state has adopted maps that have not yet gone into effect, and 21 states have not yet adopted state legislative maps. As of Jan. 3, 2012, 32 states had enacted legislative redistricting plans after the 2010 census.

Nationwide, states have completed legislative redistricting for 1,078 of 1,972 state Senate seats (54.7%) and 2,776 of 5,411 state House seats (51.3%).

Additional reading:

Two incumbent Democrats to face each other in U.S. House primary in Georgia

Incumbent Reps. Carolyn Bourdeaux and Lucy McBath each won congressional districts in Georgia previously held by Republicans. McBath (6th District) is running for re-election in the newly drawn 7th District, which pits her against Bourdeaux in the Democratic primary.

Daily Kos wrote that Bourdeaux currently represents about 57% of the new 7th District, while McBath represents 12%. Bourdeaux’s portion is also more Democratic than McBath’s based on 2020’s presidential election results.

McBath said the Republican-led Legislature redrew her district because “they would like nothing more than to stop me from speaking truth to power about the gun lobby and Republican Party in Congress.” McBath worked for Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense after her son was fatally shot in 2012. She defeated incumbent Rep. Karen Handel (R) 50.5% to 49.5% in 2018.  

Bourdeaux, a professor of public policy and former director of the state’s Senate Budget and Evaluation Office, won the open 7th District race in 2020. Bourdeaux said, “I’m disappointed, of course. … I have a lot of respect for Lucy McBath.”

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution‘s Patricia Murphy and Greg Bluestein wrote in September that “Bourdeaux drew the wrath of progressive groups — and [Stacey] Abrams allies — for joining other moderates with a stand that threatened to derail a $3.5 trillion social policy plan.” Bourdeaux joined nine other Democrats in saying she wouldn’t vote for a budget resolution needed to pass President Joe Biden’s Build Back Better agenda unless the House first voted on an infrastructure bill the Senate passed. Bordeaux said in August, “I believe in fiscal responsibility and that we need to pay for the things that we need to invest in, and I’m willing to stand up and talk about fiscal responsibility.” 

Ultimately, Bourdeaux withdrew from the effort and voted for the resolution. The House voted on the infrastructure bill and then the Build Back Better Act last month. Bourdeaux voted in favor of both.

In August, before the new district maps were drawn, Abrams endorsed McBath’s re-election bid, saying she “has not wavered on Georgia jobs and infrastructure, and she is a stalwart champion for our kids, for our democracy and more.”

Primaries are set to take place on May 24. 

In other Georgia news, Abrams announced on Dec. 1 that she is running for governor again. Current Gov. Brian Kemp (R) defeated Abrams 50% to 49% in 2018.

This story appeared in a Dec. 2 edition of The Heart of the Primaries, Ballotpedia’s newsletter capturing stories related to conflicts within each major party. Click here to see more stories from that edition and to find out how to subscribe.

Additional reading:

Dickens defeats Moore in Atlanta mayoral runoff election

City Councilman Andre Dickens (D) defeated City Council President Felicia Moore (D) in the general runoff election for mayor of Atlanta, Georgia, on Nov. 30, 2021, receiving 64% of the vote to Moore’s 36%. Incumbent Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms (D) announced on May 6, 2021, that she would not seek re-election, making her the first Atlanta mayor since World War II to choose not to run for a second term.

Dickens and Moore advanced to a runoff after placing second and first, respectively, in the Nov. 2 general election. Moore received 41% of the vote followed by Dickens with 23%. This was the city’s seventh mayoral runoff since 1973.

Dickens was first elected to the city council in 2013 and won re-election in 2017. During the mayoral race, he promoted his SAFE Streets Atlanta plan, a series of public safety proposals in response to voter concerns regarding crime. He received endorsements from Mayor Lance Bottoms, former Mayors Shirley Jackson (D) and Andrew Young (D), and U.S. Rep. Nikema Williams (D). Dickens also received endorsements from six members of the Atlanta City Council and three Fulton County Commissioners.

The number of votes cast in the runoff decreased by 18.1% compared to the general election, making this the largest decrease since the 1993 contest between Bill Campbell and Michael Lomax. 2021 was also the second time since at least 1981 where the second-place finisher in the general election went on to win the runoff.