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The 2023 Legislature Will Be Georgia’s Most Diverse Ever

Black lawmakers started getting elected to the state Legislature in the 1960s, but the General Assembly has been mostly composed of white lawmakers. Next year, at least 83 of the 236 members will be nonwhite.

(TNS) — When Georgia lawmakers take office in January, they will likely make up the most diverse Legislature the state has had.

The Georgia General Assembly has mostly been composed of white lawmakers, with Black legislators beginning to be elected in the 1960s. Next year, lawmakers will come from a variety of backgrounds including the first Palestinian American elected official in the state joining the Georgia House and a Bangladeshi American woman joining the Senate. Both are Muslim.

“It’s important for democracy to have the elected body represent the people it’s representing,” said Senate Democratic Caucus Chairwoman Elena Parent of Atlanta.

In 2023, there will be at least 83 nonwhite members out of 236 serving in the Legislature, with four Hispanic members, seven members of the Asian American Pacific Islander community, two Afro-Latino members and one Arab woman, according to an analysis of the incoming class of lawmakers by The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

There will be 69 Black members serving in the Legislature and 151 white members. Four members are Muslim, and one is Jewish. There will be 81 women, one more than last year and the most ever for the state according to the Center for American Women and Politics run by Rutgers University.

Ten years ago, there were 65 nonwhite members of the Legislature — 62 Black members, two Hispanic members and one Asian American member. Fifty-five legislators were women.

This year, Georgians elected six Latinos to the General Assembly, four of them for the first time. Two of them identify as Afro-Latino.

Senate Republican Caucus Chairman Jason Anavitarte, a Dallas resident who became the first Republican Latino member of the Senate two years ago, announced that he will co-chair a Georgia Hispanic Caucus.

It’s the first time the Legislature has had a Hispanic Caucus since a brief period in 2003 when the first Hispanic lawmakers were elected to the Georgia General Assembly. Three Hispanic men were elected that year, including Sam Zamarripa as a Democrat in the Senate.

The diversity of the Legislature is beginning to catch up to the diversity of the state. Between Georgia’s 2010 and 2020 census counts, the number of Black Georgians increased by 13 percent, while the white population dropped by 1 percent. The state’s Asian American population jumped by 53 percent, and its Hispanic population rose by 32 percent. The Peach State narrowly remained majority-white at just over 50 percent.

Many of the new legislators of color come from racially diverse Gwinnett County, which added more than 41,000 Asian American residents and where the Hispanic population grew by more than 58,000 residents between 2010 and 2020.

Both Zamarripa and Jerry Gonzalez, the CEO of the Georgia Association of Latino Elected Officials, applauded the number of Latinos elected to the Legislature. But they said that what they call an unfair redrawing of legislative district lines last year packed some districts with communities of color and diluted others.

“The reason that the Republicans dominate the House and the Senate in the Georgia General Assembly is not because the Republicans outnumber Democrats, it’s because of gerrymandering,” said Zamarripa, no longer a legislator. “No amount of gerrymandering will ever deceive the amount of the demographic wave that is coming or that is here. It may slow it down. It certainly will slow down Democrats. But it’s not going to slow down other diverse candidates who are in the Republican Party, so the diversity is going to continue regardless of any attempt to slow it down.”

Gonzalez said having Hispanic members from both parties in both chambers creates an opportunity for legislators to work on bipartisan issues that affect the community, such as allowing in-state tuition for unauthorized immigrants in the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program or ensuring translators can help residents during the voting process.

While most of the racial and religious diversity has typically occurred among Democratic members, there were more than 15 Republican candidates of color running for 51 open seats in the House. Two candidates of color, Reps.-elect Soo Hong of Lawrenceville, who was born in South Korea, and Rey Martinez of Loganville, who is of Cuban descent, will join the House Republican Caucus in January. State Rep. Charlice Byrd of Woodstock, who is of Chinese descent, is already a member of the caucus.

Jen Ryan, a spokeswoman with the House Republican Caucus, said chamber leadership made it a priority to reach out to diverse communities to discuss the issues facing the state and encourage those who were interested to run for office.

“This included listening to and addressing issues most important to families,” Ryan said. “As a result, we had the most diverse slate of candidates in GOP history and overperformed what ‘experts’ believed possible in terms of preserving our majority.”

Hong, an attorney, said she thinks the Legislature as a whole offers a good representation of a Georgia that continues to become more and more ethnically diverse.

“In my experience as a Korean American immigrant, I’ve had people that would never have gotten a chance to talk to anybody involved in politics, let alone a state representative, (and) for them to be able to voice their concerns and for the community to be able to voice their concerns, I’m very grateful to be in that position,” she said.

Rep.-elect Ruwa Romman, a Duluth Democrat, will be the first Muslim woman to serve in the Georgia House and the first Palestinian American to be elected to any public office in the state. She will be the first state representative to wear a hijab, a head covering worn by some Muslim women, at the Capitol.

Romman, a government consultant, said it’s important to have legislators with diverse backgrounds who are “uniquely more attuned” to the needs of those communities.

“Now a lot of these communities don’t have to rely on an intermediary,” she said. “Their voice is now officially at the table. They are part of the system. They’re part of the process, and they can now directly make Georgia better — we can now directly make Georgia better.”

©2022 The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.
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