The loss of two of the city’s Republican legislators in this year’s midterm election is not likely to hurt Brookhaven’s voice or clout at the General Assembly next year, according to Mayor John Ernst. The city was one of many in the north Atlanta suburbs that saw Republican incumbents lose to Democrats in what some pundits say was part of a backlash against the national GOP as well as part of the changing face of suburban voters.

Brookhaven Mayor John Ernst said the defeat Nov. 6 of state Sen. Fran Millar and state Rep. Meagan Hanson, two Republican incumbents who represent his city, is unlikely to hurt the city’s voice or clout at the Gold Dome. Sally Harrell, a former state House representative, defeated Millar. Hanson was beat by political newcomer Matthew Wilson.

State Rep.-elect Matthew Wilson

“We have a new governor, a new lieutenant governor … everyone is new,” Ernst said. “Anytime you have new people, you have to figure things out.”
Millar and Hanson played key roles as part of the GOP majority in passing legislation last year for the city to raise its hotel-motel tax. The new revenue stream is being used to fund construction of the Peachtree Creek Greenway, set to break ground Dec. 12.

Ernst noted the city is keeping its long-time Democratic legislators who are also instrumental in making sure Brookhaven’s voice is heard: state Rep. Scott Holcomb, who won reelection; state Rep. Mary Margaret Oliver; and state Sen. Elena Parent.

“While we have representatives who are new, we still have relationships from the past,” Ernst said. “I don’t think the change will affect us. This is all about relationships … and we have worked well with every legislator who has represented us.”

Joseph Knippenberg, professor of politics at Oglethorpe University in Brookhaven said Democrats flipping seats in the north Atlanta suburbs is part of a national story where Republicans took “a bath among voters who would have been their bread and butter as recently as 2012.”

Local legislators like Millar and Hanson are usually able to run successfully on local issues and not have to worry about the national Republican Party and turmoil in Washington, D.C., he noted.

“The adage used to be all politics is local,” he said. “This year it wasn’t.”

State Sen.-elect Sally Harrell.

“Trump was on the ballot even if he wasn’t,” Knippenberg said. “And as long as the Republican brand is defined by Trump, that’s going to be an issue.”

Changing demographics, suburban women upset with the direction of the national Republican party, an effective Democratic get-out-the-vote campaign, and a powerful candidate in Stacey Abrams at the top of the ticket all played a role in flipping many Republican seats blue, Knippenberg said.

Wilson and Harrell ran heavily on healthcare and support for Medicaid expansion in Georgia. Knippenberg said government ideas like this that could require taxpayers to “open their pocketbooks wider” don’t typically play well in the affluent, college-educated suburbs.

But because Democrats are in the minority at the Gold Dome, he said, and such legislation is not likely to pass, it might be easier for some moderate suburban voters to cast a “symbolic or protest vote” against Republicans.

“It’s easier to cast a vote opposing Trump and all he stands for and vote for expensive stuff when you know it isn’t going to happen,” he said.

But the changing demographics of the suburbs are also playing a role in local elections, according to some experts.

“The suburbs have become more competitive in part because they are more diverse. We should not be surprised Democrats are winning races,” said Andra Gillespie, Emory University political science professor. “I don’t see anything changing that pattern.”

Evelyn Andrews contributed.

Dyana Bagby

Dyana Bagby is a staff writer for Reporter Newspapers and Atlanta Intown.