Southeast Georgia Democrats have an opportunity to block a Republican supermajority because Mark Williams of House District 178 was appointed commissioner of the Georgia Department of Natural Resources on Dec. 8 by outgoing governor Sonny Perdue.
The lone Democrat running for Williams’ former seat is the chairwoman of the Wayne County Democratic Party, Jeana Brown. The Wayne County business owner is also president of Team Rural, a Southeast Georgia grassroots political organization.
Brown has been busy talking with voters and has been able to pick up some endorsements along the way that includes the following:
In Wayne County, Brown has garnered endorsements from County Commissioner James “Boot” Thomas, City Councilwoman Tiffany Frasier, City Councilman Don Darden and Tommie Fuller.
In Brantley County, Mayor Pro-tem Rev Robert Thomas, City Commissioner Richard Johns, School Board Member Dot Hickox and County Commissioner Chris “Skipper” Harris have announced support.
In Pierce County, School Board Member Melvin Johnson, Blackshear Chief of Police Larry Ethridge and Clarence Washington thrown their support behind Brown.
Four Republicans and one Democrat qualified prior to the December 17th deadline. The district covers Brantley, Pierce and part of Wayne counties.
There is no primary for the special election. All five candidates will be on the Feb. 15 ballot. If no one gets the majority of the vote, a runoff will be March 15, state election officials said.
The Republican candidates are Gerald DeWitt and the Rev. George E. Moxley, both of Jesup, Chad Nimmer of Blackshear and Van Herrin of the Pleasant Valley community in Brantley County.
Brantley County, as a whole, is one of Georgia’s most conservative counties –especially in recent years. The city of Nahunta is approximately 40 minutes west of Brunswick in southeast Georgia.
Southeastern Georgia has been a difficult area for Democrats, especially this past decade. President Obama only received 17% of the vote in Brantley County in 2008 and John Kerry had garnered a quarter of the vote.
However, Robert Thomas, an African-American, recently won an at-large seat to the Nahunta City Council and is currently the Mayor pro-tem.
A positive sign for Democrats is that the city of Nahunta is Brantley County’s second largest voting precinct with approximately 1,300 registered voters and 25% of Nahunta is African-American. In 2008, Barack Obama, received approximately a quarter of the vote in four of Brantley County’s nine voting precincts.
Waynesville is Brantley County’s largest precinct with approximately 1,600 registered voters and 21% had voted for President Obama in 2008.
There is a progressive base in this county, even though it may be surrounded by mainly older conservatives, a Democrat such as Brown has an opportunity to appeal to younger voters on issues such as education and health care.
President Bill Clinton won Brantley County in 1992 with 44% of the vote. However, one must consider the role that H. Ross Perot had played as a third party candidate. And Roy Barnes had won 59% of the Brantley County vote in 1998 with his landslide victory over millionaire Republican Guy Millner.
So despite strong conservative leanings, progressives can win in Brantley County and Reverend Robert Thomas has made it a reality.
Pierce County is very similar to Brantley in regard to demographics, but Pierce County’s largest voting precinct is Blackshear’s Hacklebarney/Cason location. This precinct has approximately 2,400 registered voters and is Pierce’s most diverse precinct.
In 2008, 27% of this precinct voted for Barack Obama in 2008. The city of Patterson in Pierce County has a strong progressive base and in 2008, 24% voted for Obama.
The city of Blackshear has multiple voting precincts. Even though Hacklebarney-Cason is the largest, the second largest is the more conservative Blackshear with approximately 2,200 voters. One may have to look around for Democrats, but they are there and also in the smaller and just as conservative St. Johns voting precinct has approximately 1,200 voters.
Both Blackshear and St. Johns gave Obama 14% of the vote in 2008.
In a race with multiple candidates that include four Republicans, Brown can consolidate the Democratic vote in Brantley and Pierce along with persuading a few open-minded independents.
By doing this, it would be a real advantage, especially with Brown’s hometown county being Wayne.
Wayne County is the most progressive county in House District 178 and provides a pathway to victory .
There are 11 voting precincts in Wayne County. Even though the largest voting precinct is the Unity location with its approximately 1,500 voters, the city of Jesup and Screven are the largest and most diverse areas of Wayne County.
If Democrats come out and able to outpace turnout in 2008, Brown could avoid a potential runoff.
Jesup is a diverse city with a 42% African-American population along with a Latino population approaching 10%.
Screven is a smaller version of Jesup, but has a African-American population of 40 percent.
Brown has expressed positions on the following issues:
1. Brown supports the Living Wage. Local governments have enacted ordinances which set a minimum wage higher than the federal minimum for the purpose of requiring all jobs to meet the living wage for that region. This usually works out to be $3 to $7 above the federal minimum wage.
2. Brown believes small family farms deserve to be preserved and should not be under the same rigid regulation as agri-business. Georgians support buy-local farmers markets and organics.
3. Brown has stated that careful management of wildlife through hunting and fishing is vital to our rural life. Protecting our coastlines and preserving them for future generations is our responsibility.