“Divide et imperia” (divide and rule) is as old as the Roman Empire when Julius Caesar, after his victory in Gaul, returned to Rome to divide and oust the Senate to become the sole ruler of Rome. Like Julius Caesar, the Republicans in Georgia have attempted to divide traditional Democratic political associates forcing allies into a primary battle for their respective political survival.
In an attempt to “politically assassinate” white Democratic incumbents, the Republicans drew district maps that pitted white Democratic incumbents against African American Democratic incumbents in majority minority districts. In the case of the House District 57 race, Pat Gardner, a white, gay-friendly legislator ended up in a majority minority district running against Rashad Taylor who is an openly gay, African American Democrat.
Interestingly, this race is in many ways reminiscent of the 1997 6th district Atlanta City Council race between Cathy Woolard and Mary Davis. How so? Like the 1997 race, for many of the residents of the newly drawn 57th district, the conversation will boil down to a debate on “we want vs. they want.”
For example, when Woolard ran, she was blasted by many in the LBGT community for running against gay-friendly Mary Davis. Woolard argued that the 6th district was the only possible seat in 1997 that a gay person could possibly win. She went further to note that when Mary Davis discusses LBGT issues the conversation is ‘they want, they need’ while if she were elected, the conversation would be “my community wants, my community needs”. That very powerful argument won over many recalcitrant gay activists of the day and Woolard went on to win the election becoming Georgia’s first openly gay elected official.
In many respects, the “we vs. they” conversations of 1997 debate holds true for the current Gardner vs. Taylor race. Pat Gardner gets to say “we vs. they” on women’s issues, family issues, and to the white voters in her district. Rashid Taylor gets to say “we vs. they” as an African American male in a majority black district and for the LBGT community. On most other measures they are equally vocal representative for labor and a variety of other causes.
A recent e-mail invitation to a Rashad Taylor fundraiser shows the Black Democratic leadership at the State Capitol and other Black local elected officials coalescing around Taylor. But it would be a big mistake to portray Pat Gardner as the underdog in this contest. The district is barely majority minority and Gardner has some strong ties to the African American community. She has been a vocal advocate for the LBGT community, labor, women’s health, the City of Atlanta and Fulton County – and, she is a relentless campaigner.
These two candidates really deserve to be re-elected, but, thanks to the Republican controlled General Assembly one will go down in defeat. The Republicans, unlike Julius Caesar will not be uttering “Et tu Brute?’ but, rather “Absens haeres non erit” (“An absent person will not be an heir” [to power] thus maintaining their power by systematically eliminating their Democratic rivals through the redistricting process.