Democrats from across the state who gathered at Georgia Southern University’s Russell Union Ballrooom said Georgia’s demographics are changing, and the red state could turn into blue on the electoral map.
State Rep. Scott Holcomb, the keynote speaker for the Bulloch County Democrats’ Independence Gala, said Georgia Democrats’ prospects are much brighter than when he took office three years ago. At that time, he noted, some legislators elected as Democrats were switching to the Republican Party.
“This most recent session, the Democratic Party passed bills at the Gold Dome,” he said. “You think about that. That’s incredible. In the House we have 60 out of 180 members. In the Senate, we have 18 out of 56 members. Yet we were able to be effective and pass bills. And more than that, the attention of America is increasingly on Georgia.”
Three candidates for the Democratic Party state chairmanship — Mary Squires, Doug Stoner and Dubose Porter — also came to Statesboro for the gala.
Squires, who lives in Atlanta, has served in the state House and Senate. She was in the Army for 10 years, where she rose from private first class to captain. She ran for insurance commissioner in 2010. Stoner, from Smyrna, served 10 years in the state Senate. He works for an engineering firm. Porter, from Dublin, served 28 years in the state House and ran for governor. He owns the Dublin Courier-Herald and serves on the Democratic National Committee.
All three spoke of a shift they say is creating opportunities for Democrats to win in Georgia, where Republicans now hold large majorities in both state government and the congressional delegation.
“We have a great opportunity now, you know. The demographics have shifted,” Squires said. “We are solidly 50-50 Democrat and Republican, and Democrats need someone who will focus on winning elections.”
In a special meeting Aug. 31, party committee members from around the state will elect someone to serve the remaining year-and-a-half of the unexpired term of former chairman Mike Berlon.
About 120 ticketholders attended the banquet, emceed by county party treasurer Alvie Coes. Claudia Collier from Guyton, an organizer of Greening Georgia, spoke briefly about the environmental advocacy group forming within the Democratic Party of Georgia.
Holcombe dismissed speculation he may run for the party’s nomination for the U.S. Senate seat Moultrie Republican Saxby Chambliss is yielding next year. Instead, Holcomb is supporting Michelle Nunn, who announced her Senate candidacy July 23. Holcomb has already donated to Nunn’s campaign. Nunn, 46, is the daughter of Sam Nunn, who represented Georgia as a Democrat in the U.S. Senate for 24 years.
“I have not completely ruled out a different run, but the very strong likelihood is that I will seek re-election to the Georgia House of Representatives,” Holcomb said. “But I very much intend to help those who are running statewide, such as Michelle Nunn and others who are putting themselves forward, and I think that 2014 can be a positive year for our party and for our state.”
Holcomb, 40, lives in northern DeKalb County and has a law practice in Atlanta. First elected in 2010, he represents the 81st District and serves as chief deputy whip of the Democratic Caucus.
Holcomb’s first campaign was actually a statewide one. One of six candidates in the 2006 Democratic primary for secretary of state, he did not make the runoff.
He previously served in the Army Judge Advocate General Corps as an officer and attorney. While assigned to the 3rd Infantry Division at Fort Stewart from 1998 to 2001, he deployed to Bosnia. He also met his wife, originally Kathleen Oh of Reidsville, in Savannah, and they married in 2001. Reassigned to Fort McPherson that year, Holcomb deployed again to advise generals on the laws of war during ground operations in Afghanistan and Iraq.
Other Democrats have asked him to consider running for governor, but Holcomb sees 2018 as more likely than 2014. He noted that his children are ages 2 and 7 and said he wouldn’t want to put his family through a high-profile campaign unless he was reasonably confident of winning.
“It’s true that individuals have asked me to consider it, and that’s not your typical politician nonsense,” Holcomb said. “It’s true and I think that’s in part a function of the fact that Democrats have a small but strong bench and I’m part of that, so it’s not unreasonable that I would be one of the people who would be asked to consider that.”
One poll also gave him a relatively strong showing among possible candidates.
“I’m smart enough to know that that’s less a reflection of me and more a reflection of dissatisfaction with the current office holder, but I still think that there is a little bit of a headwind for 2014,” Holcomb said. “I think it gets much better in 2016 and 2018.”
The Senate candidate who did attend was Dr. Branko Radulovacki, who uses the nickname “Dr. Rad.” The private-practice Atlanta psychiatrist has not held political office but has been active as an advocate for mental health reform.
Several years ago, when a commission recommended that Georgia close some of its aging psychiatric hospitals, Radulovacki began campaigning for state funding for other types of treatment. Reaching an agreement with the U.S. Justice Department in 2010, the state budgeted more than $50 million for additional services, including community-based treatment programs, for people with mental illnesses and disabilities.
“That’s encouraging to me to feel that someone with our heart in the right place who’s really going to advocate for the people of Georgia can make an impact in Washington and help to address the gridlock that’s there,” Radulovacki said.
He supports the Affordable Care Act, but says he hopes to take part in Senate discussions of ways to improve it, including ways to reduce the cost.
“I think it’s time that the Democrats are represented by a physician who can talk about the importance of health-care reform, who can talk in way that is supportive of health-care reform,” he said. “I’m not saying that the legislation we currently have is perfect, but the Affordable Care Act is an important step toward increasing access to care and to quality care.”
Born in Serbia, in the former Yugoslavia, Radulovacki was 7 when his family immigrated to the U.S. Education and immigration reform are other issues he says are close to his heart.
Local Democrats presented service awards to four of their own. The Pat Gillis Democratic Champion Award went to Alberta “Bert” Raulerson; the George Jackson Public Service Award to U.S. Rep. John Barrow, D-Ga.; the Joe Bill Brannon Civic Engagement Award to Glennera Martin; and the Charlie Lewis Sr. Democratic Pioneer Award to Dr. John Howard Brown.
Additionally, a memorial award was presented to the family of Charlie Lewis Sr., a Statesboro business leader and avid Democrat. He died July 14 at age 86.