A top Democratic legislator in Georgia suddenly switched to the Republican Party this week after being fed up with Democrats over school vouchers and their “soft on crime” approach.
Rep. Mesha Mainor from Atlanta becomes the only Black member of the GOP among Georgia’s 236 state lawmakers, and the first Black Republican woman to ever serve in the Georgia General Assembly.
Mainor’s unexpected defection gives Republicans a 102-78 edge in the House.
Mainor said legislative Democrats drove her out of the party for breaking party orthodoxy, claiming at a Tuesday news conference outside the Georgia Capitol that they had “relentlessly tried to sabotage every single thing that I have done for District 56” and “publicly slandered me in every way imaginable.”
“I thought it was OK to not agree with those things as a Democrat. But they told me, ‘You know what, those are values we just don’t have,’” Mainor said, flanked by state Republican Party Chairman Josh McKoon.
She had long been on the outs as part of a minority faction of Atlanta-area Democrats and for deeply personal reasons revolving around a stalking incident where Mainor felt her stalker got off too easy.
The tension between Mainor and other Democrats burst into the open earlier this year after Mainor became the only Democrat to vote for a school voucher bill that failed after a number of House Republicans broke ranks to oppose it.
School choice has always had some support among urban Black Democrats.
But Mainor’s fellow party members reacted with scorn even as Republicans rallied to Mainor’s support. State Sen. Josh McLaurin, an Atlanta Democrat, posted a picture of a $1,000 check online for a primary challenger, writing “All I need is a name.”
Mainor, first elected in 2020, represents House District 56, an ultra-Democratic swath of Atlanta including its Midtown neighborhood and close-in parts of the city’s west side. She had said earlier that she wouldn’t switch parties. Tuesday, though, she urged other lifelong Democrats to reexamine the party’s values.
“I am encouraging more Black Americans and Black Democrats in particular – you might have this coat on, but I suggest you look at the lining. See what’s on the inside,” she said.
McKoon welcomed Mainor, saying her move shows that the Republican Party is “where diversity of opinion is welcome, where different ideas, talking about different policy ideas and solutions together is a strength, not a weakness.”
“We can disagree but still come together on things that matter the most to us,” McKoon said, pledging to support Mainor’s reelection bid.
U.S. Rep. Nikema Williams, chair of the Democratic Party of Georgia, lambasted Mainor’s switch as a “stinging betrayal” of her Democratic constituents.
“House District 56 deserves a representative who will do the job they were elected to do, including fight for high-quality public education,” Williams said in a statement.
House Speaker Jon Burns, a Republican from Newington, said in a statement that Mainor is “joining the party of opportunity.”
Mainor’s decision and some of her legislative actions are also driven by concerns over Democrats “soft on crime” policies — and how they impacted her personally. She sued Fulton County Commissioner Marvin Arrington Jr., Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis and the county in federal court in 2022, alleging that they had violated her civil rights in a case where a former campaign worker had stalked her.
Willis claimed Arrington, who was the man’s defense attorney, improperly used his position as a commissioner to get a favorable plea deal for the stalker.
Mainor also alleged Willis didn’t adequately investigate the crime before offering the plea deal. U.S. District Judge Sarah Geraghty dismissed the case in March, ruling that the alleged actions couldn’t constitute a civil rights violation even if she accepted all of Mainor’s claims.
The last legislative Democrat in Georgia to switch to the Republican Party was DeKalb County’s Vernon Jones, who plunged into the GOP in January 2021 as a supporter of then-President Donald Trump, at the end of Jones’ last term in the state House.
Jones abandoned a Republican primary challenge to Gov. Brian Kemp at Trump’s behest and then lost a Republican congressional primary runoff in Georgia’s 10th District to current U.S. Rep. Mike Collins despite Trump’s backing.
The Horn editorial team and the Associated Press contributed to this article