Georgia voters flooded the polls in early voting and on Election Day, May 24, for one of the largest turnouts in state primary election history. Incumbents in statewide races were victorious across the board, with Governor Brian Kemp winning by a more than 50 point margin. In those races without incumbents, the margins were far tighter, leading to several runoff races that took place June 21 including the Democrats’ contest for Lieutenant Governor.
The huge increase in Republican ballots cast this election included some Democrat voters who crossed over to vote against Trump-endorsed candidates. Despite the crossovers, the results show a formidable support for keeping Governor Kemp and his fellow incumbent Republicans in office, says Richard Royal, Georgia Forestry Association Political Advisor and former Georgia House Member and Ways & Means Committee Chairman.
In the Lieutenant Governor’s race, Republican State Senator Burt Jones will face Democrat Charlie Bailey in the general election after Bailey secured a victory over Kwanza Hall in a runoff. But the November election doesn’t show any signs of being close – almost 1.2 million votes were cast in the Republican primary to 681,000 cast for Democrats, providing a wide margin even accounting for crossover voting, and only 257,000 votes were cast between the two Democrats in the runoff.
The highly-anticipated race which could decide the US Senate majority is now set after former University of Georgia football star Herschel Walker dominated the Republican primary and incumbent Democrat Senator Raphael Warnock easily beat a long shot challenger. More Democrats voted in the Senate race than any other statewide race with over 720,000 votes cast between Warnock and his opponent, but still fell well short of the roughly 1.2 million votes received by Republicans in the same race. Warnock currently sits on the Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition, and Forestry and has advocated on behalf of the bipartisan Disaster Reforestation Act, while Walker has no notable experience in the field.
In the Agriculture Commissioner race, Republican Tyler Harper walked through unopposed while Democrat Nakita Hemmingway managed to avoid a runoff in her victory. Harper, a longtime forestry champion, shouldn’t have a problem come November: the race yielded slightly lower vote counts for the Democrats than any of the other statewide race.
A total of six congressional races went to runoffs after hotly contested primaries, four between Republicans and two between Democrats. Most notably was the race between Mike Collins and Vernon Jones in GA-10. The primary was neck-and-neck between a large field of candidates – Collins led with the highest percentage of votes at 25.6 percent to Jones’ second-most 21.5 percent. The runoff, however, was no where near as close. Collins, a career trucker and small businessman, came out on top with a commanding 74 percent of the vote. Democrats in the district also went to a runoff, but only received 15,000 votes between the two candidates compared to over 40,000 votes for the Republicans in a solid-R district that will almost certainly elect Collins to Congress in November.
GFA members can rest assured that forestry champions on both sides of the aisle are looking strong headed into the general election. Senators John Kennedy (R-Macon) and Nan Orrock (D-Atlanta), dominated their primary elections in seats that are safe for their respective parties. State House Representatives Lynn Smith (R-Newnan) and Shaw Blackman (R-Bonaire) stand strong as incumbents with large margins between them and their general election opponents. Trey Rhodes (R-Greensboro), who carried legislation on private property and trespassing bills for the Association in the 2022 legislative session, looks to win in newly-drawn House District 124 after more-than-safely winning his current seat in 2020.
Two races to watch that could prove challenging for forestry allies are in House Districts 137 and 154. Incumbent Debbie Buckner (D-Junction City), a GFA Board Member and timberland owner, is facing a harder-than-normal race after redistricting pulled the northern half of her district into the significantly more Republican area of LaGrange. Initial numbers suggest she’s still set to win, but that the margin will be much closer than previous bouts. Now the longest serving member of the House with Calvin Smyre’s resignation earlier this Spring, Gerald Green (R-Cuthbert) is facing one of the biggest uphill battles of his time in office. Green switched parties from Democrat to Republican in 2010 without much issue, maintaining his seat in the House of Representatives. However, with the newly drawn districts, Green must now run in the even more Democrat district of House District 154 after watching his past two races in 2018 and 2020 grow extremely tight. In 2020, he only won by a two percent margin.
From top to bottom, it looks to be a strong year for allies of the Association, with most of its legislation carriers and vocal supporters touting hefty war chests and strong poll numbers. Strong support of the ForestPAC will be key in building and maintaining relationships with members on both sides of the isle. With roughly four months to go until the general election on November 8, hopes are high for a bright future for the organization and its legislative goals.