With the passing of John Lewis (D-GA) last week, the United States lost a giant who devoted his life and career to civil rights, social justice, and causing – as he frequently put it – “good trouble.” At the same time, the nation lost a 17-term Democratic congressman who represented Georgia’s Fifth Congressional District since 1987. Lewis’ death left the Democratic Party of Georgia with the difficult decision of selecting a nominee to run against Republican Angela Stanton-King in an upcoming special election.
Georgia law requires that the state Democratic Party’s executive committee select a nominee for a vacant seat like that of John Lewis. The 44-member committee, which includes politicians like Keisha Lance Bottoms and Stacey Abrams, narrowed this list to five individuals who had responded to a call for applications. On Monday, Nikema Williams, a state senator, was selected and is largely favored to win the special election.
Williams has served as a state senator representing Georgia’s 39th District since 2017 and has chaired the state’s Democratic Party since 2019. Her district, which includes Atlanta, overlapped with areas that were represented by Lewis when he served in Congress. Before serving as a state legislator, Williams held active roles in the National Domestic Workers Alliance, where she was a political director, as well as Planned Parenthood Southeast, where she was the vice president of public policy.
After being selected, Williams shared a tweet stating, “Nobody will ever fill the shoes of Congressman John Lewis. I will do everything in my power to honor his legacy and lift up his spirit.” Shortly afterward, prominent political figures as well as activists took to social media to praise the committee’s decision. Stacey Abrams, a former Georgia state legislator and candidate for the U.S. Senate, tweeted, “(Williams’) fight for the oppressed, the left-behind and the strivers will continue to serve Georgia well.” Likewise, Cecile Richards, the former president of Planned Parenthood, tweeted, “While no one can truly replace Congressman John Lewis, Nikema is a fighter who will carry on the tradition of fighting for social justice issues.”
According to NPR, other finalists considered for Lewis’ seat were Park Cannon, Andre Dickens, Robert Franklin, and James Woodall, all of whom play significant roles in Georgia’s political, educational, and advocacy-based institutions. Williams, who recused herself from the committee’s final vote due to the overlap between her roles as an applicant and the party’s chair, won with 37 out of a total of 44 votes.
Governor Brian Kemp (R-GA) will be responsible for ordering and setting a date for the special election that will occur between Williams and Stanton-King. The results of this election will determine whether the seat is held by a Democrat or Republican for the next two years. In 2018, Georgia’s fifth congressional district was one of a handful of districts nationwide where no Republican candidate ran; in 2016, Lewis defeated a Republican opponent with 84.4 percent of the vote. Williams is favored to win the special election, which Georgia’s Deputy Secretary of State is recommending be held on November 3, the date of the United States general election.
Sources: CNN Politics 7/18/20; The Washington Post 7/20/20; The New York Times 7/20/20; Twitter 7/20/20; NPR 7/20/20; Ballotpedia