Posted on July 2, 2004

Diversity Reshaping County’s Politics

Doug Nurse, Atlanta Journal-Constitution, June 30, 2004

Enock Vixamar, a 41-year-old Haitian native, could represent the future of Gwinnett County politics. So could Jamil Imran, a 28-year-old Bangladesh-born financial manager, and Alfonso Cardenas, 60, an immigration consultant from Colombia.

And, Democrats say, that could spell trouble for Republicans. All three are naturalized citizens, all are running for public office and all are Democrats.

As Gwinnett adds more yellow, brown and black faces, Democrats are actively recruiting people of different ethnic groups whose allegiances are up for grabs. Republicans, who have controlled Gwinnett politics for decades, also can offer up a handful of people of color this election season, but all are native-born Americans.

“We want the Haitian community to be heard,” Vixamar said on the day he qualified to run for state Senate District 9. “The Legislature needs to have more ethnic people.”

Democrats exude confidence that in the future there will be more people in office from diverse ethnic groups, and they’ll be Democrats.

“The minorities are swinging to the Democratic Party,” said Gwinnett Democratic Party Chairman Mike Berlon. “Gwinnett should become a predominantly Democratic county over the next few election cycles. We expect over six to eight years, Gwinnett will be like Fulton and DeKalb. The area is changing.”

Emil Runge, spokesman for the state Democratic Party, pointed to state Senate District 5 as a harbinger of things to come.

“A few years ago, no Democrat in that area could get elected,” Runge said. “Now, it’s a safe Democratic seat.”

Charles Bullock, a University of Georgia political scientist, agreed a Democratic takeover is possible in Gwinnett because many minorities and immigrants vote Democrat.

“Blacks do,” he said. “Hispanics do. Asians much less so, but there’s a variety of groups among Asians. Indian-Americans have supported Denise Majette financially. When Mary Squires decided to run for the U.S. Senate, that was one of the first groups they went and contacted.”

In the 1990s, Gwinnett underwent the largest percentage change in net minority growth of any county in the nation: 321 percent, according to county planners.

Gwinnett was 89 percent white in 1990; blacks made up 5 percent, Hispanics, 2 percent and Asians, 3 percent. In 2000, the percentage of whites was down to 67 percent; blacks up to 13 percent; Asians up to 8 percent, and Hispanics up to 11 percent. By 2020, county officials expect Gwinnett to be a minority-majority county.

As of last year, the school district already is minority-majority. More than 100 languages are spoken in Gwinnett County Public Schools. In 1990, there were 500 kids enrolled in English for Speakers of Other Languages classes; last year, that number was almost 10,000.

In 2002, Gwinnett took the lead in electing Hispanics to the state Legislature as Democrat Pedro Marin and Republican David Casas won House seats. No Hispanics had ever been elected to the Legislature.

Gwinnett Republican Party Chairman Buzz Brockway bristles at the notion that immigrants are automatically Democrats.

“I reject the idea that immigrants and minorities are anti-Republican,” Brockway said. “We are reaching out to the other communities. The demographics are changing, but not so completely that it’s inevitable. It’s offensive to assume that all nonwhite people vote Democratic. We look at people as individuals.”

But Berlon says the Democratic revolution in Gwinnett is inexorable.

No surrender by GOP

The I-85 corridor over the past 10 years has seen a large number of apartments built, many of which house people of foreign descent and blue-collar workers who traditionally vote Democratic, he said.

Many minorities are drawn to the Democratic Party because they like the party’s focus on the individual, instead of the Republican’s emphasis on business, Berlon said. He cited Democrats’ support of affirmative action and a minimum wage.

“A lot of immigrants come to the U.S. because they want the ability to reach the American dream,” Berlon said. “They find when they get here, they don’t get the ability to compete. Democrats try to level the playing field so they can get in the game.”

He said some ethnic groups view Republicans as anti-immigrant and exclusionary because of policies such as the English-only movement popular with many conservatives. The emphasis on Christian values makes them feel unwelcome, he said.

“Sometimes, the Republicans are their own worst enemy,” Berlon said. “As Democrats, we’re open to everyone. We don’t all have to think alike.”

Brockway challenged that notion, saying that many immigrants come to Gwinnett for the business opportunities.

“The Republican Party isn’t the party of big business, but small business,” he said. “We find they want to work and make their own way without government interference. I don’t see from most immigrants that they can’t make it on their own without help from the government.”

Brockway said the party doesn’t force people to become Christian, and upholds the tradition of religious tolerance.

“The Democrats take the most extreme statement from the most extreme person and paint the whole party with the same brush,” he said.

The GOP is battling for hearts and minds of the newly arrived.

Marty Klein, a spokesman for the state GOP, said Republicans are recruiting heavily among Latinos.

“We have a very active Latino outreach program,” he said. “We’re working very hard in Gwinnett. Gwinnett is one of the most Republican counties in the state, and I don’t see that changing.”

Republican Gov. Sonny Perdue has appointed some Gwinnett immigrant and minority representatives to various boards and committees. He named Vernadette Ramirez Broyles and Jose Perez both of Norcross and Jaqueline Rosier of Duluth to the Latino Commission for a New Georgia.

He also named Ritesh “Rick” Desai of Lawrenceville; Yung Krall of Snellville; Byung J. Pak, Willee Bonus and Dr. Sue-Ling Wang, all of Norcross, to the Asian-American Commission for a New Georgia.

The GOP also recruited Narender Reddy, an Indian-born businessman to run for state House, but he backed out when former state Rep. Gene Callaway decided to run. Reddy, who vowed to run for some office in 2006, is part of the Bush campaign’s Pioneer Club, a status reserved for people who raised $100,000 to help the president get re-elected.

He laments that most Indian-Americans are apolitical. The ones that are political, he said, tend to be Democrats.

Some immigrant groups are becoming established enough to enter the political arena, and many are jumping in as Democrats, further solidifying their group’s identification with the party.

“Having a candidate may be a catalyst to get that group to register and turn out,” the University of Georgia’s Bullock said. “Having one of their own on the ballot can inspire them.”

Democrats’ outreach

The party is helping in other ways.

They helped Jamil Imran set up the Democratic Party for Bangladeshi Americans, a group dedicated to connecting people from the Asian subcontinent to the Democratic Party.

Democrats are also tapping into immigrant communities, and they’re seeing results.

They assisted in developing a Gwinnett County Haitian-American organization to support Haitian immigrants. When the Haitians and Bangladeshis need guidance in how to navigate the government bureaucracy, they turn to Berlon.

“We’ve been able to demystify the process,” he said. “Then they flourish. Our involvement goes deeper than trying to get their vote. That’s why they identify with us more than the Republicans.”

The mutual support seems to be paying off, Berlon said.

“In the last month, the Bangladeshis brought us 20 new members to the Democratic Party,” Berlon said. “They’re working really hard at registering voters and making their communities more active and politically aware.”

Bullock said the Democrats are employing techniques that have worked before.

“It’s not unlike the role that the political machines played in the past,” Bullock said.


Comments from Readers

From: Chad

Sooner or later ( probably later) even Republican leaders will see the writing on the wall

From: 45degreesnorth

It’s time for us civilized people to start celebrating diversity.

Instead of calling ourselves white, let’s say we are European, Irish, Italian, Russian, Polish, Dutch, French, Swedish, German, Albanian, Chinese, or whatever other ethnic group you are.

Study your family history, the place and time they are from and protect your ethnic diversity.

From: Drew

And the corrupt Democratic plantation continues to plant and harvest its illicit crop of voters. Of course this works well when dealing with third world people who are used to politics that are corrupt. Fertilize the crop with “look at all the benefits we’ve created for you (stolen from the white man)” and just watch the crop grow. Meanwhile the Republicans cry and whine about how they want the game to be fair!

From: Bob

Another fact on the ground. The Democrats have sold out the White race for the sake of votes. They have sold our land for votes, and they cover it up by calling it “immigration.” The Republicans are following suit. Is there no escape from this? At the least we should vote on the presidential ballot for someone other than the Democratic or Republican nominee, even if it is a write-in. That is the only way our vote will count.

From: Dave

Once the Blacks and other minorites take over the Democrat party I think we will see a huge shift in the political landscape. The white republicans will no longer pander to minorities. Even moderate republican whites will realize the futility of trying to get the “minority” vote then.

I think that once the Democrats are out of white control the Republicans will make a shift in the prowhite direction or break up.