State Senator Nikema Williams, the Georgia Democratic Party chair, will replace the late Congressman John Lewis as the Democratic nominee for Atlanta’s 5th Congressional District on the November ballot, but the debate about how she was chosen continues.
Due to Georgia law, the state Democratic Party was forced to select a nominee quickly. An executive committee voted for Williams among five finalists nearly unanimously Monday afternoon.
Lewis’ former chief of staff, Michael Collins, sent a letter to the committee members before their vote arguing “it is vital that the process take into account the will of the people – an important tenet of our democracy and a hallmark of [Lewis’] life’s work.”
“He believed very strongly that the people who represent the citizens should be elected by the citizens,” Collins said of Lewis.
During the Zoom meeting Monday, many party leaders agreed the quick process they were forced into was unfortunate and undemocratic.
Jason Esteves, a member of the Atlanta Public Schools Board of Education, asked state legislators to advocate for changing the law going forward.
“I think we can all agree this put the party in a tough bind for a very important decision that needs to be made,” he said. “As the party that champions voting rights and the opportunity to exercise our rights, we should be advocating for a change to this law moving forward.”
Tharon Johnson, Lewis’ former aide, agreed with Collins that the process does not properly honor Lewis’ legacy.
“Congressman Lewis fought and died and bled for democracy. And one principle of democracy is to figure out a way to allow the people to vote on who they want their representative to be,” he said.
Before the vote, Johnson suggested one way to rectify the situation would be for the nominee to step down after the November election to trigger a different special election and let people vote then.
“Sen. Nikema Williams does not have to resign, and she probably won’t. It wasn’t an attack on her at the time,” he clarified. “It was just a suggestion that was made as a way to honor the life and the legacy of Congressman John Lewis, as a way to give the people of the 5th District an opportunity to vote.”
“You can be for Nikema Williams as the nominee and also be for the democratic process and for democracy,” he said.
Johnson also urged Gov. Brian Kemp to schedule a special election for someone to serve out the rest of Lewis’ term as soon as possible, ensuring enough time for a runoff before the November general election. There is a chance Williams could run in that election, which Johnson said would be another way to ensure citizens have a voice in the process.
Kemp has not yet scheduled an election.
Rome City Commissioner Wendy Davis, who was also on the executive committee call, said prior to the vote that she hoped the nominee would run in that race for the same reason.
Williams declined to comment for this story, citing that her family is still grieving the loss of Congressman Lewis.
A reprint from WABE. Read the original article here.