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Colleagues to competitors: the redistricting of District 90 pits Democratic Representatives Evans and Draper against each other

By Ashley Zhu

On Dec. 7, 2023, Georgia’s Republican-controlled Legislature passed a congressional redistricting plan, a move that was said to aid in the reproduction of the current 9-5 Republican majority in Georgia’s 14 congressional seats. The new district maps were ordered following a judge’s ruling, stating that the current division discriminates against Black voters in West Atlanta.

Of the many changes that the redistricting created, Rep. Lucy McBath’s (D-Ga.) district was split and shifted north, away from Atlanta and closer to Republican voters. In District 90, the two incumbent Democratic Reps. Saira Draper (D-Ga.) and Becky Evans (D-Ga.) will be forced to compete against each other in the upcoming primary elections. 

Draper currently represents district 90, but through the redistricting, Evans, who currently represents District 89, were drawn into Draper’s district.

“The Republicans did this to us — neither of us asked to be in this situation,” Draper said. “They drew her into my district. They wanted to make it difficult for us.”

Draper also added that she has “nothing but respect” for Evans, despite noting that she wants to remain in her seat.

Evans echoed this sentiment of respect, adding that it is the hardest thing she has ever done politically. Draper and Evans, who found out about the redistricting while they were together in the same meeting, came together and worked hard to circumvent the decision. Unfortunately, they were unsuccessful.

“She and I had coffee together before December, and of course, she didn’t want me to run and I didn’t want her to run,” Evans said. “But, what we agreed on is that we will run on our strengths and we will let the voters decide. And on May 22nd, one of us will be the other state representative.”

Draper’s platform: voting rights, underserved communities, immigration, and gun safety

As a voting rights and elections expert with a background in corporate and civil rights law, Draper has been deeply invested in voting rights and elections in the past for years. For one, she ran the Voter Protection Program for the Democratic Party of Georgia from 2019-2022, leading voting rights efforts for both President Joe Biden and Senators Rafael Warnock and Jon Ossoff. The program recruited a total of 15,000 volunteers total.

Draper was also the director of a program that ran a voter protection hotline that had received over 130,000 calls during the election and supported eight different languages. 

“We feel like we were pretty critical to that election,” Draper said. “But lots of different programs were involved there, and being on the front lines of that election’s work has given me experience and a perspective that is sorely needed in the legislature.”

Draper added that she feels the need to remain in her state representative seat because there is no one in the legislature who has the unique background and perspectives that she has accrued over the years. 

“There’s so many issues I care about as a Democrat: access to abortion, criminal justice reform, Medicaid expansion, public schools, gun safety,” Draper said. “All of these issues are very important, but what folks need to understand and accept is that as long as the legislature is made up of Republican majority in the Senate, the House and the governor’s mansion, we’re never going to get any of that.”

Draper’s platform, which she noted will be very similar to her previous election’s platform, will also center around supporting historically underserved communities across Georgia. District 90, she noted, is “extraordinarily” diverse.

Particularly in her voting rights work, policies that are enacted often have a disparate impact on communities depending on factors such as the economic or education level of its citizens, according to Draper. 

Draper added that she feels that it is not enough to think about equality while working in the legislature, but it is also crucial to be intentional about uplifting communities that may be disadvantaged. She worked on this issue as a civil rights lawyer, and during her career, has fostered relationships across the district to maintain communication with the people she is serving.

Additionally, Draper was a senior staff attorney at the Southern Poverty Law Center a few years ago, where she worked on immigrant civil rights. She was a part of a nationwide class action that represented both parents who were separated from their children at the U.S.-Mexico border and children in detention centers.

“That work has absolutely informed how I view the immigration debate,” Draper added.

Draper also highlighted her own status as an immigrant, stating that though she arrived in the states at a very young age, her parents still continued to have thick accents that informed her experiences living in America. 

Denouncing the anti-immigrant rhetoric that has been raised by many Republican politicians, Draper stated that the U.S. is “full of immigrants,” and the people in the Capitol making these claims are targeting “us and our communities.”

“It is so important to have us there, as well, in the same platform, saying the opposite,” Draper added. “Because for too long, that building has been filled with white people in positions of power.”

Finally, Draper raised her role as a mother in regards to the topic of gun safety, stating that she holds a unique perspective as a parent of young children.

“The majority of Georgians want change,” Draper said. “The majority of Georgians want access to abortion. The majority of Georgians want common sense gun safety legislation. And Georgia Republicans are putting a deaf ear to those requests.”

In regards to dealing with the gun safety issue, Draper said that it is important to present it in a way that resonates with the maximum volume of people, in order to put maximum amount of pressure on Republican legislators. Draper’s experiences seeing her young children learning active shooter drills and the anxiety that comes with it have given her a first hand perspective into the effects of gun violence.

“Yes, gun violence obviously has physical effects, but the mental effect is also something that we need to consider when talking about that,” Draper said.

Evans’ platform: education, environment, consumer advocacy, and the ethics board

As a lifelong Democrat, Evans stated that she finds a variety of issues important, ranging from healthcare, public education, and voting rights. However, the two topics she has focused on during her legislative career have centered around education and the environment.

As a public school volunteer for 18 years, Evans serves on the state House Education Committee, where a big component of their efforts is to protect public dollars for public schools. 

According to Evans, in the state of Georgia, only a third of children are proficient in reading. To address this disparity, she was appointed by the speaker to be a member of the Georgia Council on Literacy. She also contributed to HB 538, the Georgia Early Literacy Act, which requires the State Board of Education to approve high-quality instructional materials to be used for teaching students in kindergarten through third grade, among many other changes.

“You need a whole ecosystem for literacy — it’s from birth through adulthood — and it’s really important that we get our early childcare centers involved in literacy as well,” Evans said.

Evans also noted that there is a formula, encompassing factors such as phonics, fluency, and vocabulary, that children can follow to ensure that they can adequately learn to read, regardless of their family background or poverty level. Thus, she said that it is crucial for public schools to “get it right,” meaning that Georgia childhood providers are being trained to teach reading well.

Additionally, Evans is passionate about environmental justice, having sponsored two out of three of Science For Georgia’s Environmental Justice Forums. 

“We need climate action now,” Evans said. “And it is frustrating that in Georgia, we don’t have anyone talking about that at a really high level.”

Georgia is fortunately making large investments in electric vehicle and battery manufacturing, and Evans herself is hoping to help accelerate the transition to electric vehicles. Specifically, she has introduced the Georgia Utility Transparency Act, which would require Georgia Power to produce publicly available quarterly, rather than monthly, utility reports. This would allow for more robust reporting regarding information such as the cost of providing electric service and the total number of residential customers. 

Additionally, Evans introduced the Georgians First Fund, which requires that if Georgia Power makes a certain profit, a portion of that goes back to all ratepayers. This act would benefit the people in zip codes with the highest energy burden, with low income residents carrying a disproportionately large share. 

The strengths of each candidate’s platform

When asked about her strengths and attributes that make her the best candidate for re-election, Evans highlighted her accomplishments in the sphere of education. For one, she helped facilitate a $9,000 pay increase over the past six years.

“We had to increase pay for our teachers,” Evans said. “We fully funded the quality basic education formula for our schools — we hadn’t done that for the previous 10 years since the great recession.”

Evans is passionate about protecting the rights of consumers. She is in the process of pushing forward the Burial Purchaser Protection Act, a consumer bill that states that if a cemetery makes a mistake and buries someone else in the plot that a buyer has paid for, the cemetery must be held financially responsible.

Finally, Evans also hopes to pursue the gun violence epidemic, which is the number one cause of death for children and teens.

“I share a huge frustration that my Republican colleagues talk about public safety, but they refuse to do common sense gun legislation,” Evans said.

In 2017, Evans participated in the Women’s March against the National Rifle Association, where she joined protesters as they laid on the ground for the total amount of minutes equating to the number of people who have died from gun violence.

Evans hopes to “keep up the good fight” and continue bringing together local Georgia organizations, creating partnerships and coming together to advocate for safe gun storage.

When asked about the major policy differences seen between Draper and Evans’ campaigns, Draper said that she was the only candidate who is uniquely qualified to speak on voting rights, a topic that she has engaged with for a long time.

“No one in the legislature has more experience and direct experience, and frankly, success, when it comes to issues of voting rights, elections and democracy,” Draper said. “The attacks on those things have continued over time, but they are certainly ramping up now.”

Furthermore, Draper added that she and Evans voted differently on House Bill 30, the anti-semitism bill that required defining antisemitism as a discriminatory act. The bill turned out to be a very difficult vote for the legislature as a whole — while Draper voted in favor of it, Evans voted against its passage.

“There was rising antisemitism in our districts … it was really awful,” Draper said. “This was a bill addressing the rise in antisemitism. And so I supported it.”

However, Draper acknowledged that the difficulty behind the bills is the fact that the Republican majority is pushing forward the agenda — the Republican lawmakers wrote the bill in a way that was more difficult for both Democrats and Republicans to get behind, she said.

“They do that intentionally because they want to sow discord in the Democratic party, and we have to be mindful that when they do that, it’s very intentional,” Draper said. “They want us to be fighting amongst ourselves because when we are fighting amongst ourselves, we’re not pointing the finger at them and talking about all the things that they are doing that are not serving Georgians.”

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