It’s time for the fifth (!) edition of our 50-state tour of the worst politicians in America. Today, we’re examining the worst politicians in GEORGIA.
A reminder: Every two weeks, we’re going to highlight a different state, so that by the end, you’ll have a full panorama of the trash pile that is American democracy from coast to coast. You can click here to find our full, growing archive of entries. If you have ideas for bad politicians we should be focusing on, you can send us names by filling out our Google form—and you can submit the form as many times as you want, so don’t worry about narrowing down your list.
The latest stop on our road trip finds us in Georgia—home of Coca-Cola, racist baseball, the ginormous Tyler Perry studio, and that park where they carved a bunch of Confederate monsters into a big rock. It also has a ton of very bad politicians! So let’s meet some of them.
A note: going through a list of every single racist, grifting scoundrel in Georgia politics would result in a list about ten miles long, so take the people featured here as representatives of a much deeper pool. Away we go!
State Rep. Barry Fleming (R)
Fleming was first elected to the Georgia House of Representatives in 2002, and has pushed anti-voting restrictions across the two decades he’s been in office, even more so in the past six months of his career. Earlier this year, as the chair of the House’s “special committee on election integrity,” Fleming sponsored Georgia House Bill 531, a restrictive anti-voting bill that is different, yet just as oppressive as, the Senate anti-voting law that sent Major League Baseball packing in April. Among its efforts to further curb voting in Georgia, HB 531 would require photo IDs for absentee voting, limit the time people have to request absentee ballots, restrict the use of ballot drop boxes, and end early voting on Sundays, in an obvious attempt to get in the way of Black voters. As if that didn’t make Fleming enough of a ghoul, he’s also long burned the candle on both ends by working as an attorney for smaller municipalities, representing them in efforts to curb local voting restrictions: in 2015, he represented Hancock County in its effort to remove about 180 Black voters from its rolls — 20% of all registered voters in the city of Sparta. But after he introduced HB 531, residents of these counties have grown keen to his grift, pressuring their leaders to fire him. In March, the Hancock County Board of Commissioners voted to ask Fleming to resign as county attorney, and he did. The Washington City Council also voted to ask him to resign as Wilkes County attorney after pressure from protesters, and protesters have also demanded his resignation in Burke County. Between his work in Hancock and Wilkes Counties, the Nation reported that Fleming’s law firm has made nearly $382,000, and that’s just in the past three years. At least that’s some kind of consequence.
State Rep. Houston Gaines (R)
Gaines is just 26 years old, but he’s on this list to prove that you can never be too young to be terrible. He is the sort of conservative who, when he’s not working at his job helping rich people get richer doing business-y businesswork as a “client advisor” at Cannon Financial Institute, says things like “more than anything, [my] goal is to shrink government.” What that actually means, however, is that Gaines does things like sponsoring laws to prevent local communities from making their own decisions on what parts of government they’d like to shrink, such as—surprise surprise!—the police. Gaines was thrilled when his bill to limit cities from cutting police budgets became law in May. ““Listen, I support local control, but when you have local governments that are out of control, I knew we had to act,” he told the Associated Press. Yep, conservative values. Gaines is also the kind of MAGA suck-up who has a screenshot of an Ivanka Trump tweet embedded on his campaign website, and rails against “cancel culture” when businesses do perfectly reasonable things he just doesn’t like.
State Sen. Marty Harbin (R)
Harbin is the kind of Republican state legislator who flies under the radar by not saying anything too insane but still diligently working to make life difficult for people who aren’t him. Case in point: He’s co-sponsoring a bill going around the Georgia legislature that would ban trans women from competing in girls sports teams, part of a larger trend sweeping the nation. “This will allow more young girls to achieve their dreams without worry they may be competing against those who have insurmountable genetic advantages,” he told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, a classic dog whistle for transphobes and “logic”-havers. He slips up occasionally, telling the Associated Press about the same bill: “It only applies to women’s sports. It goes by your biological sex at birth. A transgender could not participate in a women’s sport.” Makes you wonder if Harbin considers trans women to be women at all.
Clayton County Sheriff Victor Hill (D)
Hill was indicted in April for torturing detainees in one of his jails. Officially, he faced “federal civil rights charges,” but it’s not hyperbolic to say that the four people he took into custody and then strapped down in restraint chairs for up to nine hours at a time were tortured. That alone would probably put him on this list, but it gets worse! In 2013, Hill narrowly dodged a laundry list of 27 federal corruption charges. In 2016, he shot and critically injured a woman in a motel room where they were “practicing police tactics.” Since his first election in 2004 (he lost the seat for four years between 2008 and 2012), he’s also allegedly wasted thousands of dollars in county funds taking flights across the country for “professional development courses,” survivalist conventions, and tai chi workshops, all of which play into his weird obsession with becoming Batman. He peppers these exploits with deranged press releases, which somehow continue to work, seeing as he was re-elected unopposed last year. “My favorite thing as a kid was to play cops and robbers,” Hill told Atlanta magazine in 2006. “What we play as kids, ultimately, we end up playing on the stage of life for real.” He’s not wrong! It just seems like Hill’s dream was to play both sides.
On Wednesday, Gov. Brian Kemp temporarily relieved Hill of his duties pending the outcome of his federal trial. Hill posted yet another weirdo Facebook message saying, in part, “I am very honored to have the outpour of support I have received and I thank you all for it. I will take this time to train and meditate so that when I return, any ground loss will be regained.” Oooook then.
State Sen. Butch Miller (R)
Not to get hyperbolic, but Miller is kinda like the living emobodiment of everything that threatens Georgia’s democratic process. The man loves to use boilerplate talking points about conservative values and bipartisanship, but beyond those platitudes is a sinister and steadfast commitment to a very specific initiative: voter suppression. Miller co-sponsored the widely debated Senate Bill 202, which puts limitations on ballot drop boxes, sets new ID requirements, bans offering food and water to voters at the polls, gives Georgia Republicans greater control over local elections, and has been repeatedly compared to Jim Crow. The bill itself is also predicated on the lie—one peddled by Miller’s buddy Donald Trump—that there were voter fraud issues in the state to begin with. Still, the senator has exhibited the kind of petulant insistence on being racist and right that we’ve come to expect from right wingers of his ilk. Miller also has a particular (and terrifying) interest in the future of the state’s voting process: just last month he announced his candidacy for Georgia lieutenant governor.
Former Atlanta City Councilmember Mary Norwood (I)
Norwood is technically out of elected office right now, but that’s not for trying. She has been on the Atlanta political scene for over a decade. Norwood, who served as a city councillor between 2014 and 2018, ran for mayor twice, losing by less than 1,000 votes both times. But if white people had been the only ones voting, she would have romped home; in 2017, she got around 80 percent of the white vote. That, uh, says something! At the time, Norwood played coy about her views on Donald Trump and attempted to stay within the vaguely Democratic fold, and commentators chalked up her near victory to a variety of factors, including dissatisfaction with corrupt, business-friendly Democratic centrism. In the years since, though, Norwood has, shall we say, leaned into some different vibes. After the 2020 election, she signed on to Trump’s attempts to steal the race in Georgia, alleging that his woes were a lot like hers when she lost a race by very few votes. Even when attempting to support a stolen presidency, Norwood still denied that she was a Trump backer. Now she’s running to get a seat on the City Council again. Watch this space!
State Rep. Ed Setzler (R)
There are anti-abortion zealots, and then there is Georgia state Rep. Ed Setzler.In 2019, Setzler sponsored a “heartbeat bill,” a deceptive term favored by anti-abortion activists, to ban most abortions after just six weeks, before most people even know they’re pregnant. Gov. Brian Kemp signed it into law, but a federal judge struck the law down last summer. (After that ruling, Setzler appeared on Atlanta public radio, vowing to take the legal battle to the Supreme Court as an explicit challenge to Roe v. Wade. He also quoted Martin Luther King, Jr.) It’s far from the first time the former Army officer has pushed for draconian laws to interfere with people’s reproductive decisions, so it’s safe to assume it won’t be the last we hear from him. (Naturally, he’s also opposed to physician-assisted suicide, stem cell research, and loves to scaremonger about weed.) He also, according to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, once sponsored a bill “a bill making it illegal to implant people with microchips against their will.” A nut job ahead of the old-people-on-Facebook curve!
Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R)
All images remixed by Sam Grasso. Credits, in order: GA House of Representatives; Gaines for Statehouse; Marty Harbin; Clayton County Sheriff; Butch Miller; MaryNorwood4CityCouncil; Ed Setzler; Marjorie Taylor Greene