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Posted: January 16, 2017

Dems call for Gwinnett commissioner to resign after John Lewis comments

Gwinnett County Commissioner Tommy Hunter, in a 2016 file photo.
HYOSUB SHIN / AJC/hshin@ajc.com
Gwinnett County Commissioner Tommy Hunter, in a 2016 file photo.

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By Tyler Estep

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

One of the highest elected officials in one of Georgia’s most diverse counties waded into controversial territory over the weekend when he wrote a Facebook post calling U.S. Rep. John Lewis – a Civil Rights legend already locked in a war of words with president-elect Donald Trump – a “racist pig.”

The reaction to Gwinnett County Commissioner Tommy Hunter, a Republican, taking on Lewis a few days before the holiday honoring the life of counterpart Martin Luther King Jr. was varied – but swift.

Many took to the comments section of Hunter’s Facebook posts to support him. Others did quite the opposite.

“Hunter is a disgrace to Gwinnett County in particular and Georgia in general, and he should apologize for those comments,” Gwinnett Democratic Party Chairman Gabe Okoye told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. 

He later called for Hunter to resign. 

Hunter, who was first elected to Gwinnett’s Board of Commissioners in 2012 and narrowly won re-election in November, made the Facebook post in question on Saturday afternoon. It came amid a well-publicized feud between Lewis and Trump, which started when Lewis told NBC’s “Meet the Press” that he didn’t view Trump as a “legitimate president.” 

Trump then responded on Twitter, calling Lewis “all talk” and proclaiming his Congressional district — which includes most of the city of Atlanta — to be “in terrible shape and falling apart.” 

In addition to calling Lewis “a racist pig,” the subsequent Facebook post from Hunter – whose Gwinnett district lies many miles east of Lewis’ congressional one – referred to “Demonrats” as “a bunch of idiots.”

On Sunday afternoon, Hunter addressed Lewis on Facebook a second time, calling his election wins “all illegitimate.” 

Hunter later posted an image that included this phrase: “If you’re easily offended and looking for a ‘safe place’ my page ain’t it.. Move along snowflake.”

Sometime shortly before 11 a.m. Monday, however, the “racist pig” post was no longer on Hunter’s timeline. The page’s privacy settings also appeared to be changed, but the other posts mentioned above were still visible to “friends” and “followers” — along with additional posts mocking U.S. Rep. Hank Johnson, asking if there were “any white guys" on the University of Alabama’s football team and criticizing Gov. Nathan Deal’s decision to declare a state of emergency ahead of last weekend’s ultimately uneventful winter storm. 

In November, he used the word “libtard” in a comment on one of his own Facebook posts.

The privacy changes on Hunter’s Facebook page were likely in response to an influx of nasty comments, many of which called the commissioner disparaging names or urged him to “stay classy.” 

MORE: Bernie Sanders in Atlanta: MLK would be outraged at Trump White House

MORE: Mike Pence: I am ‘so disappointed’ in John Lewis

MORE: Photos from Gwinnett County’s 2017 MLK Day parade

Hunter is the vice president of a local environmental testing firm and, prior to his time on the Board of Commissioners, worked in the county’s department of public utilities and served on its water and sewage authority (2005-09) and its planning commission (2011-12). Controversial or contentious votes are generally few and far between for Gwinnett’s Board of Commissioners, but Hunter represents himself as a staunch conservative. 

He represents District 3, which covers a wide (and diverse) swath of southern and eastern Gwinnett, including parts of Snellville, Loganville, Grayson and Dacula. 

Though much of suburban Gwinnett remains a Republican stronghold, Hillary Clinton won the county in November’s presidential election. It was the first time a Democrat took Gwinnett since Jimmy Carter in 1976. 

Gwinnett is the second-most populous county in Georgia and is also a majority-minority county, meaning non-white residents account for more than half of its population. 

Hunter’s fellow commissioners, all Republicans, did not immediately respond to requests for comment Monday. Nor did several other local, state and federal Republican party members with Gwinnett ties. 

Some local Democrats were happy to weigh in, however. 

Georgia State Rep. Dar’shun Kendrick, whose District 93 touches part of Hunter’s Gwinnett territory, shared her thoughts on Twitter, saying she was “ashamed” of him.

For his part, Hunter later told The AJC that his “racist pig” comment was “probably an overreaction out of aggravation” — but he didn’t back down from the rest of his message. 

In a lengthy message sent to a reporter, he defended Trump, saying the president-elect isn’t racist and downplaying reports of Russian hacking possibly influencing the election.

“While I am grateful for what the Congressman did in Selma and other times during the civil rights movement, you get respect by showing respect,” Hunter wrote. “He is using his fame as a way to continually divide the races and in this case standing on the very much unsubstantiated claim that the guy I voted for [Trump] is racist and only won because of Russians hacking the election—which, of course, we all know didn't occur.” 

“So, true to exactly what the political pundits said would happen, he makes the claim that Trump, and all of us that voted for him, are illegitimate,” Hunter’s message continued. “Therefore I claim [Lewis] is illegitimate and make just as many unsubstantiated claims as [Trump] does. After all, in today's world, it's not about the evidence, but the seriousness of the charges.”

Shortly after sending that message, Hunter took to Facebook again — this time to wish his followers a “Happy MLK Day.” 

Gwinnett County’s annual parade celebrating Martin Luther King Jr. was held Monday morning in Lawrenceville. Donna McLeod, a Democrat who narrowly lost her bid last year for Georgia House District 105, which is partially in Hunter’s district, was there. 

She said she wasn’t surprised by Hunter’s comments.

“This is the kind of campaign that the president-elect ran,” McLeod said.

Susan Clymer, another member of the Gwinnett County Democratic Party, said she thinks Lewis represents everything that King would have – fighting injustice and inequality. 

“This Tommy Hunter is painting a horrible picture of Gwinnett County,” Clymer said. “He’s reflecting poorly on all of us, black, white or whatever.”

Not all of the feedback on Hunter’s comments was negative, though. On Monday afternoon, a woman who described herself as a personal friend of Hunter’s posted on his Facebook page.

“He is a fantastic man with an exceptional heart, and that’s all that matters,” she wrote. “So what if he openly put his view on [Facebook]. We ALL do a little too much of that. So if expressing yourself on [Facebook] is now wrong we all need to get off.”

Hunter and the rest of Gwinnett’s Board of Commissioners are scheduled to have their next bi-monthly meeting on Tuesday.

—Staff writer Lauren Foreman contributed to this article. Please return to AJC.com for updates.