WASHINGTON: A young community organizer has become the first Palestinian American elected to public office in the US state of Georgia.
Ruwa Romman, a 29-year-old progressive Democrat, was elected in the midterm elections this week to represent District 97 in the state’s House of Representatives at the Georgia General Assembly.
Romman defeated her Republican opponent, who was accused of using racist, anti-Muslim tactics to intimidate voters and tarnish her image. Nevertheless, Romman won by a clear margin, claiming almost 58 percent of the vote.
She told Arab News that the majority of people in her district had supported her during her campaign and protected her whenever she felt threatened by the supporters of her opponent, John Chan, who described himself as a “MAGA Republican,” a reference to former former president Donald Trump’s “Make America Great Again” slogan.
“I was able to develop a trust relationship with the communities in my district, especially with conservative groups who came out and supported me and defended me against my opponent’s attacks,” Romman said.
Thanks to that support, she said, she was able to overcome the vicious, Islamophobic attacks by her opponent’s campaign.
“I feel really lucky because I live in a great community that really cares about me” she added.
District 97, the boundaries of which were redrawn in 2021, is in Gwinnett County, north of Atlanta, and includes the towns of Berkeley Lake, Duluth, Norcross. and Peachtree Corners. It is a diverse district; 40 percent of the population is white and there are a sizable Muslim, African and Asian American populations.
Romman was born in Amman, Jordan, to Palestinian parents. Her grandparents were Palestinian refugees. Her parents moved to the Atlanta area 22 years ago, when she was 7 years old.
She said her parents are very supportive of her political ambitions, despite being skeptical when she started campaigning for election about 10 months ago.
“My parents are so proud and so excited for me,” she added.
Romman said she feels tremendously excited and honored to have been been elected and admitted that it has not yet quite sunk in that she actually won and has made history in the state.
“It felt weird to be in the state Capitol as a representative-elect,” she said in a statement after her victory. “I cannot fully express my thanks to everyone who supported our campaign. So many of those who volunteered with us had never done political work before.
“It’s such an honor to know that you chose me to be the first candidate you volunteer for and I hope to continue to be the person you felt deserved that support.
“I cannot wait to continue this work and look forward to serving everyone in my district.”
Romman ran on a progressive platform that included pledges to push for full funding for public education, expanded access to healthcare, and protection of women’s rights, including economic empowerment and access to abortions.
She told Arab News that her election win is part of a larger shift that is evident in Georgia politics, as the state had historically “suppressed mail-in ballots” through various legal channels, a tactic that was seen as benefiting Republicans.
She argued that while Georgia has long been considered a Republican-controlled “red state,” it is in fact a “voter-suppressed state” in which the election system was skewed in favor the Republican candidates.
Romman said she is determined to put public service back into politics and make government work for everyone, not just special interest groups and big corporations.
Three other Muslim American candidates for the Georgia General Assembly made history at Tuesday’s elections.
State Sen. Sheikh Rahman, who in 2018 became the first Muslim elected to serve in the General Assembly, was reelected. Nabilah Islam became the first Muslim woman elected to the state Senate. And Farooq Mughal was elected to Georgia’s House of Representatives, where he and Romman will be its first Muslim members.