Voters in Gwinnett County are sending a new state senator to the Capitol, and he’s not like anybody else in any Georgia legislative chamber, ever. Sheikh Rahman (pronounced 'shake ra-MAHN') is an immigrant from Bangladesh and is believed to be the first Muslim ever elected to the legislature.
Georgia Senate District 5 is in Gwinnett County, stretching from the DeKalb County line, up along I-85 to Lawrenceville. And it’s one of the most ethnically diverse legislative districts in America.
Rahman grew up in Bangladesh, moved to the US in early 1981 – and says he learned some rough lessons about being an immigrant.
"In the height of the Iran hostage crisis, I was in Newton North Carolina. Somebody threw a beer can and said 'hey raghead, go home'. And I wasn’t even Middle Eastern," Rahman said in an interview Friday.
When he ran for the state senate this year, he did so in a district that’s home to Immigrants from everywhere in the world – though very few of them are from Bangladesh. Rahman says it turned out that detail didn’t matter so much.
"I thought, we can’t stay on the sideline as an immigrant (population), and as regular folks, we should have a voice and we should participate. That was my message" to voters, he said.
Rahman has been active in the Georgia Democratic party for years – attending two national conventions as a delegate
It gave him a foundation to run for the state senate – and beat a 14 year veteran of the legislature.
State Sen. Curt Thompson of Norcross is the Democrat Rahman beat in the primary – by more than two to one. No Republican filed to run.
"He worked hard, and the district had changed demographically," Thompson said Friday. "His slogan was 'it’s our time now.' And when that’s your slogan in a Democratic primary, that has meaning behind it." Thompson says he's pulling for Rahman to succeed as a senator.
"I’m a little different than everybody els," Rahman said. "And I can bring maybe both parties together you know, black, white, brown, whatever it is. And that’s my mission, that’s what I’m going to try to do."
Rahman says he will be sweating another election in a few days, when his younger brother vies for a seat in the parliament of Bangladesh.