Photo Credit: Jessica Silverman
Democrat Deborah Gonzalez will face off with Republican Houston Gaines in the House District 117 special election.
Former state Rep. Doug McKillip will not try to reclaim the District 117 seat he lost to Regina Quick after switching parties in 2012—for now.
The qualifying period to run in the two special elections for Athens-area state House seats ended Friday without McKillip signing up to run. But he held out the possibility that he’d run next year, when the seat will come up again in the usual election cycle. “Said I’d run in ’18, not ’17,” he said. “We’ll see.”
The seat opened up last month, when Gov. Nathan Deal appointed Quick as a Superior Court judge, replacing the retired David Sweat, requiring her to resign from the House. McKillip—who notoriously became a Republican in 2010 after serving two terms as a Democrat—had already filed paperwork to raise money for the 2018 race.
Had it gone down that way, in the GOP primary he would’ve faced Houston Gaines, Mayor Nancy Denson’s 2010 campaign manager and 2016–17 UGA student body president, who graduated in May and is now a public relations consultant for nonprofits. Gaines is young but well connected and has bipartisan appeal. He’s already raised well over $100,000 and is backed by a number of local Democrats, including Denson and Commissioner Mike Hamby—who once served as executive director of the state Democratic Party—in addition to commissioners Andy Herod, Jerry NeSmith, Diane Bell and Sharyn Dickerson, and just about Republican elected official in Oconee County. Local Democrats are now trying to oust Denson from the county party committee over her support for Gaines.
Although it was redrawn for a Republican after McKillip became one, District 117 has become a swing district, if Democrats can hold together. (Donald Trump won it by less than four percentage points last year.) Their standard-bearer is Deborah Gonzalez, a lawyer and former college administrator with a compelling personal story: She moved from Puerto Rico to New York and put herself through school while raising two daughters as a single mother before coming to Athens 10 years ago. Gonzalez has been ramping up her campaign over the past few weeks, canvassing neighborhoods and advertising on social media, with a focus on health care, specifically accepting federal funds to expand Medicaid in Georgia.
But there is not much time. The special election is Nov. 7—less than six weeks away.
In District 119, where Chuck Williams resigned to take a post as director of the Georgia Forestry Commission, four candidates signed up to run. The Republicans are funeral director Lawton “Tom” Lord, homebuilder Marcus Wiedower and businessman Stephen Strickland. The Democrat is Jonathan Wallace, a software developer. The district includes mainly heavily Republican Oconee County and a sliver of Clarke County’s Eastside, and so leans to the right. But in a special election, there are no primaries, and all four candidates will be on the same ballot together, so the race looks headed for a runoff between Wallace and one of the Republicans, which would be held Dec. 5.
Odds and Ends
• The aforementioned candidates have been invited to an “event” (not a forum, I am told, although I am unclear about the distinction) at the ACC Library on Oct. 23, sponsored by the Federation of Neighborhoods. (Correction: Never mind, it is a forum, but not a debate, because the candidates won't question each other.) Mark your calendar. With such a tight timeline, it may be your only chance to hear and meet them in person.
• I know you’ve all been waiting with bated breath, and the day is finally approaching: Envision Athens will unveil its “draft action plan” for the city at four open houses. They’re scheduled for the Classic Center from 5:30–8 p.m. Monday, Sept. 25; the Lyndon House from 11:30 a.m.–2 p.m. and Cedar Shoals High School from 4:30–7:30 p.m. Tuesday, Sept. 26; and Clarke Central High School from 4:30–7:30 p.m. Thursday, Sept. 28.
• The Athens Anti-Discrimination Movement will host a conference on ending the school-to-prison pipeline Saturday, Sept. 23 at the ACC Library. Topics will include mindfulness, teens’ rights, diversity and inclusion in the classroom, restorative justice, conflict resolution, the Clarke County School District’s code of student conduct and juvenile justice. AADM contends that minority students are disproportionately suspended and expelled, leading to dropouts, and that educating youth is far less expensive than incarcerating them. For more information, visit aadmovement.org.
• The Clarke County chapter of the NAACP publicly released a letter last week asking school board members to reconsider the term limits they recently approved for the board president and vice president. The letter calls the decision “disrespectful” to Charles Worthy, an African American and board president since 2006, and says the policy appears to target Worthy, noting that board members have always been free to elect someone else. The president works more closely with the superintendent than other board members, and newly hired Demond Means does not need nine supervisors micromanaging him, NAACP President Alvin Sheats says.
• A CarMax is coming to Athens. County planners currently are reviewing plans for the 270,000 square-foot dealership at 4300 Atlanta Hwy., across the street from Sam’s Club.