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Race and Gender Are Issues Now in Athens House Race

In Monday’s Federation of Neighborhoods candidate forum, Republican Houston Gaines kept referring to the “unique perspective” he’d bring to the state House of Representatives.

One would think that Gaines, who just graduated from the University of Georgia in May, was referring to his youth. When Flagpole intern Nate Harris asked him what made him unique, though, Gaines’ answer was anything but clear.

After much hemming and hawing, Gaines at one point said, “It’s obvious just by looking at us that we have a different perspective.”

The 22-year-old has built his campaign on being the type of guy a grandmother like, say, Mayor Nancy Denson would call a nice young man. I, personally, eventually interpreted his reluctance to reference his age outright as perhaps not wanting to draw attention to his inexperience. I wondered about a dog whistle, but his whiteness, after all, would not make him unique in the legislature, nor would his maleness, or even his beard.

The AJC‘s Greg Bluestein sought out Democratic Party of Georgia spokesman Michael Smith, who drew a different conclusion:

Michael Smith of the Democratic Party of Georgia called his remarks ‘disgraceful and disqualifying’ and compared it to ‘racist filth.’ He added: ‘Character counts, and Houston Gaines is found wanting.’

Gaines spokesman Brian Robinson said the candidate was referring to himself as ‘the voice of a new generation of leaders’ He called it ‘just one more ridiculous and inane example of Democrats resorting to identity politics.’

Except, if that’s what he meant, Gaines could’ve easily said as much in response to Nate’s questioning. But he didn’t.

In case her name doesn’t give it away, Deborah Gonzalez, the Democratic candidate in the House District 117 race, is Latina. Not only that, but she raised two daughters as a single mom while working in a factory and putting herself through college and law school at night. Gaines, meanwhile, is the grandson of a judge and was raised in affluent Oconee County.

Gaines’ campaign also responded by providing the AJC with remarks Gonzalez made to WUOG, the UGA student-run radio station:

‘I know that they say he’s a nice guy and that he’s a different candidate,’ she said in the WUOG radio interview. ‘But when I look at Houston Gaines, I see white. Male. Very wealthy. Supported by special interest groups.’

I should mention, too, that Michael Smith, the aforementioned DPG communications director, is not the same progressive Athens activist named Michael Smith who, for reasons unknown, has mounted a pro-Gaines guerilla campaign after the Athens-Clarke County Democratic Committee ousted Denson from her official party post for violating party bylaws by supporting a Republican.

As if this race wasn’t interesting enough already.