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Johnson, Gaines, Houle Tout Endorsements in Athens Races

State House candidate Mokah Jasmine Johnson at a Black Lives Matter rally. Credit: Joshua L. Jones/file

Mayor Kelly Girtz and a host of other progressive figures have endorsed Jesse Houle in the Athens-Clarke County Commission District 6 race, Houle’s campaign announced Tuesday.

“The greatest qualities I seek from county commissioners is a willingness to listen, to work hard, and to exhibit a collaborative spirit. Jesse Houle has demonstrated their commitment to these,” Girtz said in a news release.

He joins state Rep. Spencer Frye (D-Athens), former state representative and current candidate for district attorney Deborah Gonzalez, ACC commissioners Mariah Parker and Tim Denson, former mayor Gwen O’Looney, public education advocate Bertis Downs, the ACC Democratic Committee and Athens for Everyone in endorsing Houle.

Although Houle is guaranteed a seat on the commission come January due to Commissioner Jerry NeSmith’s untimely death, they must still face Chad Lowery in a Nov. 3 special election to fill out the last two months of NeSmith’s term.

Meanwhile, state Rep. Houston Gaines (R-Athens) recently announced that he’s been endorsed by four local sheriffs—Scott Berry of Oconee County, Ira Edwards of Clarke County, Janis Mangum of Jackson County and Jud Smith of Barrow County. All but Edwards are Republicans.

“I’m honored to have the support of all four sheriffs in the district—a diverse, bipartisan group of leaders who are working to keep our communities safe,” Gaines said. “Now is the time we need to come together in support of law enforcement and pray for their safety. We recognize reforms are necessary, but defunding the police is not the solution, and it’s a nonstarter.”

Ads run by the Gaines campaign and by outside groups have criticized his Democratic opponent, Mokah Jasmine Johnson, for calling for removing armed police officers from schools, and have pointed voters to her “criminal past”—a charge related to a past boyfriend buying a small amount of marijuana from an undercover officer that was later expunged.

“Everyone involved with these attacks should be ashamed,” said Johnson, who has called for tighter restrictions on guns. “I lost my stepson to gun violence, and I will advocate for safer schools and communities to keep our kids safe.”

Johnson boasted the biggest name of all on her endorsement list: President Barack Obama.

“I never thought I’d see my name on a ballot. To be honest, I didn’t always believe that my vote mattered,” Johnson said in a news release. “President Obama changed that for me. He’s the first politician who I believed in. President Obama mobilized me and so many others who were disillusioned to vote for the first time. I hope I can motivate new voters just like he did for me.”

Johnson has also been endorsed by the Georgia Association of Educators.

“Speaking for myself, I’m really pleased that the GAE are really paying attention to the issues and looking underneath the surface and beyond sound bites to find the truth—that Mokah is passionate in her commitment to education and the safety of all of our students,” Clarke County Board of Education member Linda Davis said in the GAE’s announcement.