Following the nationwide move to “flip the 6th” Congressional District earlier this year, Democrats in Georgia’s 7th see a similar blue light at the end of a long red tunnel.
“[Rep. Rob Woodall] has been missing in action. He just doesn’t represent the citizens of Gwinnett County. … He has failed and he needs to go,” said Gabe Okoye, chairman of Gwinnett County Democrats.
According to the Federal Elections Commission, five Democratic candidates filed to run: former Georgia State University professor Carolyn Bourdeaux, Steven Reilly, Ethan Pham, Kathleen Allen and David Kim. Incumbent Woodall is the only Republican on the ticket thus far.
Reilly challenged Woodall in 2012 and lost. Like Bourdeaux and Allen, Pham is running with healthcare as a major issue, but cites concerns regarding Trump’s “divisiveness and hateful rhetoric” as another reason for his candidacy. Both Pham and Kim are concerned with immigration policy as well, and education is a major talking point for Allen.
“All of our candidates are great … and any of them is a better option than what we’ve got now,” Okoye said.
Bourdeaux and LGBT equality
The 7th district includes parts of Gwinnett and Forsyth counties, including Peachtree Corners, Grayson, Lawrenceville and Cumming. Okoye said the main issues his district is concerned with now include affordable healthcare and college tuition, suicide rates of veterans and issues related to youth. In terms of LGBT rights, “we will make sure that we don’t have a North Carolina here in Gwinnett,” he said.
Though healthcare and President Donald Trump are what pulled her away from academia, Bourdeaux said there is more at stake.
“Honestly, the LGBTQ issues are ones all of a sudden that are really on the front lines, and what’s going on is crazy,” she said.
Bourdeaux has been on the front lines of that fight for decades.
“I worked for [Oregon Sen.] Ron Wyden back in 1995 when he was running for the Senate. During that time, that was the era of the Defense of Marriage Act. That was when even folks you think of being very liberal did not come out for marriage equality,” Bourdeaux said.
She said Wyden was about to be interviewed for his thoughts on DOMA and needed talking points. She was instructed to come up with something.
“I wrote, ‘marriage is about love and commitment, and I think we should treat people’ — and I think at that time it was the gay community — ‘just the same as we treat anybody else, and I support marriage equality,’” Bourdeaux said. “I slid the talking points in front of him. He goes, ‘Marriage is about love and commitment,’ and he was the first senator to ever come out for marriage equality.”
Bourdeaux said if elected, she hopes to work as best as she can on both sides of the aisle, including with newly elected Rep. Karen Handel of Georgia’s 6th District, who will also be running for re-election in 2018. Handel’s record has shown her to flip-flop on issues of LGBT rights, and she recently indicated she would be in favor of banning same-sex adoption.
“I’m happy to work with Republicans on issues where we can find common ground, and to the extent I can find common ground with her, I will,” Bourdeaux said. “To the extent I can be a voice to these issues of basic human rights and human dignity, that is something I aspire to be. My son just wrapped up his pre-K program and he doesn’t know the difference — He’s got friends at school who have two daddies and two moms. He makes no distinction. He doesn’t know to think that’s anything new or different, and that’s what we need to get to here.”
Can the 7th turn blue?
“This district is very winnable for the Democratic party because right now, Gwinnett County specifically is a minority-majority county,” Okoye said. “That is why we have quite some very strong candidates running this time around.”
Whoever represents the 7th will also represent openly gay state Rep. Sam Park (D-Lawrenceville). Like Okoye, he’s dissatisfied with the job Woodall’s done in Congress.
“I am very concerned that my Congressman has so far voted 100 percent in line with President Trump,” he said. “We need independent thinkers and leaders who will put the interest of all those they serve before partisan politics, rather than serve as a rubber stamp for an ideologically driven political agenda.”
Park hopes whoever wins in 2018 supports the Equality Act, which provides protections for the LGBT community in the realms of employment, housing and public accommodations.
“Further, I hope our elected officials will stop targeting vulnerable minorities, such as members of the trans community, for political gain, and the perpetuation of fear-mongering and division in our country,” Park said.
Jon Ossoff, who ran against Handel in the 6th District, said he believes it’s important for candidates to be accessible and show respect and humility to all voters. Ossoff has not endorsed a candidate in the 7th District.
“I think that there are some who would have been cynical about the possibility that a candidate could compete in the 6th District and take such a strong, pro-LGBT stand, but I felt compelled to stand up for human rights no matter the politics,” he said. “Democrats can compete everywhere, and we should compete everywhere. I’m glad that strong and qualified candidates are stepping up in the 7th. This is a moment in history that calls for citizens to stand up and fight.”