Every seat in the Georgia General Assembly is up for grabs this year. Major party candidates must file qualifying papers and pay the required fees betwee n 9 a.m. on Monday, April 26, and noon on Friday, April 30. Party primaries are slated for July 20 and the general election is Nov. 2.
By mid afternoon on Wednesday, both of the openly gay current members of the state legislature had qualified to run for re-election. No one had qualified to run against them.
State Rep. Karla Drenner (D-Avondale Estates), Georgia’s first openly gay state lawmaker, qualified April 26 to run for her sixth term. Drenner was unopposed in her last election.
State Rep. Simone Bell (D-Atlanta), the first openly lesbian African-American state legislator in the nation, qualified April 27 to run for her first full term after winning a special election last fall to finish the term of Robin Shipp, who resigned the seat when it conflicted with her employment.
Gay men seek office
Meanwhile, at least three gay candidates hope to join Drenner and Bell under the Gold Dome, where they would become the first openly gay men to serve in the Georgia General Assembly.
Two — House District 80 candidate Keith Gross and Senate District 47 hopeful Tim Riley – are seeking new chances after unsuccessful bids in 2008, while the third, House District 59 candidate Brad Ploeger, is running as a Libertarian and therefore must qualify for the ballot via petition rather than the party primary system.
Gay-friendly Rep. Mike Jacobs (R-Atlanta) will face a Democratic challenger for the first time since leaving that party in 2007. Gay business owner Keith Gross hopes to be the name on the ballot with Jacobs in November, but will first face computer consultant Sandy Murray and any other Democrats who qualify in the July 20 primary.
Gross, who qualified on Tuesday, attempted to run against Jacobs in 2008, but was pulled off the ballot after a court challenge determined that Gross did not meet the residency requirements. The Democrats were unable to get a candidate on the ballot and Jacobs easily beat an independent candidate.
Gross did not return calls from Georgia Voice, but wrote on his website that he had received bad legal advice.
“I ran for this seat in 2008 because of my disappointment that Mike lied to all of us and switched from Democrat to Republican (after lying long enough to get elected),” Gross said on the site. “Just like you, I was surprised when I was kicked off the ballot through a clever legal maneuver, which I inadequately defended.”
Jacobs said he welcomed a challenger and was confident the voters will approve of his records.
“I’m not worried about it. I’m going to run a strong campaign, and feel that I’m known quality within my district, but I feel that’s for the voters to decide,” said Jacobs, who has been endorsed by Georgia Equality and the gay Log Cabin Republicans in past races.
Riley, a gay mental health counselor who lives in Athens, had not filed qualifying papers by Wednesday afternoon, but announced his candidacy via a press release on April 21.
Riley, a Democrat, ran for the same seat in 2008, losing to Republican Ralph Hudgens in the general election. Riley received 25,172 votes, or 35.2 percent of votes cast, compared to 46,257 votes, or 64.8 percent, for Hudgens.
Hudgens is now running for state Insurance Commissioner. As of Wednesday, three Republicans had qualified to face off in the GOP primary: Shane Coley, a software consultant from Statham; Doug Bower, a clergy member and counselor from Arnoldsville, and Kelley Gary, a business owner from Hoschton.
State Senate District 47 includes parts of Barrow, Clarke, Elbert, Jackson, Madison and Oglethorpe counties.
Ploeger was nominated to run for Atlanta-based House District 59 at the Libertarian Party state convention on April 24. He is challenging gay-friendly Rep. Margaret Kaiser (D-Atlanta) for House District 59. On Wednesday, no other major party candidates had qualified for the race.
Ploeger, who is gay, is an attorney and lives in Grant Park with his partner.
According to the Libertarian Party, Ploeger must collect 1,600 signatures to qualify for the ballot.
“This state needs leadership and a clear purpose of vision. We the people have only been given bread, circuses and scandals,” Ploeger said in a press release.
— Matt Schafer contributed