LGBT candidates prepare for Georgia primary elections

When queer women’s health advocate Park Cannon won the February runoff for the House District 58 seat, she did so solidly, beating former state Rep. Ralph Long by nearly 20 points. But that 20 point win represented only about 200 votes. And she could have avoided the runoff altogether if she had received just 23 more votes in the previous month’s election.

While that was a special election, it still goes to show how much impact voters are capable of having as all 56 seats in the state Senate and all 180 in the state House come up for grabs in this November’s election. But first up are the primaries on May 24. And Georgia has open primaries, so voters don’t have to be registered for a specific party to take part in the election. That means something with an unprecedented number of Republican incumbents having challengers this year.

“It can actually have a huge influence on both the makeup of the legislature for the next two years but also the tone of the debate around a whole host of issues that are important to the LGBT community, and all of that gets decided on May 24 with the primaries,” says Jeff Graham, executive director of Georgia Equality, who will announce their primary endorsements in the first week of May after early voting starts.

Bob Gibeling (File photo)
Bob Gibeling (File photo)

While there are a number of races to look at overall that could affect the LGBT community (and we will report on those as well) here we look specifically at the eight openly LGBT candidates running for the legislature this year, including four different men who will attempt to become the first openly gay man elected to the legislature.

And sidenote: Fulton County State Court Judge Jane Morrison has no opposition and will serve another term, while her wife, Fulton County Commissioner Joan Garner, is in the same boat.

House District 54
District includes: Buckhead and West Midtown
The Lowdown: Openly gay candidate Bob Gibeling, treasurer of the LGBT Caucus of the Democratic Party of Georgia, is unopposed in the primary election but faces a stiff challenge this November against incumbent Republican Rep. Beth Beskin. And Gibeling will have a lot of ground to make up over the next seven months as far as financial support. A March 31 campaign disclosure report shows he has raised $350 and is around $7,200 in the hole, while Beskin has raised $183,000 and has $44,000 on hand.

House District 56
District includes: Southwest Atlanta, Downtown, and Midtown
The Lowdown: Marckeith DeJesus, a 37-year-old openly gay certified financial counselor, has a tough primary on his hands as he faces off against Rep. “Able” Mable Thomas, who’s looking for a third straight term in District 56 after two previous stints in the House in the ‘80s, ‘90s and ‘00s. The political newcomer has not filed any campaign disclosure reports, while Thomas has raised $43,000 and has $6,800 on hand. Floor coordinator Mel Peoples is also running and has not filed any campaign disclosure reports either.

Rep. Keisha Waites (File photo)
Rep. Keisha Waites (File photo)

House District 58
District includes: Southwest Atlanta, Downtown, and Midtown
The Lowdown: Openly queer state Rep. Park Cannon can rest easy after beating former state Rep. Ralph Long in a special election runoff in February to replace Simone Bell, who resigned last November. Cannon has no challengers in this year’s primary or general election and will get a chance to make a mark with her first full two-year term.

House District 59
District includes: East Point, Inman Park, Grant Park, Lakewood Heights, Little Five Points, Poncey-Highland and Reynoldstown
The Lowdown: Josh Noblitt, the openly gay marriage and family therapist and pastor at Saint Mark United Methodist Church, jumped into the race to replace state Rep. Margaret Kaiser, who is forgoing a reelection effort to make a mayoral run in 2017. There are no Republicans who qualified for the race, so it’s all down to the Democratic primary to decide who takes the seat, and it could be a close one. As far as the money race goes, Noblitt has raised $75,000 and has $22,000 on hand, attorney David Dreyer has raised $141,000 and has $125,000 on hand, and Janine Brown has raised $85,000 and has $53,000 on hand all as of Jan. 31.

House District 60
District includes: Southeast Atlanta, Hapeville, parts of Clayton and DeKalb counties
The Lowdown: Lesbian state Rep. Keisha Waites is unopposed in the primary and is expected to land a third straight term in office when she faces off against Republican truck driver Ralph Nobles in November. Neither Waites nor Nobles had raised or spent any money as of March 31 campaign disclosure reports.

Rep. Karla Drenner (l) and Rep. Park Cannon (r) (File photo)
Rep. Karla Drenner (l) and Rep. Park Cannon (r) (File photo)

House District 62
District includes: Portions of College Park, Douglasville, East Point, and portions of Fulton and DeKalb counties
The Lowdown: This is one primary to keep an eye on, with two openly gay candidates and six candidates overall looking to replace retiring state Rep. LaDawn Jones. And there is no Republican opposition in November so whoever wins in May takes the seat. Openly gay community activist and flight attendant Rafer Johnson landed a Gay & Lesbian Victory Fund endorsement over lesbian family law attorney Valerie Vie and has raised $56,000 with $12,000 on hand as of March 31. Vie has raised $23,000 and has $19,000 on hand, while attorney William Boddie, Jr. has raised $58,000 with $17,000 on hand and public servant Aaron Johnson has raised $20,000 with $9,000 on hand. Entrepreneur Joshua Butler and businessman Larry Perkins, Jr. have reported no money raised as of their latest campaign disclosure reports.

House District 85
District includes: Avondale Estates, Clarkston, Decatur and parts of Belvedere Park and Candler-McAfee
The Lowdown: Lesbian state Rep. Karla Drenner isn’t going anywhere. She faces no opposition in the primary or general elections and will be elected to her eighth term in office come November.

2016 primary elections for the Georgia legislature
Voter Registration Deadline: April 26, 2016
Early Voting Starts: May 2, 2016
Primary Election Day: May 24, 2016