Historically, there is low voter turnout in runoff elections, making the impact of the vote of those who do turn out that much greater. Here are the two races to watch featuring LGBT candidates on July 26.

Vie has eye on choice committee seat

Openly gay community activist and flight attendant Rafer Johnson missed out on nabbing one of the top two slots in the May 24 primary in House District 62, which includes portions of College Park, Douglasville, East Point, and portions of Fulton and DeKalb counties. But there was another LGBT candidate in this race, lesbian family law attorney Valerie Vie, and she did make the cut and faces off against attorney William Boddie, Jr. on July 26.

Vie lists public education, increasing the minimum wage and Medicaid expansion as the major issues of her campaign, but a win would also nab her a choice seat on the House Judiciary Committee—the site of much drama in the fight over so-called “religious freedom” legislation the last three years.

“It would be a first to have an LGBT person on the Judiciary Committee, so there will be a huge voice for us when we’re talking about these things that have a negative impact on our community,” Vie tells Georgia Voice.

Vie, a political newcomer, is trailing Boddie in fundraising. She has $27,773.41 in contributions with $14,458.14 on hand versus $82,486.04 in contributions with $23,897.30 on hand for her opponent as of the latest campaign disclosure report on June 30.

There is no opposition in the November general election, so if Vie outshines Boddie on Tuesday, she’ll join Rep. Karla Drenner (D-Avondale Estates), Rep. Keisha Waites (D-Atlanta) and Rep. Park Cannon (D-Atlanta) as the only openly LGBT members of the Georgia legislature.

Alembik leads in fundraising

The other openly gay candidate in the July 26 runoffs is Gary Alembik, who is running for Superior Court judge in Fulton County. This is the family law attorney, Fulton County magistrate and hearing officer’s first run for public office. He tells Georgia Voice that he hadn’t considered running for office until the retiring Judge Wendy Shoob suggested that he run.

He notes the size of Fulton County as one of the challenges he’s faced, saying he’s that while he’s been knocking on doors as much as he can, he’s had to rely on mailers and robocalls to reach people.

“We’re talking a million people from top to bottom in 75 miles,” he says. “So it’s difficult to touch everybody on a personal level. With a House race it’s more achievable because you have a defined area and it’s very achievable to go to every neighborhood but I just can’t. So it’s a challenge because people frankly don’t know who they’re voting for when they vote for a judge.”

He also notes another difference when looking at judicial races versus legislative—to retain impartiality, a judicial candidate can’t talk about policies.

“I’m a sitting judge so I’m very limited in terms of what I can say. So I talk about things that are important to me like justice reform and the importance of case management,” Alembik says.

If elected, Alembik would be the second openly LGBT Superior Court judge in Fulton County (joining Jane Barwick) and the first openly gay male. He understands the focus on his sexuality, saying, “It’s important to have a judge who represents the face of your community. In the context of family law, I have a little more appreciation for the dynamics that come with a gay divorce or gay adoption.”

But the candidate adds, “Does that create a bias? Absolutely not. Does my being gay define me as a judge? Absolutely not. I know there are some folks in our community who would like me to speak a little louder about my sexuality but it doesn’t define me. I know who I am and I’m passionate about what I do, especially in terms of being a judge. What the voters should be looking for is the level of experience that comes with a candidate and what change they can bring to whatever position they’re running for.”

Alembik has the lead in fundraising over his opponent Eric Dunaway, with $213,542 in contributions and $96,403.70 on hand versus $184,877.24 and $38,867.20 on hand for Dunaway as of a June 30 campaign disclosure report.

After the July 26 runoffs it’s on to the general elections in November where, in addition to the possibility of Vie and Alembik, there are several other openly LGBT candidates in the running. Those facing no opposition and are guaranteed another term include state Rep. Park Cannon (D-Atlanta), state Rep. Karla Drenner (D-Avondale Estates), Fulton County State Court Judge Jane Morrison and Fulton County Commissioner Joan Garner. State Rep. Keisha Waites (D-Atlanta) faces Republican truck driver Ralph Nobles in House District 60 but is expected to land a third straight term. So the race of interest concerning LGBT candidates is House District 54, where openly gay candidate Bob Gibeling faces a stiff challenge against incumbent Republican Rep. Beth Beskin.

2016 runoff elections
Early Voting Started: July 5, 2016
Runoff Election Day: July 26, 2016
Find your voter registration status and polling location: www.mvp.sos.ga.gov/MVP/mvp.do

Here are the full lists of endorsements issued by Georgia Equality and Georgia Stonewall Democrats for the July 26 runoffs:

Georgia Equality Endorsements

State Senate:

District 43: Rep. Dee Dawkins Haigler (D)

State House of Representatives:

District 62: Valerie Vie (D)

Fulton County:

Superior Court Judge: Gary Alembik
Superior Court Judge: Sterling Eaves
Solicitor General: Clinton “Clint” Rucker

Griffin:

District Attorney: Rudjard Hayes (R)

Georgia Stonewall Democrats Endorsements

State Senate:

District 43: Rep. Dee Dawkins Haigler (D)

State House of Representatives:

District 59: Janine Brown (D)
District 62: Valerie Vie (D)
District 91: Rhonda Taylor (D)

Fulton County:

Solicitor General: Keith Gammage

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