Three out of four openly gay incumbents in the Georgia General Assembly proved victorious in Tuesday’s primary, while gay challengers in contested races were less successful. A lesbian attorney also won a seat on the Fulton County State Court in the July 31 vote.
Rep. Karla Drenner, Georgia’s first openly gay state legislator, was unopposed for reelection in House District 86.
Rep. Simone Bell, the first openly lesbian African-American state legislator in the nation, came out on top in the Democratic primary for State House District 58.
With 95.82 percent of precincts reporting, Bell had 59.02 percent of the vote, compared to 40.98 percent for Rep. Ralph Long, according to unofficial results from the Fulton County election office.
The two Democratic incumbents faced off in the July 31 primary after Republican redistricting drew them into the same district. The winner will face Republican challenger Earl Cooper in November.
Rep. Keisha Waites, a lesbian who won office in a special election in February, appears to have handily won her bid for her first full term in House District 60 against several challengers.
But in House District 57, Rep. Rashad Taylor, who came out last year while serving in the General Assembly, lost his reelection bid to Rep. Pat Gardner, a Democratic incumbent with a history of supporting LGBT rights. As with Bell and Long, the two were drawn into the same district by Republicans during redistricting.
On Tuesday night, Gardner described the race as “exhausting but one of the most exhilarating races I’ve ever run.”
She also described having to run against Taylor, a fellow Democratic incumbent, as “awful.”
“Running against a friend is the worst thing that could have happened to us,” Gardner said. “But that’s what the Republicans wanted — and got.”
Tough night for gay challengers
Two openly gay men lost their bids for seats in the General Assembly.
In his bid for House District 56, gay political advocate Ken Britt was endorsed by Georgia Equality, Atlanta Stonewall Democrats, the Human Rights Campaign, and the National Gay & Lesbian Victory Fund.
He faced off with former state representative “Able” Mable Thomas, who had supported LGBT rights in the past and was seeking a return to the Gold Dome. With 88.42 percent of precincts reporting, Britt had 34.62 percent of the vote, compared to 65.38 percent for Thomas.
Britt was the executive director of the Alston & Bird for nearly 30 years before taking early retirement.
Politically, he worked behind the scenes on successful campaigns for gay candidates Atlanta City Council member Alex Wan and Fulton County Commissioner Joan Garner before deciding to run for District 56 seat left open when Rep. Kathy Ashe decided not to seek reelection
He is a longtime veteran of Atlanta’s LGBT scene, serving on such boards as AID Atlanta, Georgia Equality and also as co-chair of the national Human Rights Campaign.
As results tricked in Tuesday night, Britt said he would continue to work on behalf of the LGBT community regardless of the outcome of the race.
“This would never have happened without the support of the LGBT community,” he said. “I’m proud to be the gay godfather,” he added, referencing the nickname some of bestowed on him due to his years of work on gay issues.
William Phelps, a gay veteran, faced an uphill battle in his attempt to unseat Rep. Margaret Kaiser in House District 59, especially after LGBT political groups endorsed Kaiser, who has been an ally on gay rights issues.
With 96 percent of precincts reporting, Kaiser had 81.78 percent of the vote.
Two other openly gay hopefuls — state House District 101 candidate Tim Swiney in Gwinnett County and Senate District 47 candidate Tim Riley in Athens — were unopposed in Tuesday’s Democratic Primary but face Republican opposition in November.
Lesbian judge on Fulton State Court
Attorney Jane Morrison proved successful Tuesday in her bid for a seat on the Fulton County State Court, which would make her one of the first openly gay judges in Georgia and the Southeast.
With 97.13 percent of precincts reporting, Morrison had 60.82 percent of the vote, while Melynee Leftridge had 38.92 percent.
“I just really appreciate the broad support from all communities,” Morrison said Tuesday night after declaring victory in the race.
The two were competing for the seat left open when Judge Brenda Cole retired after serving 14 years on the bench. State court handles misdemeanor criminal cases such as DUI and civil cases including contract cases and personal injury cases.
Morrison, whose partner is Fulton County Commissioner Joan Garner, graduated from Northeastern University School of Law in 1994.
Morrison moved to Atlanta nearly two decades ago and has practiced in Georgia for 18 years. She was one of the founders of the Stonewall Bar Association. In 1996, she helped organize the organization’s first annual dinner, an event that continues to attract high-profile attorneys and judges from across the state.
In 1997, Lambda Legal, an LGBT non-profit legal organization, opened a Southern Regional Office with Morrison as its first regional director.
Morrison has her own civil practice where she works full-time, but she is also a part-time solicitor for the cities of Sandy Springs and Johns Creek. She’s also served as a judge on a part time basis for Atlanta Municipal Court as well as a part-time Fulton Magistrate judge.
Dyana Bagby and Ryan Watkins contributed.