Four of seven gay candidates facing races on Tuesday won, including one seeking a judicial post, though Georgia’s caucus of LGBT state lawmakers shrunk and gay men faced a tough time.
Voters in Atlanta could have swelled the state’s number of openly gay lawmakers to six. Instead, they shrunk it to three and showed that gay men face a difficult path in reaching the Gold Dome.
Three LGBT incumbent state lawmakers faced voters in contested Democratic primaries—Reps. Simone Bell, Keisha Waites and Rashad Taylor. A fourth incumbent, Rep. Karla Drenner, did not face any primary opposition. The lesbians won while Taylor lost, as did gay challengers Ken Britt and William Phelps. Drenner, Bell and Waites face token or no opposition from Republicans in November.
Two other gay men seeking seats in the state legislature – Tim Riley in Senate District 47 and Timothy Swiney in House District 101 – did not face primary opponents on Tuesday but will battle serious Republican opposition in November.
Fulton County State Court. Lesbian attorney Jane Morrison easily beat Melynee Leftridge to become a state court judge and one of the few openly gay jurists in the state. Morrison won nearly 61 percent of the vote to Leftridge’s 39 percent. That robocall from partner Joan Garner must have helped.
“This was a hard fought, long shot race and all of your support and votes helped us win,” Morrison’s campaign said in a Facebook post on Wednesday.
House District 56. Britt, a well-funded politico who’s helped other LGBT candidates win office, faced former state Rep. “Able” Mable Thomas in this race for an open seat. But Thomas easily dispatched Britt, 65 percent to 35 percent. Britt thanked supporters in email on Wednesday.
“We did not achieve the hoped-for result in yesterday’s election, but I would like to thank every person and organization who gave this campaign the incredible strength and momentum it had,” Britt says. “I am both humbled and honored by the phenomenal support shown by my friends and neighbors in the District (and beyond), and, although the voters ultimately chose another voice to represent them in the State Legislature, I look forward to continuing my commitment to community service.”
District 57. Republican-led redistricting last year helped pit Taylor, who came out under pressure in 2011, against gay-friendly Rep. Pat Gardner in a race that quickly turned contentious. Georgia Equality passed on issuing an endorsement; Atlanta Stonewall Democrats backed Gardner. She won 62 percent to 38 percent.
District 58. Bell (photo) faced Rep. Ralph Long (photo) in a primary that also turned contentious when Long called Georgia Equality anti-straight “bigots” after it endorsed Bell over him. Stonewall also backed Bell. Both candidates also clumsily inserted themselves into the sentencing hearing for three of the four men charged in the beating of a gay man in southwest Atlanta. Bell won, 59 percent to 41 percent.
District 59. Phelps, a gay former Marine, made his first bid for elected office against Rep. Margaret Kaiser, a progressive Democrat with a track record of supporting LGBT issues. Kaiser cruised to re-election with 82 percent to Phelps’ 18 percent, at least the second time she’s swatted down a gay opponent. Georgia Equality and Stonewall endorsed Kaiser.
District 60. Waites won a special election for the post earlier this year by beating three other candidates. She faced four candidates on Tuesday in seeking her first full term and easily outpaced all of them by taking 65 percent of the vote. Georgia Equality and Stonewall backed Waites.
District 85. Drenner, the dean of Georgia’s gay state lawmakers, cruised to re-election. She faced no opponents in the Democratic primary, meaning the veteran lesbian lawmaker is assured of a seventh term representing her DeKalb County district. Drenner faced no opposition in her 2002 and 2004 campaigns.
Other races of note. A U.S. House race in north Georgia that went anti-gay now heads to a runoff. State Rep. Doug Collins won 42 percent in Distrct 9 race, outpacing Marth Zoller (41 percent) and Roger Fitzpatrick (17 percent). Collins slammed Zoller in a campaign flyer for backing gay marriage, which she doesn’t.
In Cobb County, former Commission Chair Bill Byrne’s effort to return to his former job helped put incumbent Chair Tim Lee into a Republican runoff. Lee received 40 percent of the vote to Byrne’s 26 percent.
Byrne, who has a lesbian daughter, led the Commission in the early 1990s when it banned funding to arts groups that support the “gay lifestyle” and later a resolution that said the “gay lifestyle” was “incompatible with the standards to which the community subscribes.” That led LGBT activists to successfully push for Cobb to lose any chance of hosting events during the 1996 Olympics in Atlanta.