Lesbian attorney Valerie Vie is in a crowded race for the Georgia House. But her ability to work across party lines has helped her make progress on issues Vie hopes to champion at the State Capitol and makes her stand out in a six-person race.
“I’m going to work for the people,” Vie said.
An attorney by trade, Vie spoke with Project Q Atlanta about her people-centered approach to her campaign and the issues she wants to champion. Vie has served as president of the Douglas County Bar Association and has worked in her community – her law offices are in Douglasville – addressing issues including homelessness and youth truancy.
“I was elected the first African-American Bar president in Douglas County. Now, I’m a Democrat, the majority of the Bar in Douglas County is Republican,” Vie said, noting that her ties have helped her garner donations across party lines.
Vie is one of six candidates running to replace Rep. LaDawn Blackett Jones in District 62. The district includes portions of East Point, College Park, Douglasville and Union City, and Fulton and Douglas counties. And with the all-Democratic effort to elect a new state representative, the May 24 primary and a likely July 26 runoff will decide the race.
Jones announced she would not seek re-election in March 2015. Since then, two LGBT candidates – Vie and Rafer Johnson – along with William K. Boddie Jr., Larry Perkins Jr., Aaron Johnson and Joshua B. Butler IV have qualified to run for the seat.
Vie said that being an out lesbian candidate has come with little feather ruffling.
“I’m out. I’m clearly out,” Vie said. “Everyone knows that I am a lesbian female. But it just, I guess it’s not what they need me for, so it’s not important.”
If Vie wins, she will join three other openly LGBT lawmakers at the State Capitol – Reps. Karla Drenner, Keisha Waites and Park Cannon. But she would also join a shrinking pool of attorney legislators.
Lawyers are becoming rare in Georgia’s General Assembly, as well as state legislatures around the country. Nationally, their presence has declined from about 22 percent of state legislators to 10 percent over the past 40 years. In Georgia, about 15 percent of House and Senate members are lawyers.
Although legal counsel is available to draft legislation and navigate tough questions, important committees, like Judiciary, often rely on the expertise of a mostly-lawyer committee to navigate the “mays” and “shalls” of legislation. And Vie said her legal background will help allow her to see through legislation that appears to be harmless but in fact could have an uneven impact on different groups of people – an issue she’s dealt with in court.
“In my legal background, there has been a lot of face neutral legislation, but it has a discriminatory impact. I believe I can use that experience when we are writing things that look OK, and then we have problems down the road,” Vie said.
Vie also said she opposes the slate of “religious freedom” measures that consumed lawmakers this session. One of the anti-LGBT bills, House Bill 757, was approved by the House and Senate and was sparking a national backlash before Gov. Nathan Deal vetoed it on March 28.
“I don’t believe in discriminating against people for any reason,” Vie said.
'I want to make Georgia a better place'
Cityhood is a hot issue in South Fulton and Vie said she is committed to representing the will of the residents in the area.
“I have knocked on a lot of doors in my district … but when I knock on the doors of unincorporated South Fulton, you’d be surprised if I knock on three sets of doors, I’m gonna get three answers,” Vie said.
“I have really tried to bridge the gap, to say ‘I am going to do what you all want me to do, irrespective of how I feel’,” Vie said.
The cityhood legislation passed the Senate after Sen. Donzella James, an Atlanta Democrat, traded her vote on a controversial measure in order for a vote on the cityhood bill. It ultimately passed out of both chambers and was recently signed by Deal, which means voters will face the question of creating the new city on the November ballot.
In trade, James voted for legislation that eliminated the independence of the Judicial Qualifications Commission (JQC), the agency that oversees ethics complaints for judges. Deal later signed it into law.
Also on the ballot in November is Deal’s Opportunity School District, which allows the state to take temporary control of failing schools. Vie, whose mother was an educator, said she opposes the measure.
“That will be on the ballot and a lot of people aren’t even aware of it when I knock on doors,” Vie said.
“Education to me is paramount. Opportunity School Districts are just like the educational system,” she added. “If you put it in impoverished areas, or families that don’t have as much, it’s not going to be successful.”
Minimum wage and Medicaid expansion are two other big issues Vie said are critically important to District 62 and the state, arguing that “it’s going to hold us back” if Georgia is not able to attract and retain “a certain caliber worker.”
Vie’s fundraising efforts – she’s raised $23,273.41, according to financial disclosure statements filed in April – leaves her trailing two other candidates. Boddie and Rafer Johnson have both garnered over $55,000 in contributions. But Vie has the most cash on hand with $18,688.58. Boddie has $16,506.24 remaining and Rafer Johnson has $12,326.67 cash on hand.
Aaron Johnson has raised $20,035.18 so far, and has $9,260.38 left. The other two candidates – Perkins and Butler – have barely visible campaigns and no reported contributions.
View said her goal as a state lawmaker, if elected, is pretty simple.
“I want to make Georgia a better place. Now I’m going to represent the constituents of District 62, but when I get down to legislating, I will make decisions that affect all of Georgians,” Vie said.