A trio of Democrats hopes to provide an LGBT-inclusive and progressive alternative to Republicans in a crowded race to fill the metro Atlanta seat of U.S. Rep. Tom Price, an anti-gay GOP lawmaker likely to join the Trump Administration.
LGBT issues could become an issue in a race for Price's 6th Congressional District, which includes large swathes of Atlanta’s influential northern suburbs such as Brookhaven, Sandy Springs, Johns Creek, and Alpharetta. Price has opposed LGBT equality efforts throughout his Congressional career. A likely GOP candidate for the seat, Karen Handel, went on anti-gay benders during her failed runs for governor in 2010 and U.S. Senate in 2014.
Democrats lining up for Price's seat have struck a different tone.
“When I heard that Tom Price was going to the Health & Human Services cabinet position, it created an opening. I feel that a Democrat can win the 6th District,” former state Sen. Ron Slotin said.
“That’s why I announced my campaign for Congress to be the voice for [a] progressive agenda. And to protect the advances we’ve made on very progressive issues, like a woman’s right to chose, advances we’ve made to protect our environment, healthcare that includes pre existing conditions, and fight discrimination against the LGBT community,” Slotin added.
Slotin's campaign site states he'll “fight discrimination attempts against our LGBTQ community.” When Slotin announced his campaign in early December, he included marriage equality in a list of progressive issues that he would defend. Via Reporter Newspapers:
In a press release, he used the campaign slogan, “Votin’ for Slotin–Fiscally Smart and Socially Progressive.”
“On the national front, we need a progressive voice in Washington who will fight to protect the progress we have made on many issues, including a woman’s right to choose; affordable healthcare coverage, including covering pre-existing conditions; protection of Social Security; and care for our growing number of senior citizens and marriage equality,” Slotin said in the release. “I will work to bring people together.”
Slotin (photo right) is among three Democrats and one independent eyeing Price's seat. They include Sally Harrell (photo center), who previously served as a state representative and has the backing of state Rep. Scott Holcomb and state Sen. Elena Parent, and Jon Ossoff (photo left), a former Congressional staffer for U.S. Reps. John Lewis and Hank Johnson. Ossoff brings $250,000 in donations and the support of Lewis and Johnson. Political newcomer Josh McLaurin also announced for the race but dropped out Tuesday and backed Ossoff.
Alexander Hernandez, a political Independent who works in the film and television industries, said he's exploring entering the race.
Harrell said that Democrats, although underdogs in the race, can figure out better messaging, move more left politically, and focus on one candidate to win the District 6 seat.
“It’s an opportunity, in the post-Trump era, to work with the Democrats on what is our message going to be,” Harrell said. “I think this race can help us figure that out, and help us kind of experiment with message, to come up something that resonates with the people. And kind of give us practice going into 2018.”
“What I am interested in talking about is going more to the left, being more progressive in an effort to bring out our base,” Harrell added.
The winner of the 6th District race could face several LGBT issues once in Congress, including the anti-LGBT First Amendment Defense Act and the LGBT-inclusive Equality Act. Harrell said she's working to educate herself on LGBT issues as she firms up her issues platform for the campaign.
“I probably need to fill myself in on specific issues that [the LGBT community is] working on right now,” Harrell said. “So I haven’t mentioned it, but that doesn’t mean it’s not there for me.”
Both Slotin and Harrell worked on LGBT issues during their terms as state lawmakers. Slotin introduced a bill to update the state's sodomy laws, while Harrell was one of only a handful of Democrats in 2004 to vote against a constitutional amendment defining marriage as between one man and one woman.
McLaurin, in an interview before he dropped out of the race, said he has no record to point to as a political newcomer but that he is focused on bringing a different approach to politics.
“My platform is that we have really, we have lost our ability to do politics in this country,” McLaurin said. “And so what I hope to do with my campaign, and just with my habits generally for years to come, is to talk about the idea of listening to our neighbors. Because our neighbors are diverse in all kinds of ways.”
Confirmation hearings for Price started on Wednesday. He's not expected to resign his seat in Congress until his confirmation by the Senate as secretary of Health & Human Services. When that happens, Gov. Nathan Deal can schedule a special election to fill the seat. Once a special election is called, there will be no primary, and all candidates will run in one, open election for the seat. If no candidate gets more than 50 percent of the vote, as is the most likely scenario, there will be a run-off between the top two candidates, regardless of party, to determine the winner.
Among Republicans, state Sen. Judson Hill is the only candidate to declare his intent to run. Handel and former state Sen. Dan Moody are among other likely candidates.
While the district has historically swung conservative, Trump’s win in the district was by a much smaller margin than Mitt Romney’s during the 2012 presidential election. Other changes in Peach State politics – including both Cobb and Gwinnett Counties going blue this past election – also bode well for Democrats.