A campaign between two Democrats, one of them gay, for a Georgia Senate seat in metro Atlanta is turning into a nasty, expensive affair splitting LGBT allegiances, prompting calls of political shenanigans and raising more than $315,000.
It's even prompted one of the best headlines of the truncated primary season.
The battle between gay attorney Kyle Williams and non-profit leader Elena Parent for the District 42 seat is likely to only intensify in the weeks leading up to the May 20 primary. The winner of that will face Republican insurance executive Greg Williams in the Nov. 4 general election.
Let's unpack it all.
Together, Parent and Williams have raised more than $317,000 in campaign contributions, with a slight edge going to Parent. It's a surprising amount for the Decatur-based Senate seat.
Williams reported $62,015 in contributions in the most recent filing period, which ended March 31, and $104,464 on hand for the remaining weeks of the campaign. Overall, his campaign has collected $150,643.
Parent reported $140,965 on hand after raising $67,506 in contributions during the latest filing period and besting Williams by about $5,000. Overall, she has received $167,870 in contributions.
That leaves Parent with a significant cash advantage – about $36,000 – in the remaining weeks of the primary. That's likely to fluctuate, though, as both rally supporters. Williams hosts a LGBT Community Reception on April 17 that's sure to make a dent in campaign contributions.
Both candidates have collected impressive lists of endorsements, but it's one in particular that highlights an LGBT divide in the race. State Rep. Karla Drenner, the first openly gay person elected to the Georgia legislature, backed Parent with a warm embrace in January.
“Elena’s record on equality and issues that impact women and families is outstanding. As a mother of two young boys, Elena will fight for the rights of all parents in Georgia. Elena is experienced and will be a very effective leader in the Senate.”
Drenner was unapologetic about backing a non-gay candidate over a gay one:
“I don’t endorse people because of their sexual orientation,” Drenner told GA Voice. “I do agree that we need more gay candidates and more gay elected people. But I served with Elena Parent and she is the candidate for this particular job.”
Drenner's support of Parent prompted the best headline of the primary from right-leaning Peach Pundit: Grrls before Gays?
Incumbent endorsements are nothing new in politics. Incumbents who raise funds for candidates aren’t news either. However, when one of the most vocal openly gay state lawmakers requests funding in a race where one candidate is openly gay and another is not- that is news.
Representative Drenner endorsed Elena Parent early on, but now is making an ask for funds on Parent’s behalf- not Kyle Williams. Drenner’s endorsement carries weight for the district as is, as she is a well-liked incumbent who is unquestioned on issues of energy and education, among others. However, her endorsement and solicitation of funds for Parent bears weight in the queer community as well. Drenner is an unwavering advocate of the LGBT community who I last saw serving on a panel at the Atlanta Gay Men’s Chorus event. (Their a cappella rendition of Lady Gaga’s Born This Way put Gaga to shame and brought the house down at Glenn Memorial.) For Drenner to choose to support Elena in this race versus Kyle shows Parent’s implicit ability to build bridges, serve a larger community, and that she is wise enough to know how to play bigger political chips.
For his part, Williams is backed by Georgia Equality, Gay & Lesbian Victory Fund, and several LGBT current and former elected officials including Atlanta City Council member Alex Wan, Decatur Mayor Pro Temp Kecia Cunningham, former Doraville City Council member Brian Bates and former Atlanta City Council President Cathy Woolard.
Both candidates have been knocked as Barbies. But they've been digging at one another, too, as they attempt to portray themselves as more progressive than the other.
Williams accused Parent of a poll question attempting to paint him as a Republican-loving candidate who takes cash from the likes of GOP pols in Washington, D.C. Then his campaign flipped the script and accused Parent of ties to the American Legislative Exchange Council, which ghost writes legislation for conservative causes. That received this rebuke from Beth Cope, a spokesperson for Williams' campaign.
“At first I was disappointed to learn about the negative poll question,” said Beth Cope, Friends of Kyle Williams Spokesperson. “But then my disappointment turned into incredulity since it is actually our opponent who has ties to a right-wing organization in Washington,” she said.
Turns out that Parent's reference to Williams and any Republican ties comes from the backing he gained for his unsuccessful Decatur City Commission race in 2009 from the Georgia Log Cabin Republicans. So that gay political group fired back at Parent.
The Georgia Log Cabin Republicans are sick and tired of the LGBT community and our organization being used in political attacks and as a wedge issue.
Elena Parent claims she’s a progressive candidate, but she’s no better than Gov. Nathan Deal’s campaign that attacked Karen Handel’s association with the LGBT community and GA LCR in the last Georgia governor’s race.
To make the record clear, the Georgia Log Cabin Republicans did not contribute money to that nonpartisan Decatur commission race, and being a state chapter we’re not permitted to endorse in presidential or any other federal elections. Ms. Parent wasn’t testing the electorate on her opponent’s negatives – she was passing off bold face LIES to likely voters.
Elena Parent’s deceitful strategy is to pit the LGBT community against each other to win an election at all costs. This is simply not the character of someone who should be elected to public office and certainly not a future state senator.
Longtime LGBT activist Cindy Abel decried Parent's actions as "dirty tricks" in a Huffington Post column.
Surely Parent's campaign did their research. Which begs the question: why did she misrepresent the facts to try and use an LGBT candidate's community against him?
Parent, as a state lawmaker, attended an ALEC conference in 2011 and has since said she did so at the urging (and with the blessing) of Democratic leaders in the state, according to Peach Pundit.
Parent’s spokespeople wouldn’t discuss their internal polling in public, but released a statement following my inquiry. “Elena attended the ALEC conference on behalf of the AFL-CIO, progressive champion Sen. Nan Orrock, and other Democratic leaders to help build plans to defeat their extreme agendas,” said Matt Weyandt, Parent’s senior campaign advisor.
The District 42 campaign is being closed watched by political pundits as the winner will replace state Sen. Jason Carter, who is running for governor. It could also be a launching pad to higher office for Williams or Parent. The AJC's Political Insider is keeping tabs, GA Voice asked both about LGBT issues, the Daily Report looked at the primary race between the two attorneys, and Atlanta Progressive News quizzed Williams and Parent on a host of progressive issues.