** Update ** Editors’ Picks: We have been getting a large volume of emails asking us to make a recommendation for State School Superintendent. We decided to make a recommendation in both primaries. (Complete guide is below.)
Nancy Jester (Republican) – The Editors believe that Jester has the strongest skill set to make important and lasting changes at the state Department of Education. Face it, the job requires an interesting mix of number crunching, analysis, managerial know-how, and political instinct. To be successful, the next State School Superintendent will need to match those requirements with savviness and communications that have been missing in this office for quite some time. Nancy Jester fits the bill. She gets the nod from Georgia School Watch.
Alisha Thomas Morgan (Democrat) – We believe that Morgan deserves to win her primary because she is the only candidate that supports school choice. The other candidates will have no chance of working well with all the players at the state level. Morgan crossed her own party to support the charter school amendment. She is the only democrat that won’t be in the back pocket of the establishment 100% of the time. She gets our nod for the Democratic primary.
GEORGIA’S 2014 VOTERS GUIDE
Georgia voters head to the polls Tuesday to pick their party’s nominees for statewide offices, state school superintendent, state legislative seats, congressional seats and scores of down-ticket races. It’s the first statewide primary since Georgia Republicans took every statewide office in Georgia in 2010, and Democrats hope to regain a foothold.
Many incumbents from both parties have gone unchallenged, but several high-profile contests will be decided by the vote. If no candidate in the primary earns a majority of votes, the two top vote-getters will square off in a July 22 runoff. Here is a breakdown of some of the top contests to watch:
STATE SCHOOL SUPERINTENDENT
State Schools Superintendent John Barge’s bid for governor left open one of the top elected positions in Georgia, and Democrats are eager to seize it for themselves. State Rep. Alisha Thomas Morgan, a top Democratic contender for the seat, has been at odds with fellow Democrats over support for charter schools. Many party leaders support Decatur school board member Valarie Wilson. Also in the race are instructional coach Tarnisha Dent, consultant Denise Freeman, educator Jurita Mays and teacher Rita Robinzine.
On the GOP side, are educational finance and policy expert Nancy Jester and two black candidates, former President of the College Democrats of America Ashley Bell, and former owner of Atlanta’s women’s soccer team Fitz Johnson. Also running are a litany of educators: college professor Mary Kay Bacallao, John Barge’s second in command Mike Buck, ex-educator Sharyl Dawes, Quitman County School Superintendent Allen Fort, graduation coach Kira Willis and Tifton educator Richard Woods.
Gov. Nathan Deal, seeking a second term, has traveled the state telling voters his policies are growing the economy and improving schools. He faces a challenge from two longtime GOP rivals. Former Dalton Mayor David Pennington says the incumbent is not cutting taxes and spending aggressively enough. State Schools Superintendent John Barge says he would bring a renewed focus on education into the governor’s office. Both challengers trail in polls and fundraising but hope to force a runoff.
Democratic state Sen. Jason Carter, the grandson of a former president, faces no primary challenge and will become his party’s nominee. Ditto for Libertarian Andrew Hunt, a technology executive.
Seven Republicans are in the race to replace retiring U.S. Sen. Saxby Chambliss. U.S. Reps. Paul Broun, Phil Gingrey and Jack Kingston are leaving the House to compete for the open seat, each pledging to be a solid conservative vote. Former Georgia Secretary of State Karen Handel has cast herself as an outsider who will shake up Washington. And David Perdue, a former Fortune 500 executive, hopes to capitalize on his business record. Two lesser-known Republicans, Art Gardner and Derrick Grayson, are also in the running.
Michelle Nunn, a nonprofit executive who is the daughter of former U.S. Sen. Sam Nunn, instantly became the Democratic front-runner when she entered the race last year. She faces challenges from Atlanta psychiatrist Branko Radulovacki, former state Sen. Steen Miles and Todd Robinson, a high school ROTC director.
The nominees will face Libertarian Amanda Swafford, a former Flowery Branch councilwoman, in November.
There are crowded contests for Congress up and down the ticket. In the Savannah area’s 1st District, six GOP candidates are trying to replace U.S. Rep. Jack Kingston. They include state Sen. Buddy Carter, consultant Darwin Carter, state Rep. Jeff Chapman, surgeon Bob Johnson, physician Earl Martin and investment fund manager John McCallum.
Democrats in that southeast Georgia district also face a heated primary. UPS executive Brian Reese, law enforcement officer Marc Smith and real estate agent Amy Tavio all seek their party’s nod.
In the Atlanta area’s 4th District, U.S. Rep. Hank Johnson faces a stiff challenge from former DeKalb County Sheriff Tom Brown. The winner heads to Washington since no Republicans qualified for the race.
The race to replace U.S. Rep. Paul Broun in northeast Georgia’s 10th District is crowded. Seven Republicans are seeking their party’s nomination: Mike Collins, a trucking company executive; lawyer Gary Gerrard; Jody Hice, a pastor and conservative radio talk show host; state Rep. Donna Sheldon; Stephen Simpson, a retired U.S. Army officer; tea party candidate Brian Slowinski; and Mitchell Swan, an officer in the U.S. Marine Corps Reserve. Awaiting them is Democrat Ken Dious, a lawyer.
The 11th District, which covers parts of northwest Atlanta, features a six-way GOP race to replace U.S. Rep. Phil Gingrey. Former U.S. Rep. Bob Barr is seen as the front-runner. His challengers include businessman Allan Levene, state Rep. Ed Lindsey; former state Sen. Barry Loudermilk; retired U.S. Army Col. Larry Mrozinski and entrepreneuer Tricia Pridemore. No Democrats qualified to get on the ballot.
U.S. Rep. John Barrow of the 12th District is one of the most targeted Democrats in the House. This cycle, five candidates are seeking the GOP nomination for the right to unseat him: Rick Allen, who owns a construction company; state Rep. Delvis Dutton; John Stone, a former congressional aide; Diane Vann, a nurse; and Eugene Yu, an entrepreneur.
Dozens of state legislators face an intraparty challenge. House Speaker David Ralston’s bid for another term has attracted a bid by wrestling coach Sam Snider. State Rep. Charles Gregory, a libertarian-minded lawmaker, faces an establishment-backed challenge from attorney Bert Reeves. And state Sen. Don Balfour, cleared of state fraud charges, faces challenges from ex-Gwinnett Commissioner Mike Beaudreau and former Lawrenceville Councilman P.K. Martin.
In Clayton County:
Two incumbents are being challenged on the Clayton County Commission, a place where incumbents have not fared well recently. District 1 Commissioner Sonna Singleton faces Rosa Barbee, Joyce Baul and Richard Reagan in the Democratic primary. District 4 Commissioner Michael Edmondson, a Democrat, is being challenged by Larry Bussey and Robbie Moore.
In Cobb County:
Cobb County will get at least one new commissioner, and an incumbent is facing two challengers in the Republican primary. District 3 Commissioner JoAnne Birrell is taking on fellow Republicans Michael Opitz and Joseph Pond. In District 1, Helen Goreham has decided not to seek re-election. Republicans Angela Barner, Bill Byrne, Glenn Melson, Scott Tucker and Bob Weatherford are vying for the seat.
In DeKalb County:
The biggest race with countywide attention is the contest to replace former Sheriff Tom Brown, who resigned to challenge Democratic U.S. Rep. Hank Johnson. On the ballot for sheriff are former DeKalb CEO Vernon Jones, who is running on his administrative experience. He faces five other candidates who’ve been sworn law officers: interim Sheriff Jeff Mann, Melvin Mitchell, Melody Maddox, LaSalle Smith and Tony Hughes.
In Fayette County:
Fayette Commission Chairman Steve Brown, who holds the District 3 seat, has drawn two challengers in the Republican primary, Don Haddix and Harold Logsdon.
In Fulton County:
Redistricting and retirements are forcing what could be the most significant turnover in a generation on the Fulton County Commission. All seven Fulton County Commission seats are up, and each incumbent is facing a primary challenge. At least one longtime commissioner won’t survive the primary as a redistricting plan pits Democrats Emma Darnell and Bill Edwards. Another key race is between Fulton Chairman John Eaves and Robb Pitts, a former Atlanta city councilman.
In Gwinnett County:
Only one Gwinnett commissioner has drawn a primary challenger. District 4 Commissioner John Heard is being challenged by Alfie Meek in the Republican primary.
In Henry County:
There is potential for change in Henry County, as Republican challengers are seeking two County Commission seats. District 3 Commissioner Gary Barham is being challenged by Horace Brannan and Bill Toney. District 4 Commissioner Reid Bowman is being challenged by Blake Prince.
LOCAL SCHOOL BOARDS
School board races in metro Atlanta counties have drawn much interest, with several candidates competing in Tuesday’s primary election.
Three of the seven seats are on the ballot.
- The Post 2 seat has four contenders. Incumbent Tim Stultz, a Republican, has two Republican challengers: Jeff Abel, who has two daughters in the Cobb school system; and Susan Thayer, a former principal at Pebblebrook High School and former director of leadership management for the Cobb school system. Democrat Kenya Pierre, a Spelman College graduate with a law degree from the University of Cincinnati, will run against the winner in the fall.
- For the Post 4 seat being vacated by board Chairwoman Kathy Angelucci, two Republicans, David Chastain and Bill Scott are competing. There are no Democrats running.
- Two Republicans are also competing for Post 6: incumbent Scott Sweeney and Kevin Nicholas, who both have children in Cobb County schools. There is no Democrat running.
All seven seats that survived a redistricting by the state Legislature are up for election. It’s a nonpartisan race, so this serves as the general election.
- In District 1, which covers Dunwoody and Brookhaven, Stan Jester is running unopposed. He is the husband of Nancy Jester, who dug up $54 million dollars in deceptive budgeting practices which wore away the cash reserves of the DeKalb Schools.
- In District 2, from Dunwoody/Brookhaven to the Emory University area, Don McChesney was a teacher for 34 years and is seeking the seat he held until the election two years ago. Marshall Orson, incumbent and Fernbank advocate, has been implicated in numerous questionable dealings over the years.
- In District 3, from Avondale Estates to the southwest corner of the county, there are five candidates: Atticus LeBlanc, 34, a Yale graduate and charter school advocate who owns real estate and construction businesses; and Jerrie D. Bason, a federal auditor, minister and substitute teacher with two grown sons; Michael A. Erwin, 43, the incumbent appointed by Deal and voted against the Druid Hills Charter Cluster, is an assistant professor at Georgia Gwinnett College and a Navy veteran; Jarrod Jordan, 33, a Clark Atlanta University graduate who runs Vanguard Leadership Group, a nonprofit; and Willie R. Mosley Jr., an Army veteran and former candidate for the school board and County Commission.
- In District 4, from near Buford Highway south to Stone Mountain, the four candidates include two incumbents, due to restructuring of districts the Legislature did. Those two are Karen Carter, 51, a Deal appointee and chairwoman of the business and social sciences department at Georgia Perimeter College’s Clarkston campus; and Jim McMahan, 48, a mortgage broker. Challenging them are John Oselette, 49, financial expert and owner of a television production company; and Ella “Coach” Smith, 58, a grandmother and special education teacher in Fulton County.
- In District 5, the five candidates are: Pia “Chaz Afzal” Bhatti, 26, a life insurance agent; Jesse “Jay” Cunningham, 54, who was removed from the school board by Deal last year; R. Alexander Fitzhugh, 42, an Army veteran and entrepreneur in media production and publishing; Thad Mayfield, 58, the incumbent appointed by Deal, who works in business development and management; and Vickie B. Turner, 58, the headmaster of The Augustine Preparatory Academy of Atlanta.
- In District 6,Melvin Johnson, the incumbent, a retired DeKalb County School District deputy superintendent, is being challenged by Bridgemon Bolger, 28, president of the DeKalb County Young Democrats.
- In District 7, the three candidates are Kim Ault; Lee V. Dukes, 61, a retired engineer from AT&T and longtime DeKalb substitute teacher; and incumbent Joyce Morley, a consultant with advanced degrees in education administration and counseling who was appointed by Deal.
Three newcomers and four incumbents are vying for four seats as the state’s fourth-largest district as it continues its transition to a charter system.
- In District 2, incumbent Katie Reeves is unopposed.
- In District 5, incumbent Linda McCain is unopposed.
- In District 6, incumbent Catherine Maddox, a retired nurse, is competing against two newcomers: DeAndre Pickett, a Liberty College graduate; and Joel Joseph, who has master’s degrees in public administration and teaching.
- District 7 incumbent Julia Bernath, a parent of three Fulton County public school graduates, is going up against business and marketing manager Kathleen Wittschen, who has two children in Fulton County schools.
- Three Republicans are vying for the District 2 seat. Dan Seckinger, 56, who’s been on the board since 1995, is facing challenges by Leon Hobbs, 68, a former school superintendent in Alabama; and Ileana McCaigue.
- In District 4, Zachary Rushing is on the Democratic primary ballot, and incumbent Bob McClure is on the Republican ballot.