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Meet the candidates running for Georgia governor in 2018

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Who is running for governor in Georgia 2018
(Clockwise from back left) Casey Cagle, Stacey Evans, Clay Tippins, Hunter Hill, Brian Kemp, Michael Williams, and Stacey Abrams

Photo illustration by Rachel Hortman; Cagle: Moses Robinson/Getty Images; Tippins: Doug Coulter; Williams: Dragos Putureanu; all other photographs courtesy of their respective election campaigns

As qualifying week comes to a close, more than a handful of strong contenders for Georgia’s governorship have paid their filing fees, turned in their paperwork, and are lined up for the race to replace Governor Nathan Deal.

This year, like in many past, the Republican party seems poised to keep the chief seat, barring any eleventh-hour scandals or screw-ups. At least that’s what Charles Bullock, a University of Georgia political scientist, says. Seven Republican contenders have stepped to the plate, whereas just two Democrats are shooting for the state’s top job. (Plus, wildcard candidate Ted Metz, is running as the lone Libertarian in the race and will therefore bypass the May 22 primary.)

The saving grace for left-leaning Georgians in this race, ironically, might be President Donald Trump, a personage so politically polarizing that the resistance movement growing against him could yield Democrats a fighting chance in this traditionally red state.

“The Trump presidency has the potential to fire up the Democrats,” Bullock says. “Whether it’ll fire them up enough to win is something else entirely, but I think it is a mobilizing factor.”

A lot’s riding on this election: The next governor will play a major role in redrawing Georgia’s voting districts. They will help determine how residents access education, healthcare, jobs, and transit. And Deal’s successor will oversee the shifting landscape of Georgia’s business environment, amid current unrest over guns, religious liberty, and tax incentives.

With the primary elections just about two months away, it’s high time to introduce the fresh batch of gubernatorial hopefuls. Stay tuned.

Republican

Casey Cagle
Casey Cagle

Photograph by Moses Robinson/Getty Images

Casey Cagle
Lieutenant Governor Cagle is the man to beat in May’s primary election, according to Bullock. Cagle’s been working in state politics since he was 28, just a kid in political years. After 12 years as Gainesville’s state senator, he claimed the lieutenant governorship, a post he’s held for just as long. The conservative candidate and necktie-slinging businessman had a strong showing in preliminary polls and has raked in more campaign cash than his opponents. But a recent tussle with Delta Air Lines put Cagle in national headlines—he threatened to steal any prayer of fuel tax cuts for the Atlanta-based airline after it ended a group discount for members of the National Rifle Association, which likely pleased some Second Amendment bona fides but could have hurt his standing with the business community. Plus he’s backed a laundry list of far-right legislation during sessions past, such as so-called “religious liberty” measures.

“I think that Washington should look to Georgia for examples of conservative leadership,” Cagle says in an email. “In Georgia, we’ve outlawed and defunded sanctuary cities, we balance our budget every single year, and we’ve combated entitlement abuse head-on with work requirements all while becoming the No. 1 state for business.”

Hunter Hill
Hunter Hill

Photograph courtesy of Hunter Hill

Hunter Hill
Former state Senator Hill is “NOT a career politician,” according to his campaign website. Hill claims his military background—he’s a former Army Ranger—and his business sense set him apart from the bunch and make him an outlier in establishment politics. “People are tired of career politicians who campaign like Ronald Reagan and then govern like Barack Obama,” he says in an email. But curiously enough, Hill has been in state politics for 6 years, although he’s operated largely under the radar—and out of headlines—at the Gold Dome.

“I support President Trump and look forward to working with him and his administration as governor,” says Hill, who resigned his Senate district that included Buckhead and Vinings in August to run for governor. “We will be leading the charge to solve our education and healthcare challenges with state solutions rather than burdensome and failed federal government overreach.”

The Buckhead real estate professional, who is currently president of a business coaching company, is also a conservative Christian who enjoys hunting and playing music.

Brian Kemp
Brian Kemp

Photograph courtesy of Brian Kemp

Brian Kemp
Calling it a “Georgia First” approach, Secretary of State Kemp is also running on a rather Trump-like agenda, and he recently unveiled his “Track and Deport” plan to fast track undocumented immigrants removal from the country. “From tackling illegal immigration and fundamentally reforming state government to making Georgia No. 1 for small business, I will put hardworking Georgians–not the special interests–first,” he says in an email.

In 2010, Kemp rose from his state senate seat representing the Athens area to claim the role of Georgia’s elections czar. As secretary of state, he’s found himself butting heads with gubernatorial competitor Stacey Abrams over allegations of voter suppression, and his office came under fire in 2015 when it accidentally leaked millions of voters’ registration information.

Clay Tippins
Clay Tippins

Photograph by Doug Coulter

Clay Tippins
Another business-minded military vet vying for the top spot, Tippins is this race’s bona fide outsider. Until he filed his declaration of intent to run, the Atlanta businessman and ex-Navy SEAL had yet to serve in public office. Now, he says, he’s on a mission to tear down establishment systems. In many ways, he’s a regular Republican candidate, although he wants to leverage his tech business expertise to shrink government and make it more efficient. The world is changing all too rapidly, Tippins tells us, yet “there’s nothing about government that’s gotten better, and smarter, and cheaper in the last 50 years, and I think we’re going to hit a period in the next five or 10 years where that’s all going to change.”

Tippins also says his tech-focused mindset, combined with his tactical military experience, will be crucial in the fight against drug rings, gangs, and human trafficking in Georgia.

Like his competition in the primary race, he carries many conservative ambitions—Second Amendment freedom, fewer regulations and taxes—although he’s not supportive of the controversial adoption bill that critics say could discriminate against LGBTQ couples, and he’s not looking to be a carbon copy of Trump.

Michael Williams
Michael Williams

Photograph by Dragos Putureanu

Michael Williams
State Senator Williams is this race’s true Trump candidate. The Forsyth County Republican is proud to be the first Georgia politician to throw his full-throated support behind the now-commander-in-chief’s 2016 campaign, and he’ll stamp his seal of approval on just about anything that comes from the White House. Williams says in an email that his relationship with the Trump administration will be “extremely valuable when it comes to things such as funding our Savannah port,” and he’s also set his sights on tackling wasteful government spending, cracking down on illegal immigration, ending the state income tax, and freezing college tuition rates.

Like Trump, Williams doesn’t play his cards close to the chest; he’s a controversial character—last fall he launched a bump stock giveaway right after the rifle accessories were utilized by a gunman to kill 58 people and wound more than 500 others at a music festival in Las Vegas. His campaign touted Dogg the Bounty Hunter as its chairman, and Williams’ photo op with a militia raised eyebrows.

He’s an unapologetic Second Amendment advocate, a supporter of “religious freedom” legislation, and a big proponent of medical marijuana expansion. He’s also proud to say he opposed the fuel tax breaks for Delta before the NRA drama roiled the issue.

Public enemy No. 1 for Williams: “The Georgia political establishment, both Republican and Democrat. The establishment is scared to death of me becoming governor,” he says. “They know the gravy train of crony capitalism will come crashing to an end.”

Marc Urbach
The Republican primary’s veritable underdog, this school teacher and author from Dunwoody ran an unsuccessful write-in bid in the most recent U.S. presidential race, cashing in just five votes, according to Neighbor News Online.

Urbach’s platform, according to his campaign site, is all about “common sense” approaches to education, business, and public safety. He’s also aiming to take down the “corrupt and illegal Affordable Care Act,” slash income taxes and illegal immigration, and bolster religious liberties–he supports teaching from the Bible in schools, “but only as an elective course.”

Eddie Hayes
Little is known about this late entry into the Republican field of candidates. Hayes, who identifies as a “restaurant owner,” jumped into the race just before the filing deadline. 

Democrat

Stacey Abrams
Stacey Abrams

Photograph courtesy of Stacey Abrams

Stacey Abrams
Should she claim the win, Abrams, a Yale-educated lawyer and House minority leader until she resigned to run for higher office, would be the nation’s first black female governor. With her New Georgia Project organization, the Atlanta resident has made it her mission to urge unregistered people—predominantly minorities—to sign up and vote.

“We must educate bold and ambitious children; foster a fairer, more diverse economy; and have effective and engaged leaders who are committed to serving everyone, including those who don’t feel seen or heard,” she says in an email, adding that Georgia’s next governor must be “a firewall against the Trump administration’s dangerous agenda.” She’s earned backing from the liberal likes of U.S. Representatives John Lewis, David Scott, and Hank Johnson.

Abrams aims to walk back recently passed pro-gun legislation, such as “campus carry,” and expand Medicaid.

Stacey Evans
Stacey Evans

Photograph courtesy of Stacey Evans

Stacey Evans
Raised in Ringgold, Georgia, former state Representative Evans is also an Atlanta lawyer running with a ‘resistance’ message, although she says she doesn’t want partisan politics to bog down the important issues embroiled in the race for governor.

Priority number one for Evans: Repair the HOPE scholarship so it’s inclusive to more people, as it was before cuts in 2011. To do that, she tells us, Georgia needs to “restore tuition-free technical college” and make it so that grade and SAT score requirements don’t disproportionately deter people of color from going to college.

She also wants to see wages rise for Georgia’s workforce. “I want to get as close to $15 as we can,” she says, lamenting about of the state’s “embarrassing” minimum wage of $5.15 per hour. (Georgia has one of the lowest minimum wage rates in the country, but the federal Fair Labor Standards Act helps ensure that most employees are covered under the federal minimum of $7.25 per hour.)

She says her ambitions for the HOPE grant and minimum wage raises should be goals even her conservative counterparts can support. And, like Abrams, she aims to expand Medicaid and implement “common sense” gun laws.

Libertarian

Ted Metz
“Yes, you can elect a Libertarian,” says his campaign page. The son of an Air Force family, this ex-Republican has run two unsuccessful bids for public office. Metz is also ex-Navy and “semi-retired” and has advocated for a number of organizations fighting “to restore the rule of law and to stop the corporate takeover of the government.”

Cathy Woolard endorses Mary Norwood after “unsurprising” mayoral candidate discussion

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Cathy Woolard endorses Mary Norwood
Cathy Woolard, Keisha Lance Bottoms, and Mary Norwood at Tuesday’s panel discussion.

Photograph by Sean Keenan

Seven days before Atlanta voters elect the city’s next chief executive, ex-mayoral candidate Cathy Woolard appeared relaxed. At a candidate forum hosted Tuesday night by the former city council president herself, Woolard seemed to bask in the privilege of sitting adjacent the political hopefuls’ hot seats, rather than in them, grilling the councilmembers she recently called rivals.

“Let me tell you, losing’s really not that bad,” Woolard told the crowd sardine-packed into the Carter Center’s Cecil B. Day Chapel. “You can sleep in the afternoon. You can say what you want to.”

One thing she won’t do, however: sleep on her supporters’ anxiety about Atlanta’s future. Woolard, who took third place with about 17 percent of the votes in the November 7 general election, knows her endorsement could pack a punch come next Tuesday. She took it upon herself to hash out the policies and platforms of the runoff candidates, because she, like many of her supporters in attendance, didn’t know whether Councilwoman Keisha Lance Bottoms or Councilwoman Mary Norwood should succeed Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed. However, as of Wednesday morning, Woolard’s stumping for Norwood.

Norwood and Bottoms fielded Woolard’s questions on all things transit, transparency, affordability, and public safety at the panel discussion she hosted Tuesday (Livestreamed footage is available here). “I didn’t get a lot of answers that surprised me,” she said at a press conference outside City Hall Wednesday morning. The crux of her endorsement decision, she said, was a concern of ethics. “The lack of transparency at City Hall has crushed our spirit,” Woolard said, and she felt Norwood had a better ethics vision than Bottoms. “Keisha has had ethical lapses, and I’m trying to be polite [by not listing them].”

During Tuesday’s panel, Woolard managed to mandate some civility between the embattled candidates who, just hours earlier, had clashed over race and ethics in a heated GPB debate. Woolard even got Bottoms to promise to release her tax returns today. Norwood, who released her returns last week, had previously challenged her to do so.

The duo, surely seeking to appeal to Woolard’s impressive voter base, seemed to promote many of the same policy goals. Building light rail on the Atlanta BeltLine, for example, “is a high priority,” said Norwood. “It really was meant to be the piece that connected so much of the city,” she continued. Bottoms agreed, and added that Woolard’s proposal to string some five transit lines throughout the city was “thoughtful.”

Asked if they’d be willing to lobby the Georgia General Assembly to change the state law around the gas tax—which currently can only be used for roads and bridges—in order to further transit initiatives, Bottoms said she’d “absolutely” be game. So would Norwood.

And whenever talk of transit planning is brought up, soon follows discussion of the affordable living potential nearby. Bottoms reiterated her proposal to dedicate $1 billion in raised public and private funds against the affordable housing crisis in Atlanta. First, she said, her administration would identify all of the city’s land assets. She learned while pulling double-duty as both a councilwoman and head of the Atlanta-Fulton County Recreation Authority that such a task is easier said than done. “We really don’t have a true handle on what our public assets are,” she said. “We would sometimes get telephone calls [at the AFCRA] asking about purchasing land that we didn’t even know we owned.”

Part two would involve wooing public-private investments to redevelop that land, adding that “it may not happen overnight.” Such a goal could take more than two mayoral terms to accomplish, perhaps as long as 12 years, she said.

Norwood wants to see the Atlanta Housing Authority step up its affordability game. “We have 10,000 vacant units in the city,” she said. Those units, many of which are blighted, should be handed over to the city’s land bank authority and then converted to affordable residences and commercial spaces.

Both candidates conceded that the city’s economic development arm, Invest Atlanta, is underutilized as a tool to address income inequality, a problem that’s plagued the city for years. Bottoms said that when she joined the city council in 2010, the agency “was more localized”—people who knew the ins and outs of every neighborhood helped market the areas, she said. “Then we moved to a model that was more about marketing of Atlanta in general.” Norwood agreed. “Appointments to the Invest Atlanta board need to understand communities,” she said.

But the best way, Bottoms said, to crack down on Atlanta’s astonishing income inequality issues is to improve education opportunities citywide. The next mayor, she said, needs to be close with the Atlanta Public Schools superintendent and work to create apprenticeship and counseling programs so high school grads can learn skills and find jobs.

On criminal justice reform, Bottoms said Councilman Kwanza Hall’s marijuana reform ordinance is a good step toward keeping nonviolent offenders out of jail, but she thinks the next mayor needs to urge the Gold Dome to pass similar legislation so that Georgia code doesn’t clash with the city’s. (The city’s much-discussed “decriminalization” ordinance only applies to the City of Atlanta.) Norwood, citing a conversation with former candidate and Fulton County Chairman John Eaves, who endorsed her Tuesday, said the city should also consider consolidating the Atlanta City Detention Center with the Fulton County jail.

Next on the docket was a question of how the candidates would maintain LGBTQ representation at City Hall. Woolard, Georgia’s first openly gay elected leader, said, “If [council president candidate] Alex Wan isn’t elected in the runoff, it will be the first time since I won the election 20 years ago that there will not be a gay person on the city council.”

Norwood said she’d make a cabinet-level LGBTQ liaison position. “You actually found an area that we agree upon,” Bottoms replied. Pressed for ideas on how to keep conscious of LGBTQ-related policy issues, both candidates suggested Atlantans need easier access to HIV testing and treatment.

Yet when Woolard exhausted her policy questions and dug into Bottoms’ and Norwood’s controversial backgrounds, the candidates clambered, dismissing and deflecting concerns of campaign blunders. Prodded for a promise that her administration won’t be a sequel to Kasim Reed’s, Bottoms said, “No one holds my hand.” When Woolard wondered why Norwood tiptoes around conversations of race and racial profiling by police, the candidate assured everyone that plenty of black people have worked with her and for her at City Hall and on the campaign trail. “I am not different because I am Caucasian and someone else is African American,” she said.

Despite her endorsement of Norwood, Woolard said she knows her supporters are smart enough to make their own choice. Now, Atlanta voters hold the cards, and by this time next week, all this mayoral race madness will be over. Finally.

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