Five DeKalb incumbents with six to 28 years in the Georgia House of Representatives are trying to beat back oppositions in the May 22 Democratic primary.
State Reps. Howard Mosby, Michele Henson, Earnest “Coach” Williams, Pam Stephenson, and Karen Bennett, from House Districts 83, 86, 87, 90, and 94 respectively, are seeking to hang onto their seats while challengers Becky Evans, Joscelyn O’Neil, Viola Davis, Gregory Shealey and L. Dean Heard are saying their time is up.
At the CrossRoadsNews candidates forum on May 7 at First Afrikan Church in Lithonia, the political hopefuls highlighted lack of economic development, subpar education, apathy, and under-resourced law enforcement as the top issues of the race.
Stephenson and Williams were the only incumbents who attended the forum.
Davis, a well-known community activist and co-founder of the Unhappy Taxpayer & Voter Organization, said the time for excuses is passed.
“No excuses,” she said. “This has to change. The incumbents just don’t get it any more.”
Early voting for the May 22 election is underway through May 18. On election day, the polls are open from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m.
Heard, a healthcare consultant, entrepreneur, and graduate of Emory and Georgia State who is challenging Bennett in District 94, says he is running because there has been a failure in our community.
“Many of my neighbors, colleagues, and friends feel that current elected leadership is absent from our concerns and disconnected,” Heard said. “The good people of this community and district need visionary direction, accountability and strong leadership.”
Shealey, a construction contractor and 20-year DeKalb resident who is seeking to unseat Stephenson, says there needs to be more community involvement in legislation.
“Apathy is the biggest issue,” said Shealey, a graduate of Georgia State and Illinois State universities. “Ever since I’ve been running I keep hearing that we can’t get things done.”
O’Neil, a community activist and former president of the Greater Towers Community Association who is running against Henson for a second time, says that during her 34 years as a DeKalb resident, she has helped clean up the community including getting broken light poles and wires cleaned up. She promises to do more if elected to office.
“I have a great record of completing things and have reported many things going on in the community that have made a drastic difference in how we live,” she said. “Just about every county department knows me because if there’s an issue that needs to be resolved, I take it on and resolve it.”
O’Neil highlighted Henson’s attendance during the 2017 session.
“She had more than 30 absences and no votes, which is ridiculous,” she said, waving a sheet of paper showing Henson’s attendance record.
Henson, a 33-year DeKalb resident who has been in office since 1991, did not attend the forum. In her emailed responses to the questions asked at the forum, she said her House seniority will ensure that constituents have an advocate under the Gold Dome.
“I have established good relationships with legislative leaders, agency and department heads and have a good knowledge of the intricacies of state government,” she said. “I want to continue to use the relationships and knowledge I have to bring good jobs to my community, improve public school education, and provide quality healthcare to Georgians of all ages.”
Henson says the biggest issues in House District 86 are education, access and affordability to healthcare, and transit to connect the metro area and reduce traffic congestion.
Evans, who is seeking to unseat Mosby, lists economic development and public education as her top priorities.
The 25-year DeKalb resident, who is a former educator, project manager and community volunteer, lives in Druid Hills.
“I want to fight for a teacher’s pay increase,” she said. “They’re the most important resource for improving students’ performance, and 44 percent of our teachers leave the system within five years.”
Evans says Mosby hasn’t spent enough time in the community during his 15 years in office. She promises to “level the playing field between rich and poor communities,” and said she will fight to close the economic gap and work to increase the minimum wage “because no one who’s working full time should live in poverty.”
Mosby, who did not attend the forum, did not respond to the forum questions that were emailed to him. He is the DeKalb Delegation chairman, a certified public accountant and 22-year Grady Medical Center employee.
Williams, who has represented House District 87 since 2003, is a retired teacher and coach. He agrees that more needs to be done to engage students, teachers and parents.
“We can do much better on the educational level,” he said.
Stephenson, who has been in office since 2005, said the state’s funding formula for public schools is not serving DeKalb well and should be changed so money isn’t allocated out of the county.
She also said Georgia’s criminal justice system needs repair.
“We need to look at mandatory minimums, how we treat people, bail, and who’s administering those kinds of things,” said Stephenson, an attorney with two master's degrees. “It’s not about me, it’s about what I can give to the communities, the schools and the people that need us.”
Transit and MARTA’s planned expansion into Cobb and Gwinnett divided the group.
Williams, who voted for House Bill 930 that would rebrand MARTA to include more of the metro area, says it isn’t a perfect piece of legislation but it’s a good start.
“We would like to have other counties participate,” he said. “We’ve to start somewhere.”
Davis and O’Neil slammed the incumbents for not fighting to secure DeKalb a better transit service sooner.
“We pay over $22 million per month to run MARTA and a lot of the incumbents can’t even begin to tell you where that money is, where it went, and what they did with it,” Davis said.
O’Neil says Gwinnett and Cobb residents should have been paying for MARTA years ago, as they “ride it hard.”
“You can’t even get on there,” she said. “They should have been paying and our incumbents should have already taken care of that for the people.”
Heard, who says he has been involved in the planning for a $5.2 billion project to extend MARTA along the I-20 corridor, urges voters to take matters into their own hands in respect to transit.
“When this project comes to the table you need to support it and step up and be accountable,” he said.
Bennett, in office since 2013, says HB 930 is good in principle and could help improve transportation for thousands, but that citizens and legislators must work together to ensure the unique transit needs of different communities are heard.
A business owner, Bennett says the other top issues in District 94 are public education, affordable and accessible healthcare, fair and affordable insurance, public and school safety, and the environment.
“My role is to advocate for policies that improve the quality of life in these and other areas and to fight for monies in the budget to make improvements a reality,” she said.
In House District 80, Democrat Matthew Wilson and Republican Meagan Hanson are unopposed for the May primaries but will face each other in November. Both candidates are attorneys.
In House District 81, incumbent Scott Holcomb, who is an attorney, is being challenged by Hamid Noori, a social worker. The winner of the primary will face Republican Ellen Diehl, an insurance saleswoman, in the general election.