Republican state Rep. Tom Taylor of Dunwoody is stepping down from his seat next year. With a Democratic challenger already in the race, Taylor’s move leaves a legislative seat up for grabs in the northern suburbs where the 6th Congressional District race recently energized voters.
Former Mayor Ken Wright, a Republican, says he will run for Taylor’s House District 79 seat. Michael Wilensky, a Dunwoody Democrat, is already in the race.
GOP elected officials state Sen. Fran Millar and DeKalb County Commissioner Nancy Jester said it was probably time for Taylor to step down, especially after he pleaded guilty to DUI last year.
“I’m not surprised,” Millar said. “He’s been there eight years and he had a personal situation that would result in a very nasty campaign. [The campaign] would have been pretty merciless. It’s better he goes out on his own terms.”
Taylor, who represents state House District 79, which includes Dunwoody and portions of Doraville and Chamblee, did not respond to repeated requests for comment, but confirmed via social media he was not seeking re-election in 2018.
The District 79 seat is up for election in November 2018. The new representative will take office when Taylor steps down in January 2019.
The changing demographics for the northern suburbs that have traditionally been Republican strongholds likely also played a role in Taylor’s decision, Millar said. While Republicans still are still in leadership positions in the General Assembly and in this geographic area, there has been a growing tide of non-Republican voters moving into the area.
“We’ve also got changing demographics,” Millar said. “I think it’s good when someone can come to that conclusion on their own. I give him credit.”
DeKalb County Commissioner Nancy Jester, who lives in Dunwoody, said Taylor’s decision to not run again is probably a “wise one.”
“He’s got some baggage, and that would have been a real Achilles’ heel for him,” she said. “I like him, and I hope he’s dealing with that issue personally and in a productive way.”
Joseph Knippenberg, professor of politics at Oglethorpe University in Brookhaven, said this state House race could become more interesting thanks in part to the 6th Congressional District race, which will be on the same ballot.
Republican Karen Handel, who won a heated special election for the seat just a few months ago against Democrat Jon Ossoff, already faces a challenge from former Atlanta TV news anchor and Democrat Bobby Kaple in her re-election bid. Ossoff has declined to comment on whether he will run again.
Democrats continue to stay engaged in Dunwoody, and the attention and money the congressional race likely will attract again could trickle down to the state legislative race, Knippenberg said. “If they have a hotly contested Congressional race …there’s a good chance for a lot of Democratic voter energy will spill over into state races,” he said.
The greater change Dunwoody and this House district is seeing is the ability for candidates to hold onto swing voters, Knippenberg added. Aligning oneself with President Donald Trump is not likely to play well with some voters in the district because of its affluent and educated residents, he said.
Wilensky, a Dunwoody attorney who announced in July his bid for the District 79 House seat, said he was surprised by Taylor’s decision not to run.
“His decision not to stand for re-election surprises me, but it will not alter the course of my campaign,” Wilensky said.
“The voters of Dunwoody, Doraville and Chamblee are independent thinkers looking for public servants who get results, especially with state funding for MARTA and our region’s continued economic progress on the line,” he said. “I will continue to show that I can deliver on the key issues for the families in this district as the next representative of House District 79.”
Wright, the former mayor, announced just days after Taylor’s announcement he would be running to succeed Taylor.
“I was super-surprised when Tom announced he wasn’t seeking re-election … and the timing just seemed right for me,” Wright said.
Wright served as Dunwoody’s mayor from 2008 to 2011, when he decided not to seek re-election so he could focus on family and his business. He said he knows Taylor well and they worked together on the founding of the city.
Taylor called Wright before publicly announcing his decision to not seek re-election, Wright said. “And I thought, hmmm, OK. I talked to my wife and when she agreed I decided to throw my hat into this thing.”
Wright said he was not recruited by GOP party members to run but thought this was the time to return to politics after remaining involved on various boards and committees in numerous Dunwoody organizations over the years.
“I’m looking forward to diving in, talking to folks and putting myself back out there,” he said.
Amy Swygert, chair of House District 79 committee for the DeKalb Democrats, said she appreciated Taylor’s moderate stance on many issues, but is looking forward to new leadership.
“I consider myself a moderate Democrat, so I also appreciated that [Taylor] often voted on issues in a way that satisfied moderates on both sides of the aisle,” she said. “But I am very excited for new leaders to step forward, especially those that can represent the Dunwoody of the future, rather than the Dunwoody of the past.”
Millar said he doubts another Republican will run against Wright in the primary. “I think he’s a great choice. I think we’re blessed to have him as an option,” he said. “I’m hopeful people will look past what’s happening in D.C. and look at people’s records,” he said. “The race should be interesting.”