Several candidates or their representatives made pitches to potential voters at the Oct. 1 networking event of the Dunwoody Perimeter Chamber.
A small crowd of mostly chamber members gathered at the Le Meridien Atlanta Perimeter hotel in the GOP-heavy, affluent suburb of Dunwoody to hear from U.S. Rep. Karen Handel (R-Ga.); state Sen. Fran Millar (R-Dunwoody); Ken Wright and Mike Wilensky, both of Dunwoody and vying for the state House District 79 seat being vacated by Republican Tom Taylor. Also attending were representatives for gubernatorial candidates Democrat Stacey Abrams and Republican Brian Kemp.
Those invited but did not attend nor send representatives on their behalf were Democrat Sally Harrell, going up against Millar in state Senate District 40; and Democrat Lucy McBath, who is challenging Handel for the 6th Congressional District seat.
State Rep. Fran Millar
Millar framed his re-election campaign as he has in other stump speeches in the northern suburbs – that as the lone Republican in the DeKalb delegation at the General Assembly, he is a safeguard against increased property and MARTA taxes.
He also said as a Republican he would play a major role in any redistricting process and would work to ensure those living in his district “won’t end up with Hank Johnson as your congressman.”
“Some of you who are older remember when we had Cynthia McKinney and I worked hard to have her no longer be our congressperson. I’ll leave it at that,” he said.
Millar also touted bipartisanship. He said he worked with DeKalb CEO Michael Thurmond, a leading Democrat, on the special local option sales tax approved by voters last year to create new money in the county for fixing roads as well as for public safety.
He made a point to say his election is not a referendum on what is going on in the nation’s capital.
“At the end of the day, … this election isn’t about presidential tweets or about Washington, D.C. It’s about whether or not you can get things done for the people who live here,” Millar said. “I stand on my record.”
Wilensky, a Dunwoody attorney, is seeking his first political office. If elected, he would serve as a Democrat in the DeKalb delegation at the Gold Dome and he took exception to Millar’s claim those in his party want to raise taxes.
“Over the past eight months, I’ve knocked on 3,000 doors,” he said. “Nobody wants higher taxes … nobody in the DeKalb delegation wants higher taxes.”
He said while he has not served in elected office, he has worked in the legislature lobbying on behalf of small businesses and against discriminatory legislation.
Wilensky said while the legislature also fully funded education in its last session for the first time in more than a decade, it was important to understand the funding is based on Quality Basic Education Act formula from 1985.
“That formula was drafted in 1985 and it’s never been updated,” he said. Updating the QBE numbers every year is essential to ensuring schools receive the money they need, he said. By doing so, he said, the addition of trailers at DeKalb schools to deal with overcrowding could stop.
Wright is Dunwoody’s founding mayor and the former president of the Dunwoody Homeowners Association, which served as a “de facto” government before the city was incorporated in 2008.
He said he also helped found the Perimeter Community Improvement Districts, self-taxing districts that use additional property taxes to fund transportation and infrastructure improvement projects.
As Dunwoody’s first mayor, he said he hired the “best police chief” and worked on everything from writing ordinances to creating the city’s first police department.
Wright works as a health care IT entrepreneur and said he would represent business owners at the Capital. “There are enough attorneys down there,” he said.
U.S. Rep. Karen Handel
Handel steered clear from any specific mention of President Donald Trump but leaned on the “historic” tax cuts approved last year.
Those tax cuts, she said, are giving “average” families of four in the 6th District a savings of more than $4,000.
She said the country’s economy has grown by 4 percent and the federal government has made “historic” investments in the military and the Department of Veterans Affairs.
“And we’re just getting started,” she said.
Handel also got personal, something she seems to be doing more of on the campaign trail, and shared that she believed she is the “most unlikely member of Congress.”
After a rough childhood and running away from home at 17, Handel said she “never imagined I would grow up to be a member of Congress.”
She said the “exceptionalism” of the country gave her the opportunities she’s had and that exceptionalism gives others facing similar battles to have the same opportunities she has had.
Martha Zoller for Brian Kemp
Zoller, who ran unsuccessfully for Congress in 2012 and has worked on many Republican campaigns including for U.S. Sen. David Perdue, said Kemp is focusing on reaching out to all Georgia voters.
She said he is focusing on school safety and education “and making Georgia as safe and secure” as possible while continuing the business-friendly legacy of Gov. Nathan Perdue.
“He wants to make Georgia first,” she said.
Zoller said a strength of Kemp is that he has worked in and out of government before becoming Secretary of State, as a businessman and as a former state senator.
Cathy Woolard for Stacey Abrams
Woolard, former Atlanta City Council president who ran an unsuccessful mayoral campaign last year, started off her comments by saying she got to know Handel on the campaign trail years ago.
“And I think she would agree it is time for a woman to be governor of Georgia, right?” Woolard said to laughter from attendees.
Woolard said she got to know Abrams while on the Atlanta City Council when Abrams was a city attorney who was tasked with rewriting the ethics code, doing a “superb job.”
Woolard said she watched Abrams political career climb to House minority leader in the General Assembly where she said she earned a reputation for working across the aisle and understanding the issues better than most.
“She’s the smartest candidate in the room,” Woolard said.
Abrams’ mission to reform health care in Georgia is crucial to growing all businesses in the state, Woolard said, including expanding Medicaid.