Fulton’s open race pits election skeptic against policy wonk

The race for a North Fulton seat on the Fulton County Commission has been boring for nearly 30 years.

But when voters began casting ballots this year for the District 1 commission seat, they’re also picking between a 37-year-old technocratic Democrat and a 56-year-old Republican who thinks there was widespread voter fraud in the 2020 election.

The seat has been a mantle for a strong Conservative presence on the Democrat-majority board. But that may be changing, said University of Georgia political science professor Charles Bullock, who added that the change is important because the area holds a majority white, college-educated voters.

“It’s changing before our eyes, it’s not like we have to go way back in time,” Bullock said. “Traditionally that area was a red area, but now some of those communities look blue and some are well on their way to purple,” Bullock said.

The District 1 seat is open because Republican Liz Hausmann decided to run for a new state senate spot. The county commission district includes the four cities east of Ga. 400 — Johns Creek, Sandy Springs, along portions of Alpharetta and Roswell.

Fulton residents will chose between Democrat Maggie Goldman and Republican Bridget Thorne. Goldman is a policy wonk focusing on property tax assessment reform, and Thorne wants to overhaul the county’s elections department.

Hausmann took over the county district seat in 2011 from fellow Republican Lynne Riley, who became the House District 50 representative. Riley was voted into the seat in 2004 after the death of Commissioner Bob Fulton, also a Republican who had held the office for 10 years.

The House District 50 seat that Riley occupied in the Gold Dome has also long been held by Republicans, including Brad Raffensperger after her. It was won by Democrat Angelika Kausche in 2018 and 2020.

‘Democrats as neighbors’

Goldman filed to run 20 months ago and over that time has regularly attended commission meetings, sometimes throwing her hands in the air if she disagrees with whatever is taking place. She has lots of statistics for why she thinks she can win.

During an interview with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Goldman said her strategy is to tell the more conservative constituency that she wants to focus on reforming the property tax assessment system to an end. “I want people to pay less taxes,” said the realtor.

Goldman said she always wanted to run for public office.

“I wanted to make the laws, not be stuck in the confines of the law,” she said. That squares with her time as the Georgia coordinator for the presidential campaign of Pete Buttigieg, who made a hallmark issue of adding U.S. Supreme Court Justices to the bench.

Goldman said the elections department obviously needs reform and has been under-funded to the point of being under threat of a state takeover. She said Thorne may have good points about election reform, but it’s hard to taken them seriously “when they’re wrapped in election conspiracies.”

During a recent debate, Goldman said: “There’s a lot of logistical issues at the county elections, but there was no fraud in the 2020 election.” That prompted boos and laughs from the crowd and a big smile from Thorne sitting next to her.

Recounts and investigations have repeatedly debunked conspiracy theories alleging counterfeit ballots, ballot stuffing and dead people casting votes in the 2020 election.

But this is personal to Thorne.

‘Looking backward’

Thorne was a pollworker in 2020 and claims she was wrongfully fired after allegedly watching evidence of election fraud.

She spoke during a hearing of the state Senate Judiciary subcommittee that was attended by Rudy Giuliani, a Trump attorney. She signed an affidavit in the lawsuit filed by Atlanta attorney L. Lin Wood claiming in federal court that Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger and the State Election Board created an improper absentee ballot signature system.

“I’m told we shouldn’t look backward, only forward,” Thorne said. “But (we) need to look back so you can fix moving forward.” Thorne followed up by saying she isn’t only looking backward and that she just wants change.

Thorne criticized Goldman for more than just her stance on election reform at the debate.

“She doesn’t even have a school-age child and she’s at your school board saying you all need to live in masks,” Thorne said. Goldman has a 2-year-old son.

In response to Goldman’s proposal to improve tax assessments, Thorne said: “I want to make your taxes so low you don’t want to appeal your taxes.”

Thorne fleshed out other concerns in an AJC interview.

“I’m a big proponent of the family,” said the mother of four, before adding she’s afraid of the “tearing down of the Western family.”

When asked what was tearing down the undefined “Western family,” Thorne said: “It’s a faith issue, a cultural issue, having commitment to your family.”

Pushed for explanation, Thorne said she feels that welfare programs have broken apart families by incentivizing single parents — she specifically mentioned Black mothers — to raise children on their own.

Thorne has been married for 32 years to her husband Kenny, who is in his 25th year as the tennis coach at Georgia Tech and is school’s all-time winningest coach. The pair met at Tech as athletes soaking in ice baths.

Echoing many Republicans, she said she feels Atlanta isn’t safe.

Thorne said that Hausmann is “my model of what I want to emulate when I get down there on the board.”