Incumbent state Rep. Meagan Hanson, R-Brookhaven, is facing a challenge from Democratic newcomer Matthew Wilson in a district that has see-sawed between the two parties over the past three years.
Hanson has tried to thwart the possibility of a “blue wave” by supporting bills on expanding transportation, making penalties for those who commit hate crimes harsher and allowing restaurants to start pouring alcohol earlier on Sundays. But she’s also tried to satiate DeKalb conservatives by introducing a proposal to eliminate the county’s elected CEO position. That effort stalled, leading her to agree to sponsor a study committee on the issue for now.
Hanson unseated Rep. Taylor Bennett, a Democrat, winning by 1 percentage point in 2016. Bennett had flipped the seat blue in a 2015 special election when he defeated Republican J. Max Davis with 55 percent of the vote.
Voter turnout for the gubernatorial race is expected to have some impact on the House District 80 race in the Nov. 6 election. If Brian Kemp’s supporters in that district show up in greater numbers than Stacey Abrams’ supporters, Hanson will likely be a beneficiary.
More than half of voters in the district supported Hillary Clinton for president in 2016. She earned 54 percent of voters compared to 40.6 percent for Donald Trump and 5.4 percent for Gary Johnson.
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Republicans running for statewide office fared better in the district than Democrats two years ago, drawing 51.7 percent of the vote, while Democrats took 46.1 percent, according to the Georgia Legislative and Congressional Reapportionment Office.
Both candidates in this race are 34-year-old attorneys living in Brookhaven. Both have been embraced by their party establishment: former President Barack Obama endorsed Wilson. and Hanson has the support of Gov. Nathan Deal and House Speaker David Ralston.
Hanson said she wants to be judged on her two years in office.
“I trust that the voters of House District 80 will evaluate me based on my record, what I have done, and what I am doing to improve their quality of life,” she said. “People I talk to in Brookhaven, Sandy Springs, Chamblee and Atlanta want a state representative who can deliver real results, not partisan bickering.”
Wilson campaigned on behalf of Gov. Roy Barnes in 2010 and later was a frequent visitor to the Statehouse while the General Assembly debated a religious freedom bill that he opposed. When proposals came up to make it more difficult for gay men like him to adopt children, he decided it was time to step up his political involvement.
“I’m a Georgia boy through and through,” the Griffin native said. “I just refuse to believe that those are the core values of my friends, my neighbors in this state.”
After Trump’s election, Wilson decided to run for office for the first time.
He knows that, even if he is elected, Republicans will still control the Georgia House. But he hopes that enough Democrats will pick up seats to force the General Assembly to take more moderate positions.
“There still will be a great number of issues where Republicans have to work with the larger Democratic caucus in order to get those bills passed,” he said.
Both candidates have knocked on doors to connect with voters. On a recent afternoon, Wilson pulled on a rain jacket and walked streets damped by rain showers in the Pine Hills neighborhood.
He left fliers behind when people weren’t home. When they were home, Wilson talked about progressive causes like boosting funding for public schools and expanding health care.
Resident Christopher Lane, a Democrat, said moving the General Assembly toward the center is important to him this year. It was also the first time a candidate had ever come to his house and asked in person for his vote.
Hanson said if she is re-elected, she will continue lobbying for legislation that bans discrimination based on sexual orientation. And she also wants to follow-up on the sweeping transportation bill she co-sponsored this year. She wants to use more state tax dollars to fund transit in metro Atlanta.
“If we expect to recruit businesses such as Amazon, we have to have a world-class transit system, which will require more funding than the current levels,” she said.
Staff writer Mark Niesse contributed to this report.
General Assembly, House District 80
Includes most of Brookhaven and parts of Chamblee and Sandy Springs
Rep. Meagan Hanson (incumbent)
An attorney, she lives in Brookhaven and was first elected to the House in 2016.
The Brookhaven attorney has never held office before but has been an activist on progressive issues.