Three Fulton County house races could be competitive

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Three Fulton County state House seats that have been held by Republicans appear to be competitive in the next month’s election.

But two Republican incumbents say their moderate voting records should lead to their re-elections. The candidates running for a third, vacated seat both say they would take the opportunity of an opening to move in a new direction.

At stake on Nov. 6 are the seats in House District 54, held by Republican Rep. Beth Beskin, and House District 52, held by Republican Rep. Deborah Silcox. Republican Rep. Wendell Willard, who represents House District 51, is not seeking re-election.

Beskin is being challenged by Democrat Betsy Holland, the director of culture and engagement at Turner Broadcasting. Holland, 42, is running for office for the first time while Beskin, 58, was first elected in 2014 and is seeking her third term representing the Buckhead-area district.

“I think I’ve been effective,” Beskin said, calling herself rational and pragmatic in her approach.

Beskin cited votes against campus carry and religious freedom legislation, and for transit funding, as examples of the way she's balanced the desires of her constituents.

Republican Rep. Beth Beskin, left, faces a Democratic challenger, Betsy Holland, in House District 54. Contributed.
Republican Rep. Beth Beskin, left, faces a Democratic challenger, Betsy Holland, in House District 54. Contributed.

If re-elected, Beskin said she wants to work on education issues. She’s interested in reducing the number of required state tests and maintaining HOPE scholarships, as well as expanding school flexibility at the district level.

Beskin won 60 percent of the vote in 2016, while Hillary Clinton won 54.6 percent of the vote for president in that district, compared to Donald Trump’s 40.8 percent.

Beskin said Atlanta residents would benefit by re-electing her because they would continue to have a Republican voice in the city’s delegation.

Holland said she decided to run as a counter to the “grandstanding and ideology” that has overtaken the legislature. She said she was tired of waiting each day of the legislative session to see what controversial proposal or vote would land on the front page of The New York Times.

“I want to bring some balance,” she said. “We need more collaboration about actual problems.”

Holland, a gun owner, said she's in favor of "common-sense" gun laws, including waiting periods for purchasing firearms and restrictions on semi-automatic and other guns that are not designed for hunting or self-defense. She also wants to affirm women's abilities to make health care decisions about their bodies, and supports transit expansion.

Holland said as part of her job at Turner, she’s worked with government and civic affairs. She said having more Democrats elected to office could temper some of the more extreme positions Republicans have taken, by requiring more compromise to get legislation passed.

In House District 52, which covers parts of Atlanta and Sandy Springs, Silcox is running for her second term. She’s being challenged by Shea Roberts, a zoning lawyer and first-time candidate.

Republican Rep. Deborah Silcox, left, faces Shea Roberts, a Democrat, in House District 52. Contributed.
Republican Rep. Deborah Silcox, left, faces Shea Roberts, a Democrat, in House District 52. Contributed.

Silcox, 54, said she's worked to broaden the definition of sex trafficking, created a hospital rating system for maternal and neonatal care and let local jurisdictions use noise ordinances to control when fireworks can be used. She'd like to work on mental health issues, including at jails, and is interested in transit expansion.

“I want to continue my work,” she said.

Silcox also said she had been a moderate voter, opposing campus carry and religious freedom legislation. House District 52 voted 49.7 percent for Clinton in the presidential contest, and 45.4 percent for Trump. In other statewide races on the ballot in November, the electorate voted 40.7 percent of the time for Democrats and 56.6 percent of the time for Republicans.

Silcox said she said she would entertain conversations about gun control measures, and would be in favor of using waivers to expand health care opportunities to targeted populations — but is not in favor of expanding Medicaid in the state.

Roberts, 48, said concerns about school safety caused her to enter the race after her daughter described climbing into the school’s instrument closet as part of an active shooter drill. Roberts, a zoning lawyer, said she’s used to local politics through her work.

She'd like more gun control, including a repeal of campus carry, universal background checks and closing loopholes on private sales. She's also in favor of a proposal that would let police temporarily take guns from people if they show red flags that threaten people's safety. Still, she said, she's not opposed to the Second Amendment.

In addition to gun control, Roberts is interesting in expanding public transportation options by re-prioritizing road money and expanding Medicaid. She also wants to ensure women's access to quality health care.

“District 52 is kind of begging for a more progressive candidate,” she said.

The race in House District 51, which covers parts of Roswell and Sandy Springs, is open after Rep. Willard decided not to run for re-election. There, Republican Alex Kaufman will face Josh McLaurin, a Democrat.

Kaufman said he wants to keep the HOPE scholarship merit-based and expand preschool opportunities. He’d also like more cities to have the option of creating their own, independent school systems.

Democrat Josh McLaurin, left, is running against Republican Alex Kaufman for the House District 51 seat vacated by Republican Rep. Wendell Willard. Contributed.
Democrat Josh McLaurin, left, is running against Republican Alex Kaufman for the House District 51 seat vacated by Republican Rep. Wendell Willard. Contributed.

Kaufman, 35, is a business litigation attorney, and said there are a number of legal reforms he would like to push if elected. He said he supports transit expansion and would like to encourage the creation of smart lanes and expanded work hours to minimize traffic. Kaufman is in favor of closing the gun show loophole.

He has long been involved in Republican politics, and said the community’s needs will be better served by having a Republican representative.

“I’m ready on Day One; I have the relationships,” he said. “It’s about relationships.”

In that district, 50.2 percent of voters chose Clinton, while 45 percent picked Trump. For others statewide races, Democrats won 44.4 percent of the vote while Republicans took 53 percent.

McLaurin, the Democrat, is also a business litigation attorney. He said he wants to expand Medicaid and heavy rail and return the HOPE scholarship to full tuition for more people. He's in favor of more gun control, including universal background checks and bans on bump stocks.

McLaurin, 30, said he and others have been frustrated by the tone in politics.

“I think Georgia needs a new direction,” he said. “2016 was a wake-up call for a lot of people, including me. If you want the world to look different, you’ve got to do something about it yourself.”

Staff writer Mark Niesse contributed to this story.

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FULTON HOUSE RACES

There are three Fulton County House districts where Republicans hold the seats, but voters favored Hillary Clinton in the 2016 presidential contest. Each of those seats is contested this year.

  • In House District 54, Republican Rep. Beth Beskin will face Democrat Betsy Holland.
  • In House District 52, Republican Rep. Deborah Silcox has been challenged by Democrat Shea Roberts
  • And in House District 51, Republican Rep. Wendell Willard is not seeking re-election. Facing off to replace him are Republican Alex Kaufman and Democrat Josh McLaurin.

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