5 metro Atlanta legislative primaries to watch this Election Day

Candidates across metro Atlanta are battling for some key local legislative seats. Some are seeking positions in districts without an incumbent for the first time in years. In other districts, candidates are challenging longtime legislators.

Here are five local legislative primaries to watch on June 9:

Senate District 21 (Fulton and Cherokee counties)

At first, it wasn’t supposed to be a primary between state Sen. Brandon Beach and state Rep. Michael Caldwell. Beach announced he’d run for Georgia’s 6th Congressional District in 2019, and Caldwell decided to run for Beach’s seat.

But Beach suspended his congressional campaign in last year and decided instead to seek re-election. Caldwell stayed in the race, and said he never considered doing otherwise.

Both Republican lawmakers have represented parts of the district since 2013, giving neither a significant advantage as far as name recognition. Neither can raise money until the state legislative session has ended — Georgia bars state lawmakers from fundraising during the session — and the coronavirus pandemic has restricted campaigning to virtual events and outreach.

Beach drew criticism from colleagues and voters after admitting he went to the Capitol while sick with COVID-19 on March 16.

Beach felt sick at the time, but hadn’t yet received a positive diagnosis. Four Senate colleagues and one state representative tested positive for the disease after Beach revealed he had it. Beach apologized, and Caldwell has not seized on it during the campaign.

No Democrat has filed to run in the 21st district, so the June 9 primary will likely decide the race.

Senate District 45 (Gwinnett County)

Northern Gwinnett County residents will get a new state senator for the first time in 18 years.

State Sen. Renee Unterman, who currently represents District 45, is running for the 7th Congressional District, leaving her seat open for the first time since 2002. The race has drawn three candidates on each side of the aisle.

Democrats hope they can add Senate District 45 to the number of Gwinnett County districts that have recently flipped from red to blue. In 2018, the party won a majority of the county’s legislative seats for the first time in years.

District 45 has been solidly Republican during Unterman’s tenure; she ran unopposed in multiple elections before drawing a Democratic challenger in 2018. She won by a margin of 16 percentage points. Each of the three Republican candidates hope to hold the party’s ground in the county’s conservative-leaning north.

The open race has also drawn a group of electoral newcomers. Facing off in the Democratic primary is U.S. Army veteran and business executive Ernie Anaya; educator Matielyn Jones; and barista Richard Smith. Businessman Sammy Baker; real estate entrepreneur Clint Dixon; and attorney Noemi Puntier round out the Republican ballot.

House District 86 (Stone Mountain)

State Rep. Michele Henson has held her seat for 30 years, but she’s facing three challengers in a district that’s changed significantly during her time under the Gold Dome.

Both the borders and the demographics of House District 86 have shifted since Henson’s 1990 election. Henson estimates about 10% of the land in the district is the same now as it was then. It’s also gone from a majority white district to majority black.

Henson is white, and three women of color are challenging her: Forensic chemist LaDena Bolton; immigration attorney Zulma Lopez; and retired educator Joscelyn O’Neil.

O’Neil previously challenged Henson in the 2018 and 2016 Democratic primaries. Both times, she lost by a margin of more than 20 percentage points.

Bolton said the district’s diversity should be reflected in its representative.

“DeKalb County is so much more diverse than it used to be with regards to ethnicity, economic status and education,” Bolton said.

Henson has said her active presence in the community keeps her in touch with constituents’ concerns. She also touts her long legislative tenure as an asset now more than ever because of the anticipated state budget crunch due to the coronavirus pandemic’s hit to state tax revenues.

Senate District 41 (DeKalb and Gwinnett counties, Stone Mountain and Clarkston areas)

Senate Minority Leader Steve Henson survived a 2018 primary by 111 votes to a relatively unknown challenger. This year, he’s stepping away from his 26-year legislative career as four Democrats vie to replace him.

Henson is the only white male Democrat currently in the Georgia Senate. His district, including the cities of Clarkston and Stone Mountain, is extremely diverse. 51.2% of constituents are African American; 28.3% are white; 11.1% are Asian; and 13.6% of constituents of any race also identify as Hispanic or Latino, according to data from the Atlanta Regional Commission. All four Democrats running to succeed Henson are people of color.

On the ballot are former Stone Mountain City Councilwoman Beverly Jones; Episcopal priest Kim Jackson; family law advocate Gil Freeman; and businessman Mohammed Jongahir Hossain. Jackson leads in fundraising with more than $106,000 in overall contributions as of May 1. Hossain was in a distant second with more than $10,000.

House District 57 (Northeast, Downtown and Southwest Atlanta)

State Rep. Pat Gardner is stepping down after nearly 20 years in the Legislature, and a familiar face is vying to replace her.

Former state Rep. Stacey Evans, who ran unsuccessfully in the 2018 Democratic gubernatorial primary, is running to get back into the Legislature. Evans previously represented House District 42, which includes Dobbins Air Force Base and the Vinings area just outside the Perimeter. She moved from Smyrna to Atlanta after the 2018 primary.

Evans told the AJC in December that she was compelled to run again after seeing legislation like the “heartbeat bill” enacted as the “No. 1 factor” for her effort.

Also seeking to represent the District 57 are former Atlanta City Councilman Alex Wan; former Oakland City Community Organization president Kyle Lamont; former Adair Park Today board member Jenne’ Shepherd; and Orianna Sanders, a candidate who does not appear to have a website or a Facebook page, and could not be found in a search of campaign finance filings.

Wan previously ran for the District 57 seat in 2004, but was defeated by Gardner in the primary. He and Evans lead in financial contributions and cash on hand. Evans has more than $36,000 in the bank and has taken in more than $247,000, according to state ethics filings. Wan reported nearly $45,000 on hand and more than $128,000 in total contributions.