When Atlanta Democratic state Rep. Pat Gardner announced her intent to retire last year, it marked the first time in nearly 20 years that voters in Georgia House District 57 would have new representation.
And with the seat up for grabs, the race has drawn some familiar political faces in former state representative and Democratic gubernatorial candidate Stacey Evans and former Atlanta City Councilman Alex Wan. Both boast hefty campaign hauls, with each reporting having tens of thousands of dollars banked as of April 30.
Two political newcomers, sommelier Kyle Lamont and stay-at-home-mother Jenné Shepherd, are also vying to represent the heavily Democratic district that stretches from Cascade Road in southwest Atlanta through downtown and Midtown and into Lindridge-Martin Manor off Cheshire Bridge Road.
Being such a Democratic district leaves little room to point out differences between the policy positions of those running for the seat, first-time candidate and lifetime district resident Lamont said.
All the candidates support an expansion of the public health care program Medicaid. All support a push for affordable housing. And all oppose the anti-abortion law that the state passed last year.
That legislation, which would outlaw most abortions once a doctor can detect fetal cardiac activity — usually around six weeks of pregnancy — is what made Evans want to return to the Capitol, she said. The law is being challenged in court.
Evans, a Ringgold native who represented a Smyrna-based district from 2011 to 2017 before stepping down to run for governor, was the first to throw her name in the ring to replace Gardner. Evans moved to Morningside shortly after her unsuccessful bid for governor in 2018.
When she learned that Gardner would not seek re-election, Evans said she didn’t want to keep her “expertise on the sidelines.”
“My frustrations were boiling. I was screaming at the TV, screaming on Twitter — it would be nice to scream from the well (of the House) and have results,” said Evans, an attorney.
Stone Mountain native Wan said he felt the pull back to public office because he thought the Republican lawmakers who control state government were increasingly working against the ideals he and his neighbors hold. Wan has lived in the district since 1994.
“I’ve been watching state and federal politics, where it feels like the conservatives are trying to be more conservative than each other, and if you have progressive values and ideas or essentially are in any way different from the people in the decision room — in gender, sexual orientation, ethnicity, ideology — you just continue to get squeezed out,” said Wan, who served on the Atlanta City Council from 2010 to 2017.
Shepherd said her decision to run for office was personal, as is her desire to expand health insurance access to all Georgians.
A New York native who moved to Atlanta 16 years ago, first-time candidate Shepherd said she nearly died in 2018 after giving birth to her now 2-year-old daughter because the pain she was feeling in her stomach wasn’t taken seriously. After two trips to the emergency rooms of two different hospitals, doctors learned there was an infection that resulted from Shepherd’s cesarean section that was sending her into septic shock.
Georgia’s maternal mortality rate has consistently ranked among the worst in the country.
“My doctor said if I waited to come the next day, I probably would have died,” said Shepherd, who’s lived in the district for about six years, where she served as the president of the Adair Park Today neighborhood association. “I want to be an advocate of Medicaid expansion and be able to write up legislation and figure out how we can make it that every person can have health care.”
Evans has far outraised her opponents. As of Saturday she reported having received about $346,000 in contributions since announcing her intent to run in December. A large chunk of that, $150,000, came in the form of loans to her campaign, including $80,000 since the last time filings were due on April 30.
At the end of April, she reported having almost $37,000 in her campaign account. Since then, Evans has reported about $19,000 in additional donations.
Wan, who is executive director of the nonprofit Horizons Atlanta summer program, had about $45,000 in the bank as of April 30 after having raised about $128,000 in contributions, records show.
Lamont reported having almost $11,000 in his campaign account, with $20,000 total raised. Shepherd had about $3,000 in the bank as of April 30, with campaign contributions totaling about $4,000.
“I think most of us, for the most part, have recognized that we’re all kind of lining up with the same ideology and the same agenda — we’re all lining up on the liberal side of things,” Lamont said. “We have solid enough respect for one another to understand that whoever wins this race is going to do an amazing job for this district.”