An Episcopal priest, a former Stone Mountain councilwoman, an information technology director and a construction business owner make up the diverse field of candidates seeking to replace Senate Democratic Leader Steve Henson.
Henson, of Stone Mountain, has served Senate District 41 off and on since 1990. Last year, he announced he would retire from the chamber after serving nearly 30 years in the Senate, and all four candidates said they saw an opportunity.
The demographics of the district have vastly changed since Henson, who is white, was first elected.
The U.S. Census Bureau reports that in 2000, 54% of the residents in Senate District 41 were white and about 17% were black. According to voter registration data, this year half the registered voters in the district are black and 24% are white.
That shift is also reflected in the Democratic candidates running in next week’s primary election: two women and two men, all people of color.
Kim Jackson, the Episcopal priest, said she’s known since she was 13 years old that she wanted to be in public service. Jackson, who is black, moved to the Atlanta area in 2007 to attend graduate school at Emory University and said she has lived in the district for seven years.
It was working through the Georgia Women's Policy Institute to lobby in support of a bill that required the speedy testing of rape kits that solidified Jackson's desire to run for office, she said.
“Watching that bill being introduced, working with (the bill’s sponsor) and other women to get that bill passed, being there on the last night that they were in session at midnight and watching it be voted on in the House and Senate, I knew — this is confirmation of how real change happens,” Jackson said.
Mohammed Hossain, the construction company owner, said he’s been involved in helping the South Asian community in Gwinnett and DeKalb counties since he moved to Lawrenceville in 15 years ago.
Hossain, who is originally from Bangladesh and grew up in New York, said he had spent many years seeking out lawmakers for help on South Asian and Islamic community issues when he learned Henson was retiring.
Hossain said that if elected he wants to focus on improving issues around domestic violence, especially in South Asian communities.
“I’ve found some difficulty (over the years) helping my community,” he said. “I’ve asked some other officials to help. But my community told me, ‘Why don’t you run for office so you don’t have to go to someone else and you can help us on your own?’”
Beverly Jones, a former Stone Mountain councilwoman, said after losing a bid for mayor in 2010, she’s spent the years advocating for homeless women and volunteering at local hospitals with cancer and Alzheimer’s patients.
During the coronavirus pandemic, the needs of those communities have grown exponentially. That’s why Jones, who is black, said she wants to work to expand Medicaid — the public health program that provides care to the poor and disabled.
“There are so many people who do not have health care,” she said. “Expanding Medicaid would change that. And it’s not just the homeless people, but also the working poor that cannot afford insurance. We should be a society where no one is turned away when they’re ill or dying.”
Gil Freeman, an IT director, said he believes his experience could also help him to enact changes to state law that could decrease the instances when unarmed black men are killed by police.
“I’m a black male,” Freeman said. “I’ve endured racial profiling. I’ve been accused by someone who was feigning distress. I can apply this to legislation with my colleagues and bring about real change.”
Jackson, the Episcopal priest, has gotten some national headlines. If she were elected, she would be the first openly LGBTQ Georgia senator.
Jackson far outraised the other candidates, reporting about $113,000 in overall campaign contributions as of May 26. She had about $41,000 in her campaign account as of April 30, the most recent filing deadline.
Hossain reported having almost $9,000 in his campaign account out of about $10,000 raised for the race, all of which he loaned to his campaign. Freeman reported having nothing in his campaign account as of April 30 and $220 in contributions, which he loaned to his campaign.
Jones had not filed a campaign report as of Tuesday.
The winner of Tuesday’s Democratic primary will face Republican William Freeman in November. He is the only Republican in the race.