State Rep. Betty Price, center, talks with Meredith Pierard as Price’s husband, former U.S. Rep. Tom Price, stands nearby during this month’s 6th Congressional District BBQ Roundup in Roswell. STEVE SCHAEFER / SPECIAL TO THE AJC The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
Photo: The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
Photo: The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

State Rep. Betty Price fighting GOP challenge for Roswell House seat

As an outspoken Republican, state Rep. Betty Price has a reputation that would normally prevent a significant primary challenge: She makes fun of liberals, supports lower taxes and is married to former U.S. Health Secretary Tom Price.

But in one of the hottest legislative races this year, Price faces a fierce intra-party battle against former Roswell Mayor Jere Wood, who says Price’s divisive personality has alienated her Republican colleagues and crippled her ability to get much done.

Former Roswell Mayor Jere Wood talks at the 6th Congressional District BBQ Roundup in Roswell. STEVE SCHAEFER / SPECIAL TO THE AJC
Photo: The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Price has a target on her back ahead of the May 22 primary election for the Roswell-area House district, in part because of her abrasive public comments.

She made national news in the fall when she asked during a health care hearing whether HIV patients could be quarantined. She joked during a speech to local Republicans about the looks and intelligence of Democratic women.

And she was caught on a cellphone video telling a widow of a man killed by a distracted driver that she was “just causing trouble” for her political rivals when she voted in February against a measure to restrict cellphone use by motorists.

Wood, who was Roswell’s mayor for 20 years, said Price’s comment to the widow showed that she can be motivated by spite rather than advocating for her constituents.

“She’s not an easy person to get along with,” said Wood, who worked with Price during her five years as a Roswell councilwoman. “A lone state representative gets nothing done. You’ve got to work with other people. I don’t think she has the relationships to make things happen.”

Price, a retired physician, told voters at a Republican Party barbecue last weekend that she deserves to be re-elected after serving in the House for three years.

“I have solid and effective GOP credentials and a very strong record in the Legislature of lowering taxes and demanding accountability,” Price said. “My vision is about serving you, not just trying to remove a good Republican.”

The campaign isn’t just about politics. It’s also personal.

Wood blames Price for forcing him out of the mayor’s office, alleging she blocked legislation that would have allowed him to serve another term. Price has said the legislation wasn’t legal and other representatives also opposed it.

Wood had originally proposed term limits for the mayor’s office but argued in court that they weren’t supposed to be applied retroactively to him. A Fulton County judge ruled last year that Wood wasn’t exempt from the three-term limit approved by the Roswell City Council, and he left office at the end of the year.

People fill the picnic tables during the 6th Congressional District BBQ Roundup in Roswell. STEVE SCHAEFER / SPECIAL TO THE AJC
Photo: The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

“The personal history makes for good drama,” said Nate Porter, a vice chairman for the Georgia Republican Party 6th Congressional District. “I’m expecting it to get ugly, but I hope it won’t be.”

For Republican primary campaigns, this race is somewhat unusual because Price faces a more moderate challenger in Wood. Opposition to incumbents in Republican primaries often comes from the right.

Price touts her stance on tax relief, saying her co-sponsorship of bills that passed to limit property tax increases show that she’s an effective lawmaker. Those bills cap annual property tax increases for homeowners in the cities of Alpharetta, Atlanta and Roswell.

Wood said he also supports low property taxes but recognizes the need for transportation funding to ease congestion in House District 48, which includes the city of Roswell and surrounding areas. He said he’d seek $40 million for improvements to the intersection at Ga. 400 and Holcomb Bridge Road, as well as support funding for bus rapid transit.

“We can talk about issues, but the biggest difference is the personalities,” said Wood, an attorney known for always wearing a bow tie. “I’m trying to help my city. Whether she wants to or not, I don’t think she can pull it off.”

Price said she’s well-liked by voters and received only one negative response when campaigning door to door throughout the north Fulton County district, which is located within the area where Republican Karen Handel defeated Democrat Jon Ossoff in a high-profile special congressional election last year.

“People are very happy with their state representative at this moment, and they’re ready to send Mr. Wood into retirement,” Price said. “It’s no contest.”

While the House district is still Republican territory, the margin is narrowing. About 49 percent of voters supported Donald Trump and 45 percent backed Hillary Clinton in the November 2016 presidential election.

One of Price’s supporters at the Republican barbecue, Meredith Pierard, said Price is more in touch with the area’s voters.

“Tax cuts are the thing that hits us the most,” Pierard said. “Conservatives are supposed to be reducing taxes more than increasing them.”

But Joe Piontek, who backs Wood in the primary, said more transportation options are critical to Roswell’s future.

“We have a great quality of life, but it’s just being strangled by the lack of transit options,” Piontek said. “If we don’t get transit up here, we’re going to die on the vine.”

The winner of the Republican primary will compete in November’s general election against the Democratic Party candidate, Mary Robichaux, a health care consultant. Robichaux is unopposed in the Democratic primary.

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