‘Comeback kids’: 4 lawmakers return to Georgia Legislature after time away

Credit: AJC

Credit: AJC

Much of the first few weeks as a state legislator are spent introducing yourself to colleagues, finding your office and figuring out where the bathrooms are.

But for four of the 53 freshman lawmakers heading to Georgia’s Gold Dome on Monday, it will be almost like “going back to summer camp” — all have served at least one term in the Legislature and, after some time away, are headed back to the Capitol.

Incoming Republican state Rep. Scott Hilton served one term before losing his 2018 reelection contest in his Peachtree Corners-based district as it trended more Democratic. Then his district lines were redrawn in 2021, removing a portion of diverse Gwinnett County and adding part of slightly more conservative north Fulton County.

Credit: Bob Andres

Credit: Bob Andres

“I was cautiously optimistic watching redistricting in our area,” he said. “The district as it was wasn’t trending in our favor.”

The district went from one whose voters gave Democrat Joe Biden 58% of the vote over Republican Donald Trump in the 2020 presidential election to a more competitive 52% of the vote for Biden when the new lines were drawn.

Hilton said politics has been “in his blood” since he was a child.

“When the new district was drawn, I very quickly raised my hand and fortunately didn’t face anyone in the primary,” Hilton said. He defeated Democrat state Rep. Mary Robichaux with about 54% of the vote. “It’s kind of like I’m a comeback kid.”

Credit: Bob Andres

Credit: Bob Andres

State Rep.-elect Doug Stoner — a Smyrna Democrat who served in the House for two years and the Senate for eight years before losing in his redrawn, more conservative Senate district in 2012 — said when the state representative in his district decided not to seek reelection, he saw it as an opportunity. He recently served as the chairman of the South Cobb Redevelopment Authority and also spent a term as a Smyrna city councilman since he last was in the Legislature.

“I studied political science in college, so I always knew I would end up in public service. A lot of folks, when I told them I was running (again), they asked me if I’d lost my mind, but I fully understand what I’m getting involved in. I have a full understanding of the challenges and the possibilities,” he said.

Stoner, who also worked as a Statehouse lobbyist, said the memories of his time in the House came flooding back when he entered the chamber for new member orientation two days after the November election.

“I know where things are and how they operate, I know how to push the button on the machine (to vote) and I know the decorum in the chamber,” he said.

Two other returning lawmakers are heading back to the Capitol after losing their elections two years ago.

State Sen.-elect Colton Moore, a Trenton Republican, served one term in the House before challenging longtime incumbent state Sen. Jeff Mullis, who represented his part of North Georgia, in the 2020 primary. He lost that race but prepared to challenge him again in 2022. Mullis did not seek reelection.

Credit: Courtesy photo

Credit: Courtesy photo

Moore said despite being away for two years, he felt like he hadn’t missed a beat when he went to the Senate shortly after the election for new member orientation.

“The fight for me has continued. There was just a one-term gap,” he said. “So I hope to pick up where I left off and advocating for strong conservative values.”

Incoming-state Rep. Deborah Silcox, a Sandy Springs Republican, lost the closest race in the state in 2020 — by just 277 votes. A constituent sued the Fulton County Board of Registration and Elections alleging votes were illegally thrown out, but the state Supreme Court unanimously dismissed the challenge nearly a year after the election.

Credit: Jason Getz/AJC

Credit: Jason Getz/AJC

A few months before the state began to redraw district lines in 2021, Silcox said then-Speaker David Ralston called her.

“He said, ‘Deborah, do you miss us?’ I said I did and he said, ‘Well, we miss you, we really miss your voice.’ That was so meaningful to me,” she said, adding that he said he would support her if she ran again. Ralston died last month.

Silcox ran in a district that was newly created due to the population growth in the Sandy Springs area. The new district neighbors her previous district.

“I felt like I made a difference,” she said of the four years she served in office. “I feel like I still have a lot to contribute at the end of the day.”