Democratic lieutenant governor hopefuls try to stand out in crowded primary

Nine candidates are running for the Democratic nomination for lieutenant governor: from top left, Erick Allen, Charlie Bailey, Jason Hayes; from bottom left, Derrick Jackson, Rashid Malik, and Renitta Shannon. Submitted photos. Not pictured: Tyrone Brooks Jr., Kwanza Hall and Tony Brown.

Credit: Maya Prabhu

Credit: Maya Prabhu

Nine candidates are running for the Democratic nomination for lieutenant governor: from top left, Erick Allen, Charlie Bailey, Jason Hayes; from bottom left, Derrick Jackson, Rashid Malik, and Renitta Shannon. Submitted photos. Not pictured: Tyrone Brooks Jr., Kwanza Hall and Tony Brown.

Georgia’s Democratic voters have a crowded field of political veterans and newcomers to choose from in this year’s lieutenant governor primary.

Nine candidates are on the ballot seeking to replace outgoing Republican Lt. Gov. Geoff Duncan, who opted not to run for a second term.

The decision of whom to choose in the May 24 primary can be overwhelming for Democratic voters, state Rep. Erick Allen of Vinings said.

“I think people are shocked that there are so many people — especially so many without elected or legislative experience that are running,” said Allen, who was first elected to the state House in 2018. “The field starts to narrow itself just through the dialogue.”

Only four of the nine candidates for lieutenant governor — whose duties include serving as president of the Georgia Senate — have held public office, three of whom are currently in the state House.

Rounding out the race are a former candidate for attorney general who switched races, a doctor, a former Atlanta councilman who served briefly in Congress, the son of a longtime state lawmaker, a veteran who ran for sheriff two years ago and a Bangladeshi immigrant who’s twice run for Congress.

The race is one of several that will likely require a runoff election, scheduled for June 21. Georgia law requires candidates receive more than half of the vote to win outright.

The winner will take on Libertarian candidate Ryan Graham and the winner of a four-way Republican primary in November.

With so many candidates who have similar positions on the issues facing the state, it can be difficult to stand out. Most support investing more in public education, protecting the right to vote and expanding Medicaid, the public health care system for the poor or disabled.

But state Rep. Renitta Shannon of Decatur, who was first elected to the Georgia House in 2016, said the voters she’s spoken with appreciate having diversity in choices. In addition to being the only woman in the Democratic primary race, she is the only LGBT candidate running for lieutenant governor.

“Policy work is really important to me,” Shannon said. “And I just feel like regressive policies are really hurting Georgians, and we need a lieutenant governor that is going to prioritize investing in Georgia.”

Charlie Bailey, who after spending nearly a year seeking a rematch against Attorney General Chris Carr switched races in January, said while he’s not yet held public office, he is the only Democratic candidate who can bring the perspective of rural Georgia to the race. An Atlanta resident for the past 12 years, Bailey grew up on his family’s farm in Harris County. All nine Democratic candidates currently live in metro Atlanta.

“I can bring the voice of someone from outside of Atlanta,” he said. “People ask where home is, and home is Harris County. I live in Atlanta and it’s a great city, but it’s not home.”

Rashid Malik of Lawrenceville, a Bangladeshi immigrant who moved to Georgia in 1995, has run for a variety of offices since 2010, including the 7th Congressional District in 2020, where he finished fourth out of six candidates in the Democratic primary. He says the pandemic hindered his ability for grassroots organizing where he can be face to face with voters, which is where he thrives.

“The citizens are knowledgeable enough to look into the eyes and look at the commitment of the candidates,” he said. “They can look at the history of that person and make the best decision.”

State Rep. Derrick Jackson of Tyrone said his 22 years of experience in the military plus his 10 years working in the corporate world, seven with General Electric, best enable him to be the state’s next lieutenant governor.

“The lieutenant governor’s office — it’s a very critical role in our legislative process,” said Jackson, who was first elected to the Georgia House in 2016. “For too long our politics have been centered on us versus them, essential versus nonessential, Republicans versus Democrats. There’s too much division. The right lieutenant governor can help the governor focus on healing Georgia.”

That division has targeted the lieutenant governor’s office in recent years.

Duncan announced last spring that he wouldn’t run for a second term as Georgia’s No. 2 official after criticizing former President Donald Trump’s refusal to accept the results of the 2020 presidential election, which he lost to Democrat Joe Biden. Trump vowed to unseat Duncan and other Georgia Republicans who refused to overturn the state’s election.

Jason Hayes, a doctor who practices internal medicine, said living and owning his medical practice in conservative Alpharetta positions him as a bipartisan candidate. Not only would that benefit him in a general election, but it would help him preside over a state Senate that will likely still be held by a Republican majority next year.

“I’m selling myself as someone who is a bipartisan lieutenant governor,” he said. “I live in a Republican district. A Republican Senate will be more comfortable with someone like myself.”

As of Jan. 30, the most recent campaign filing deadline, Bailey had vastly outraised his opponents, bringing in about $527,000 in the first month of his campaign. Allen reported raising about $299,000 — about $199,000 in donations, plus $100,000 of his own money that he loaned to the campaign. Jackson raised nearly $138,000, according to his campaign finance report.

Shannon reported raising about $74,000 for her campaign. According to Hayes’ most recent report, he raised about $140,000 in campaign contributions. About $41,000 of that was transferred from his 2020 race for an Alpharetta-based seat in the state House.

The state’s campaign finance laws don’t allow candidates to raise money for one position and transfer the money to a race for another office. The state ethics commission will likely file a complaint against Hayes.

Malik and candidates Tyrone Brooks Jr., Tony Brown and former U.S. Rep. Kwanza Hall had not yet declared their candidacies before the last campaign finance deadline, so no fundraising information was available.

Brooks, Brown and Hall did not respond to requests for comment for this article.