Ex-congressman, onetime hopeful for attorney general head to lt. gov runoff

Credit: Maya T. Prabhu

Credit: Maya T. Prabhu

Two candidates emerged from a field of nine in the Democratic primary for lieutenant governor to qualify for the June 21 runoff.

One is a longtime Atlanta politician, the other a lawyer who ran for attorney general in 2018 and recently received the endorsement of Stacey Abrams.

Former U.S. Rep. Kwanza Hall, who served the last month of U.S. Rep. John Lewis’ term after the congressman and civil rights leader died in 2020, said his legislative experience serving on Atlanta’s school board and City Council put him in a great position to serve as the state’s No. 2 official.

“I’ve been a leader, I’ve been a legislator and I have an extensive track record working with families and children,” Hall said. “The lieutenant governor is one heartbeat away from the governor. People deserve (to consider) a true track record in who they vote for.”

Hall, an Atlanta native who works as a consultant and serves as CEO to the Chattahoochee Trails Water Hub — a proposed economic development project on the west side of the city —declined to participate in a televised debate Monday hosted by the Atlanta Press Club, leaving his opponent, Charlie Bailey, standing next to an empty podium.

Him not being here is also a pattern,” Bailey said during the debate. “It’s a pattern of a lack of respect for voters. It’s a pattern of an unserious person. If you cannot stand up with the voters, tell them what you believe (and) listen to the questions of a free press, you’re not prepared to be the lieutenant governor.”

The seat is open after Lt. Gov. Geoff Duncan announced last year that he wouldn’t run for a second term. Duncan criticized 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.

The winner of the runoff election will face Trump-endorsed Republican candidate Burt Jones, a state senator from Jackson who bested three others in last month’s GOP primary, and Libertarian Ryan Graham in November.

Hall and Bailey, an Atlanta resident who grew up in Harris County, received the largest shares of the nearly 691,000 ballots cast in last month’s Democratic primary, about 30% and 18%, respectively. The runoff is required since neither candidate got more than half of the vote.

The candidates align on most issues facing the state. Both support investing more in public education, protecting the right to vote and expanding Medicaid, the public health care system for the poor and disabled.

Where Hall and Bailey differ is in their experience. Hall says his years serving Atlanta and his month in Congress prove that he’s a leader with experience in passing legislation. Bailey, who switched races after spending nearly a year seeking a rematch against Attorney General Chris Carr, said while he’s never been in elected office, there are various ways to serve the public such as working as a teacher or police officer.

“My public service has been in and around public safety as a prosecutor,” he said. “I’ve prosecuted organized crime and gangs, and I have experience in getting people justice that have been victimized by violence. We are in need of more of that in state leadership.”

Matt Garbett, a small business owner who lives in Atlanta, said that shortly after he shared online that he had narrowed the candidates in the Democratic primary to a top four, Bailey called him to discuss policy.

“He’s obviously incredibly smart and he’s a lawyer so he knows the law, but the two biggest things that stood out were how much he listened and how much he wanted to have a conversation,” said Garbett, co-founder of the urbanism advocacy organization ThreadATL and a close watcher of city business. “I get a lot of phone calls from candidates, and he really genuinely was calling to have a conversation with me and not to pitch himself to me.”

Hall was one of the last candidates to enter the race, announcing days before filing his qualifying paperwork in March. He said the timing was right for him to make a run at getting back into elected office.

“I didn’t even know what was going on in terms of the candidates, so when I looked at the field, I thought that me stepping up and offering myself for service would lift the ticket,” he said.

That’s why Triana Arnold James, a Douglas County resident who unsuccessfully sought the Democratic nomination for lieutenant governor four years ago, said she’s supported Hall throughout the primary season.

“I felt like he was the strongest of the nine, being that he’s been an elected leader before, especially with his background, his history,” she said.

Bailey has far outraised his opponent, raising about $734,000 since entering the race in January, according to campaign finance documents. Hall reported raising about $150,000 as of April 30, the most recent filing deadline.

Bailey also boasts endorsements from some of Georgia’s Democratic political elite. In addition to Abrams, Bailey has the backing of former Atlanta Mayor Shirley Franklin, former Gov. Roy Barnes and Mark Taylor, the last Democrat to serve as lieutenant governor.