Athens’ local election is the same date as the Democratic Primary — June 9.
APN breaks down the candidates, provides some analysis and offers a suggestion on how to vote. That suggestion is based on a 5-metric analysis; the candidate who wins the most categories will earn our recommendation. In the event of a tie, one, both or neither candidate might receive the recommendation (but you’ll know they’re evenly matched).
The metrics are: experience (the candidate with the most relevant experience to the office they are seeking), ideology (the candidate who most vocally supports progressive values), platform (the candidate with the best-developed, most-progressive platform), strengths (the candidate with the strongest strengths, including electability and impact of candidacy) and weaknesses (the candidate with the most glaring weaknesses — this is the only category you don’t want to win).
Georgia Supreme Court: Beth Beskin
Georgia Supreme Court: Sarah Warren
Commission District 4: no recommendation
Commission District 6: Jesse Houle
Commission District 8: Carol Myers
Commission District 10: Knowa Johnson
Board of Education District 2: Kirrena Gallagher
Georgia Supreme Court, seat 1
Experience: Charlie Bethel
Ideology: Beth Beskin (conservative)
Strengths: Beth Beskin
Final Score: Beskin 1, Bethel 0
Charlie Bethel is a right-wing Republican state Senator who was appointed to the Georgia Supreme Court by Nathan Deal in 2018. He has a lifetime rating of 81% by the American Conservative Union. By contrast, his opponent Beth Beskin has a moderate-seeming 50% lifetime rating. Georgia Governors have increasingly resorted to appointments of judges and justices in recent years (and this trend seems to be expanding to include District Attorneys), something which Beskin opposes. She also has experience in the state legislature as the representative from district 54. She served in that capacity from 2015 until she was defeated by Betsy Holland (D) at the end of 2018. Despite also being a Republican, I’ll give Beskin the nod over Bethel.
APN’s Recommendation: Beth Beskin
Georgia Supreme Court, seat 2
Experience: Sarah Warren
Ideology: Sarah Warren (conservative)
Weaknesses: Hal Moroz
Final Score: Warren 2, Moroz -1
Sarah Warren was also appointed to the Georgia Supreme Court in 2018 by Governor Nathan Deal. Before then, she served as Solicitor General. While certainly a conservative Republican, she’s got nothing on Hal Moroz, who is a “God & Guns” type as well as a strict constructionist when it comes to interpreting the constitution. He is challenging Warren, currently the only woman on the 9-justice Supreme Court, from the far-right. I’ll take Warren, thank you very much.
APN’s Recommendation: Sarah Warren
Commission District 4
Experience: Allison Wright
Ideology: Michael Stapor (progressive)
Platform: Michael Stapor
Weaknesses: Michael Stapor
Final Score: Wright 1, Stapor 1
Allison Wright drew a challenger this time around: she’s facing Michael Stapor, a recently-graduated UGA student. He has a pretty good handle on the priorities of many Athens progressives, but he hasn’t been much involved in the community before choosing to run. Does he understand the needs of district 4? How would he handle himself in office? It’s unclear.
With Wright, we at least know what we’re getting. If you’re at all a fan, don’t think too hard on this one. But if you’re a progressive who’s dissatisfied with Wright’s moderate ways, Stapor may be a good option to consider. He could grow into the role with time, and it’s true most commissioners have a learning curve when first elected. I can’t officially recommend someone who would have so much to learn on the job, but at least Stapor is giving voters in district 4 a choice. Even if you lose, Michael, stick around! Stay involved, and I’d love to see you try again in four years.
APN’s Recommendation: no recommendation
Commission District 6
Experience: Jerry NeSmith
Ideology: Jesse Houle (democratic socialist)
Platform: Jesse Houle
Strengths: Jesse Houle
Final Score: Houle 3, NeSmith 1
At first glance, it might seem like this race is a repeat of district 4. On one side, we’ve got an older, moderate incumbent while on the other, we’ve got a young progressive. But look again! While Commissioner Jerry NeSmith does have a significant edge in terms of experience (8 years as an ACC Commissioner, 9 years on the ACC Planning Commission), you may not know that Jesse Houle been involved in organizing and advocacy in Athens for almost a decade.
This is the first time Houle has run for office, but they were an organizer with Occupy Athens in 2011, and they helped run Tim Denson’s mayoral campaign in 2014. They’re also a co-founder of Athens for Everyone and have been a big part of that organization’s success. As a candidate, Houle is fiercely inspirational. As a commissioner, they’d be one as passionately dedicated to justice as Athens is likely to see. Houle’s election to the commission would have an impact comparable to the victories of Mariah Parker or Tim Denson (both of whom have endorsed Houle).
NeSmith is not a terrible commissioner, even considering the differences I have with him on things like fare-free transit, protected bike lanes and mandatory gun registration. He is hard-working and engaged; district 6 could certainly do worse. Still, Houle’s candidacy presents a great opportunity that progressives shouldn’t miss.
Disclosure: I have known Jesse for years. We worked together on Tim Denson’s mayoral campaign and in Athens for Everyone. I volunteered to create their campaign website and they are currently an advertiser on APN.
APN’s Recommendation: Jesse Houle
Commission District 8
Experience: Carol Myers
Ideology: Carol Myers (progressive)
Platform: Carol Myers
Strengths: Carol Myers
Weaknesses: Andrea Farnham
Final Score: Myers 4, Hull 0, Farnham -1
With no incumbent in this race, there is a clear choice: Carol Myers. She’s served on numerous local government committees, including two SPLOST citizen advisory committees and the Athens in Motion commission. She also has strong progressive values and the drive to accomplish great things as commissioner, such as transitioning to 100% renewable energy by 2035. Myers is a true standout in this field. She’s already proven her ability to drive change from outside government with her work on the 100% Athens resolution, and I’m excited to see what she can accomplish when elected.
That being said, some might want to take a closer look at Kamau Hull; he also looks like a good candidate despite not having as much experience with local government. Regarding the final candidate, Andrea Farnham, her rigid ideology and aggressive affect will likely appeal only to a handful of voters.
Disclosure: I have been volunteering as the Field Director for Carol Myers’ campaign. She is also a patron of APN, and is currently advertising on this website.
APN’s Recommendation: Carol Myers
Commission District 10
Experience: Mike Hamby
Ideology: Knowa Johnson (progressive)
Strengths: Knowa Johnson
Weaknesses: Knowa Johnson
Final Score: Knowa 1, Hamby 1
Mike Hamby has been a commissioner since 2009 and arguably has the most in-depth knowledge of local government of anyone currently serving on the body. With the exception of some spats with Commissioner Melissa Link, Hamby has always seemed moderate and reasonable. He’s been an effective and diligent commissioner over the past decade.
This year, he’s facing a challenge from his left by Knowa Johnson, a founding member of the Athens Anti-Discrimination Movement (AADM). Johnson was key in the fight for a civil rights committee, helping to organize civil rights rallies, protests and the MLK Day parade. He was eventually successful — the recent addition of an Office of Inclusion and Equity to the local government would not have happened without his efforts. If future progress is made on these issues in the next couple years, it’s clear a lot of the credit should go to Johnson and AADM.
Johnson got into the race late, and has not yet been able to develop a comprehensive, detailed platform. Hamby’s platform, on the other hand, is certainly comprehensive but fails to give a sense of his priorities. Where will he spend his political capital? What issues is he really excited about pushing forward in his next term? It’s unclear.
In the end, these two candidates are pretty well-matched, but I’m going to make a recommendation anyway. Johnson may lack government experience, but he has proven he’s able to “get stuff done” from the outside of government. I feel he will be more pro-active at pushing forward progressive priorities than will Hamby, and for that reason, I recommend your vote go to him, but I do recognize that neither is a bad choice.
APN’s Recommendation: Knowa Johnson
Board of Education District 2
Experience: Kirrena Gallagher
Ideology: Kirrena Gallagher (progressive)
Platform: Kirrena Gallagher
Strengths: Kirrena Gallagher
Weaknesses: Mary Bagby
Final Score: Gallagher 4, Bagby -1
After years of searching, it seems that district 2 has finally found an ideal candidate for school board: Kirrena Gallagher. She has ample experience, strong progressive values and a breadth of knowledge about issues facing our school system.
APN’s Recommendation: Kirrena Gallagher
Are you voting in the Democratic primary? Check out these recommendations before you do.