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July 31: Elsewhere on the ballot

You're not only voting on the T-SPLOST: Democratic primaries, Brookhaven cityhood, and ballot questions

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In addition to the transportation tax, several intown races will be decided — including whether a DeKalb County neighborhood should become a new city.

It's also time to send a few lawmakers back to private life. Last summer, during a special legislative session to redraw political districts, Georgia Republicans pitted incumbent Democrats into the same jurisdiction in an attempt to weed out donkeys under the Gold Dome. Some Democratic lawmakers, including state Reps. Stephanie Stuckey Benfield of Decatur and Elena Parent of Chamblee opted to step down rather than joust with a former colleague. Not everyone did so, however — and now we're seeing how awkward that can be. Several ITP Democratic primaries on July 31 will result in one lawmaker being shown the door. In addition, longtime Congressman John Lewis has a challenger nipping at his heels.

Finally, Democrats and Republicans will be asked to weigh in on several issues, including charter schools, casino gambling, fetus rights, and more.



City of Brookhaven

The balkanization of metro Atlanta continues without a hitch as Brookhaven, essentially a neighborhood north of Buckhead aims to join the "new cities" club that includes Sandy Springs, Johns Creek, Milton, and Dunwoody. Whether cityhood — which proponents say would bring enhanced government services as well as "government closer to the people" — is actually worth pursuing depends on whom you ask. According to a 2011 study conducted by the Carl Vinson Institute of Government at the University of Georgia, revenues in the proposed city could support services currently provided by the county — and even generate a surplus. Critics of the proposal — who say taxes would either stay the same or potentially increase to pay for police, parks, and code enforcement planned for the new city — pleaded for an updated study before heading to the polls. But no dice.


District 56

Competing to claim the seat vacated by longtime state Rep. Kathy Ashe, D-Atlanta, are Ken Britt, an openly gay, former executive director of a law firm, and "Able" Mable Thomas, a community advocate who once served on the Atlanta City Council and under the Gold Dome as a state rep. Britt, a Midtown resident, is tight with the city's politically active members of the LGBT community, has helped elect such officials as Fulton County Commissioner Joan Garner and Atlanta City Councilman Alex Wan, and enjoys a large fundraising advantage over his contender, who's yet to file her campaign disclosures. Thomas lives in and rallies for the English Avenue neighborhood a few blocks west of the Georgia World Congress Center. The battle between the two candidates has mostly been fought in constituents' lawns with yard signs, but they've publicly sparred over a nonprofits' plan to build, operate, and maintain a 16-acre, $55 million park along the edge of Vine City, which is also in the district that includes Ansley Park, Vine City, and parts of southwest Atlanta.


District 57

Nearby, two other incumbent Atlanta Democrats — state Reps. Pat Gardner and Rashad Taylor — are fighting to remain under the Gold Dome and represent their new district, which stretches from Morningside through Midtown and to Cascade Road in southwest Atlanta. The contest has been the most heated of all the Democratic primary races, with Taylor, who is openly gay, claiming he's been the victim of homophobic fliers. Gardner, who has enjoyed LGBT support in the past, denounced the attacks. She's a former teacher and businesswoman who has argued passionately for more MARTA funding. Taylor is a political consultant and previously served as a Planned Parenthood lobbyist.


District 58

State Rep. Simone Bell squares off against her fellow state Rep. Ralph Long. Bell, the first openly gay black woman state lawmaker in the country, is whip smart, savvy, and has pushed for LGBT rights under the super-conservative Gold Dome. Long, a licensed real estate broker, is one of the most passionate community advocates you'll find, who's called out area grocery stores selling expired meat and introduced legislation to crack down on recycled mattresses. Both are outspoken — Long in 2009 called out then-House Majority Leader Jerry Keen for trying to use MARTA as a political football. Like all the races, it's a tough call. But one of 'em will have to step down. And that's exactly what Republicans wanted.


Congressional District 5

For the first time since 2008, Congressman John Lewis, D-Atlanta, faces a primary challenger. The civil rights icon has shown in polls to be virtually unbeatable, but that's not stopping Michael Johnson, a former Fulton County judge, prosecutor, and Morehouse graduate with solid ties to the community. He's been making the rounds since last summer to gain support for his campaign, but whether that will be enough to unseat the 72-year-old liberal stalwart and Freedom Rider remains to be seen.


Ballot questions

Depending on whether you request a Democratic or Republican ballot, you'll be faced with several questions from your friendly state political party. Don't get nervous — these are nonbinding referendums aimed at gauging political support. But keep in mind that the outcomes could determine whether your local elected officials seriously pursue some of the initiatives prior to the November election or next legislative session.

Republicans will be asked to consider if casino gambling should be allowed in Georgia, provided some of the revenues fund education, such as the HOPE Scholarship. They'll also be asked about caps on lobbyist gifts to lawmakers, special weapons licenses for active duty military personnel under the age of 21, ballot access, and the so-called "personhood" amendment, which, if passed, means fetuses would be considered people under the law.

In addition to also asking about caps on lobbyists' gifts, Democrats are probing support prior to a November referendum that would allow the state to override local school boards' decisions and create charter schools. Party officials also want to know if special sales tax breaks should be given to companies that manufacture products in Georgia (which could raise a quirky constitutional issue) and if support exists for an income-tax credit for home energy costs.


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