An open legislative seat that a Democrat can win in Georgia is unicorn-rare and not something candidates win without a scrum (unless you’re Dewey McClain, of course). So, an internal poll in the Senate 42 race between Elena Parent and Kyle Williams to succeed State Sen. Jason Carter set off charges from the Williams camp about who is the “real” progressive in the last week of the legislative session.
“According to campaign supporters, the poll suggested that Kyle had taken contributions from an organization that supported D.C. Republicans like Sen. John McCain,” wrote Williams’ spokesperson, Beth Cope.
The poll also tested voters’ response to Parent’s trip to an ALEC conference while serving as a state representative a couple of years ago. Williams’ team has been talking about that trip, hoping it will anchor doubts about Parent as too business-friendly for the Decatur and North Druid Hills district’s progressive politics.
There’s little truth to either of these claims – Parent as a crypto-ALEC member or the nebulous question about a pro-Republican group backing Williams.
Parent did attend a conference of evil ALEC cabalists while serving as a state rep. But she went as a spy.
Parent’s spokespeople wouldn’t discuss their internal polling in public, but released a statement following my inquiry. “Elena attended the ALEC conference on behalf of the AFL-CIO, progressive champion Sen. Nan Orrock, and other Democratic leaders to help build plans to defeat their extreme agendas,” said Matt Weyandt, Parent’s senior campaign advisor.
I spoke to folks from the AFL-CIO and Orrock briefly on Sine Die, and confirmed Weyandt’s statement. Each told me that Parent went with the backing of progressive leaders in Georgia, seeking competitive intelligence.
Meanwhile, the “organization that supported D.C. Republicans like Sen. John McCain” appears to be a reference to the Georgia Log Cabin Republicans, which endorsed Williams in 2009 when he was running for a seat on the Decatur city commission. Williams is openly gay in a district where that’s probably irrelevant, and accepting a GLCR endorsement does not suddenly make someone a conservative.
“Kyle received an endorsement from the LGBT group the Log Cabin Republicans of Georgia along with the Stonewall Democrats of Georgia together as a non-partisan gesture in a nonpartisan Decatur City Commission election in 2009,” Cope said.
So, why the buckshot?
Both Williams and Parent want to position themselves as the progressive in exactly the same way Republicans scream RINO at their peers while puffing about being a “true conservative.” It’s a primary.
I can imagine both Williams and Parent aspiring to higher office, though. The wealthy district can – plainly – serve as a launching point for a run. As the state’s demographics begin to shift, Democrats will be looking for a bench with crossover appeal from which talent can be drawn.
But that doesn’t work if the winner can’t claim centrist credentials.
Williams’ campaign wants voters to see Parent as a political animal too eager to make compromises for business interests. Parent grew up in the D.C. suburbs and still has family there, along with enough connections to throw a fundraiser or two near Washington. But painting her as a pro-business DLC Democrat will be a tough argument, given Parent’s role as executive director of the consumer advocacy organization Georgia Watch, a Clark Howard-esque group that has been fighting against predatory lending, medical malpractice reform and the consumer abuses of utility companies for years.
Still, the Williams’ campaign notes that Parent earned an A rating from the Georgia Chamber of Commerce in 2011, while Carter scored an unsatisfactory rating. However, those ratings more or less reversed themselves the next year – Parent scored a C+ while Carter scored an A.
Williams’ crew is also making hay about Parent’s vote to support the Hope Scholarship reforms of 2011, which made serious cuts to the program. Carter, married to a schoolteacher, led the Senate fight against it. But roughly half the Democratic delegation – including delegation leader Abrams – supported the bill as better than the alternative of losing the scholarship entirely.
Notably, the only chamber scorecard vote Carter failed in 2012 was in his opposition to the charter school constitutional amendment … a vote Parent supported.
Charter school issues are going to be a big deal this year in this district, given the issues with the DeKalb school board and its rejection of a charter cluster for Druid Hills.
Williams chairs the Decatur Education Foundation, which provides scholarships to students and innovation grants to teachers, and as a result can probably claim to be closer to education issues in the community.
Both candidates have likely raised more than $100,000 at this point, and either is likely to stomp the Republican contender Greg Williams flat in a general election. That will happen regardless of whether the two of them stomp each other flat first.