Exclusive - UPDATED - By:
Vinson Fox and
the news staff of Georgia Weeky Post
Democrats are anxious for a chance to recapture a state House seat they lost eight years ago when Rep. Mike Jacobs switched parties. Jacobs is out now, having accepted an appointment to the State Court, and House District 80 is now a race between two Brookhaven residents.
The Democrats are placing their hopes behind Taylor Bennett, a local labor attorney and former professional football player for the Detroit Lions.
His Republican opponent in the Aug. 11 election is former Brookhaven Mayor J. Max Davis who resigned from his city post in June. The district includes Brookhaven and portions of Sandy Springs and Chamblee.
▲“We go till 8:30, 9:00 every night with the team up and running by 9:00 the next morning,” he said. Bennett said he hasn’t even thought of the future beyond Aug. 11. “I didn’t think I’d be running in this race, so soon,” he said. “The opportunity presented itself.”
Both survived a July 14 primary in a field of four. Bennett led the field, garnering nearly 37 percent of the vote, while Davis polled at 31.5 percent. The fact that a Democrat captured the majority of votes in the district surprised some political observers and has generated some concern among Fulton County Republicans.
“I think it shows the people of the district … are tired of the status quo and they’re tired of what Republicans are doing in the state, and they’re ready for some change,” Bennett said. “People want to take the state of Georgia, District 80 and our community in the right direction.”
District 80 has been a Republican stronghold since Jacobs switched parties in 2007, and has drawn weak if any challenge from Democrats since then. A Bennett victory would mean that Democrats constitute the majority of legislative seats representing Fulton County at the Capitol.
“Republicans are very scared of that, and you can see that wholeheartedly by how much money I’ve heard they’ve put in for my opponent in the last couple of weeks,” Bennett said. “They’ve brought in (former U.S. Rep.) Jack Kingston and I think the governor is now involved. You see firsthand how important it is to them.”
Bennett’s strategy has included culling support from both parties.
“We’ve had a massive amount of Republican support come out for us,” Bennett said. “We’ve had more people reach out to the campaign after the special election on July 15 than we did in the first half. People get excited and want to be a part of the race, whether they contribute time or contributions or a yard sign.”
Bennett is riding a wave of what he sees as stark dissatisfaction with the current Republican leadership.
“They saw what we stood for, and what we’re fighting for and our platform resonates with them,” he said. “At the end of the day, they put party politics aside, and they want to put their efforts into the best candidate.”
Bennett lists ethics and open government as his key issues, and he believes he can make a difference immediately.
He said one of the first things he would do is introduce ethics reform as related to anonymous mailers that are sent out during campaigns.
“[That’s] something I’ve had to endure first hand in this campaign is anonymous mailers going out without the voters and constituents knowing where they’re from,” Bennett said. “That speaks directly to the ethics, transparency concerns that Georgians have as a whole, especially in our district. I think any right-minded legislator would look at and understand that, yes, the people need to be fully informed on who is communicating to them.”
Bennett himself was recently flagged for a potential ethics violation when his campaign failed to file personal financial disclosure information in the proper timeframe.
The candidate said he responded to the complaint within an hour of hearing about it and turned over the documents.
“It was an oversight on behalf of myself, I thought the document had been filed when we filed our initial paperwork,” he said. “While I think (the person who filed the complaint) may have had a different motive for filing the complaint, nevertheless, that’s what those mechanisms are in place for, and I thanked him for bringing it to our attention.”
Bennett said he also wants to champion education reform and formulate a comprehensive plan for transportation funding.
“If we don’t have investment in education and transportation, we’re only setting ourselves up for failure in the future,” he said. “I intend on bringing a very balance-minded, open approach to representation, and I fully intend to listen to everybody on both sides of the aisle in my constituency.”
The recently passed tax increase on fuel, he said, is a mechanism to ensure the state is collecting the necessary revenue to support the infrastructure, but the state must think more creatively on ways to fund transit.
“The gas tax doesn’t necessarily fund transit, and I think … if we’re going to compete on a global scale as a city, we need to have actual train transit as part of our infrastructure, and we need to create a higher emphasis on that,” he said. “So I do think that a gas tax serves a specific purpose as it relates to roads, we need to look at ways to generate revenues to build transit.”
On the specifics of education, Bennett said when the state implements rigorous testing requirements, then asks children to perform at a certain level, policy makers need to invest enough funds to make sure children can meet those standards.
“We need to give that child and the teacher who teaches that child the proper resources and tools to get to that (level),” he said. “I do believe increasing standards and having a bar set for children to achieve is important. At the end of the day, it’s our children who become our workforce, and that workforce becomes our economic future and security.”
Bennett has his eyes wide open to the job. A state representative is the elected official for a given jurisdiction who represents that community at the state level on issues of state, such as transportation, education and taxes, he said.
“Our district is unique in that we have three municipalities, so we have to take into consideration a wide range of issues that can affect a multi-level amount of constituents,” he said.
“It takes [someone] who can recognize that, and that there are some special concerns you have to address when representing our district.”
Bennett came to Georgia in 2003 from St. Louis to attend Georgia Tech, where he played quarterback. He graduated in 2008 with a degree in international affairs. He continued his athletics eligibility the following year at Louisiana Tech, where he again played quarterback while pursuing a master’s degree.
He put his studies on hold when he pursued a career in professional football, but he later returned to Atlanta to earn his law degree.
Right now, Bennett is focused on long hours and campaigning.
“We go till 8:30, 9:00 every night with the team up and running by 9:00 the next morning,” he said.
Bennett said he hasn’t even thought of the future beyond Aug. 11.
“I didn’t think I’d be running in this race, so soon,” he said. “The opportunity presented itself.”
As the countdown begins, Catherine Bernard appears hours before voters go to vote and make their choices.
She fires warning shots to both candidates.
"Where does that leave us as residents of House District 80 and supporters of responsible Georgia government?"
"I'm staying involved with Brookhaven, Sandy Springs, and Chamblee and planning to expand my role as community watchdog: expect even more updates about local and state issues, and more opportunities to bring together our coalition of reasonable people who genuinely want politics to be less soul-suckingly miserable".
"I'll provide legislative assistance to whoever emerges from the runoff, and seek to help protect HD80's interests in responsible, transparent government by getting the word out about what's going on under the Gold Dome and how you can make a difference".
"And if our new state rep isn't getting the job done this term, there's a primary election in May and a general election in November - I stand ready to run,' she said.
"The answer seems obvious - we should all just be honest. But politics is made up of all sorts of incentives to encourage us to keep quiet, or even promote narratives that we know aren't accurate. "That's just the reality," we tell ourselves. "I have to have a seat at the table before I can be effective, and you can't fight every battle. Better to just make the best of bad choices," said Catherine Bernard, promising a run for the third time.
"The truth is that neither Taylor Bennett nor J. Max Davis has what it takes to represent the citizens of HD80," wrote Catherine Bernard to Georgia Weekly Post.