Five newcomers to watch at the Georgia Capitol

Ten freshmen enter the 236-member Georgia General Assembly this year after winning special elections. Though these newbies will have little political power, they’ll try to make their mark quickly because they all have to defend their seats during November’s regularly scheduled elections. 

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Seven of the newcomers are Democrats; three are Republicans. Overall, their victories gained three seats for Democrats in a state Legislature that’s 65 percent Republican. Here’s a look at five newly elected legislators to watch this year:

Deborah Gonzalez

Chamber: House

Party: Democratic

Who she is: Gonzalez, a media and entertainment attorney, won an Athens-area district that had previously been held by Republicans. She replaces Republican Regina Quick, who was appointed to a judgeship in August. Gonzalez emphasizes her support for women’s issues, human rights and protections for children.

Why she’s worth watching: She’ll have to prove herself fairly quickly because she’s up for election again in November. She has said she expects stiff competition after winning a 6-point victory in November over Houston Gaines, a 22-year-old former student government president for the University of Georgia.

Jen Jordan

Chamber: Senate

Party: Democratic

Who she is: An attorney by trade, first-time candidate Jordan flipped the 6th District seat that was vacated when Hunter Hill, a Republican, resigned to run for governor. Jordan, who lives in north Atlanta, was embraced by progressive organizations and politicians, but she identifies herself as being socially liberal while fiscally moderate.

Why she’s worth watching: Republicans have vowed to win this seat back in November, so Jordan will have to decide whether she’s going to represent the district as a progressive who beat another Democratic candidate in a December runoff, or if she’ll feel forced to move toward the middle to get the support of the district’s GOP voters.

Kay Kirkpatrick

Chamber: Senate

Party: Republican

Who she is: Kirkpatrick, a longtime orthopedic hand surgeon, was elected in a May special election to fill the seat state Sen. Judson Hill, R-Marietta, vacated last year in a failed bid for Congress. Kirkpatrick, an East Cobb County resident, also has served as president of the Georgia Orthopaedic Society.

Why she’s worth watching: Kirkpatrick campaigned as someone whose medical background helps her navigate what any repeal of the Affordable Care Act, commonly known as Obamacare, would mean for Georgians. While the federal government has yet to fully do away with President Barack Obama’s signature legislation, the tax law passed last month eliminated the penalty for those who choose to go without health insurance.

Bee Nguyen

Chamber: House

Party: Democratic

Who she is: As Georgia’s first Vietnamese-American state representative, Nguyen says she’ll fight for disempowered groups such as immigrants, minorities and women. Nguyen, the founder of a nonprofit for teenage girls, is a proud progressive representing a heavily Democratic DeKalb County district that includes Druid Hills, East Atlanta and Kirkwood.

Why she’s worth watching: Nguyen takes the reins from former Minority Leader Stacey Abrams, who is now running for governor. Nguyen previously worked at the Georgia Capitol as an advocate for legislation that required police to collect and analyze sexual assault evidence. She says she’ll use her background in community organizing to push for public education funding, Medicaid expansion and tax credits for low-income families.

Nikema Williams

Chamber: Senate

Party: Democratic

Who she is: Williams, a Vine City resident, most recently worked for Planned Parenthood Southeast as its vice president of public policy. She is replacing Democrat Vincent Fort, who vacated his seat to launch a failed Atlanta mayoral campaign.

Why she’s worth watching: Williams said winning as an unapologetic progressive candidate allows her to continue to champion liberal issues, including women’s reproductive rights. Having held leadership positions in the Georgia Democratic Party, she currently serves as the first vice chairwoman, time will determine whether she falls into the role of a “junior senator” or lays the groundwork to step into a powerful position in the future.

Also new to the General Assembly: Rep. Teri Anulewicz, D-Smyrna; Rep. Kasey Carpenter, R-Dalton; Rep. Marc Morris, R-Cumming; Rep. Kim Schofield, D-Atlanta; and Rep. Jonathan Wallace, D-Watkinsville.

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