Several winners of the June 18 Georgia Legislative primary runoffs will spend the early months of 2025 working long hours inside the state Capitol’s Gold Dome. (File Georgia Recorder)

Several winners of the June 18 Georgia Legislative primary runoffs will spend the early months of 2025 working long hours inside the state Capitol’s Gold Dome.

Credit: Georgia Recorder

Eight legislative seats will be on the ballot Tuesday to determine the incoming lawmakers for hundreds of thousands of Georgians.

Tuesday’s runoffs feature at least two intraparty fights from both sides of the aisle, including a race for a metro Atlanta Senate seat that has opened up for the first time in two decades and a coastal matchup where a GOP House incumbent is fighting to keep his seat.

This round of voting is for the contests where no candidate clinched 50% of the vote in last month’s election, with some candidates barely falling short of that threshold.

Down on Georgia’s coast, St. Marys Republican Rep. Steven Sainz is fighting to hang on to his seat after narrowly avoiding an outright win. First elected in 2019, Sainz chairs a House committee that handles proposals to form study committees and create state symbols, like this year’s bill that would have made cornbread Georgia’s official state bread.

Sainz scored 3,075 votes out of 6,188, leaving him just 39 votes shy of having the summer off from campaigning. But instead of enjoying the district’s beachfront scenery, he’s knocking on constituent doors in a runoff against fellow Republican Glenn Cook, elected supervisor of Satilla River Soil and Water Conservation. The race has inspired strong feelings and personal attacks on the internet.

Cook earned 1,673 votes, about 27%, and third-place finisher David Rainer took the remaining 23%. Rainer has given his endorsement to Cook.

House District 180 is located on Georgia’s coast. Pictured here is Cumberland Island in Camden County. Jill Nolin/Georgia Recorder

House District 180 is located on Georgia’s coast. Pictured here is Cumberland Island in Camden County.

Credit: Jill Nolin/Georgia Recorder

Cook, an attorney who lives in Jekyll Island and who is also a retired Navy and commercial pilot, said he and his wife Wendy have knocked on 6,000 doors in the district and aren’t slowing down until after Tuesday’s election.

“I don’t have the kind of money my opponent does, so I’m relying on the old-fashioned grassroots to get out there and meet people and hear their concerns and sit in their living rooms with them and just get to know people, and so that’s what we’ve been doing.”

According to state campaign filings, Sainz had raised more than $268,000 as of last month’s election. In the same time frame, Cook had raised more than $45,000 and spent more than $20,000.

The southeast Georgia district includes all of Sainz’s native Camden County and part of Glynn County to the north.

Cook said the race will come down to local issues, and he said a lot of Sainz’s constituents feel they aren’t being represented.

“They want somebody to stand up in Atlanta and be their voice. There’s mental health issues down here, health issues, education, school systems. The north end of Camden County has almost been neglected by Sainz. The people just feel like they’re almost second thought to what goes on in Kingsland. Kingsland and St. Marys seem to get most of the funding and the resources to come out of Atlanta. My big issue would be to spread that out equitably across the entire district, make sure everybody is represented.”

Georgia political consultant Brian Robinson, who is running Sainz’s communications, said Sainz is hitting up neighborhoods up and down the district to tout his conservative voting record and staunch support for former President Donald Trump.

“This election is between somebody who’s a strong Trump supporter and versus someone who’s not, someone who’s born and raised, his community, his entire life, and an Atlanta lawyer who retired there,” Robinson said. “There’s somebody who’s got a record of conservative accomplishments and somebody who doesn’t, so there’s a clear choice for voters to make here.”

Cook said voters will reject that kind of talk as election season bluster.

“What I think they’re interested in right now is just the bombardment of mailers, Sainz calling me an outsider, calling me anti-Trump, calling me a guy that doesn’t control the southern border of the United States,” he said. “People are really getting tired of that. I mean, I hear that going door to door.”

But Sainz isn’t taking any chances, Robinson said.

“He will have knocked on many more doors than there will be people who turn out to vote,” he said. “So he’s really blanketed the district strongly. And it’s really hard in the summertime with vacations and people on the go, to get them to turn out for a runoff, so that personal connection is very important.”

Runoff elections almost always see lower turnout, and with low margins, upsets are a distinct possibility.

That’s what Cook is hoping for.

“I’m hoping that I win this thing,” he said with a laugh. “I mean, it’ll be an upset, Steven would be very upset about it, but I feel pretty confident right now. I’m not feeling lost, and no matter what happens, I’ll still have made a statement, and I’ve accomplished something.


A testy fight over partisan affiliation in metro Atlanta 

In the Democratic primary race to represent state Senate District 34, which spans Clayton and Fayette counties, former state Rep. Valencia Stovall said she is having to defend herself against attacks within her own party as she faces retired U.S. Army Major Kenya Wicks.

While Wicks is seeking her first term in public office, she previously worked as chief of staff for retiring Sen. Valencia Seay, who has endorsed Wicks to replace her after serving two decades in the Senate.

Stovall, who came close to avoiding a runoff, said she has had to contend with an unusual circumstance where Democratic Party organizations are endorsing her opponent in a primary runoff election. 

The winner will face Republican Andrew Honeycutt, a university administrator from Fayette County, in November.

Democrats have criticized Stovall for supporting GOP proposals when she was a House representative, including votes for a school voucher bill and Republican Gov. Brian Kemp’s plan to partially expand Medicaid. Democrats have long advocated for full Medicaid expansion and have criticized Kemp’s plan, which has so far enrolled only a few thousand people.

Mount Zion High School serves as a voting precinct in Clayton County. Stanley Dunlap/Georgia Recorder

Mount Zion High School serves as a voting precinct in Clayton County.

Credit: Stanley Dunlap/Georgia Recorder

The Georgia Senate Majority Defense Fund, Inc, political action committee chaired by retiring Senate Minority Leader Gloria Butler has distributed campaign mailers labeling Stovall as a Republican candidate running in the Democratic primary.

On May 31, the leader of the Fayette County Democratic Committee informed its members via email that the party had endorsed Wicks as an emergency measure to protect the party from “GOP infiltration.”

Stovall has questioned the justification given by the Fayettee Democratic committee chairman for endorsing her opponent, who has served as vice-chair of the board. Stovall also said she has doubts about the accuracy of several of the endorsements listed on the Senate Majority Defense campaign postcards.

Stovall gave up her state House seat to run for the U.S. Senate in 2020 as an independent candidate in the special election won by now-Sen. Raphael Warnock.

Stovall said she is running as a Democrat because she identifies as a Democrat, and she argues her voting record backs that up while also showing that she is independent-minded.

“This type of unprecedented endorsement is for someone who only garnered 15% of the votes in a seven-person race and I had 46.45%,” Stovall said. “When you look at my voter record and my platform on my site, it’s nowhere near a Republican platform. My voting record aligns with the Democratic Party at least 88% of the time.”

“Allow us (politicians) to think independently and choose what’s best for our constituents,” Stovall also said.

Wicks said she wasn’t involved in sending mailers and texts about Stovall.

“The only thing that I can say about that is maybe some folks don’t want her under the Gold Dome. Maybe they want the constituents to do further research,” Wicks said. “I’m 100% Democrat and have always been and nobody in the party has questioned my affiliation. My integrity is not in question, my honesty is not in question.

“I don’t and I have not said anything negative about my opponent because I was raised by my grandmother who always taught me to treat people the way I want to be treated,” Wicks said.

In her first term as a senator, Wicks vowed to support full Medicaid expansion, public schools funding, economic development, reproductive rights, and veterans’ issues.

During her tenure as a legislator, Stovall helped secure a $45 million capital infusion grant for Clayton County and advocated for other bills aimed at protecting special needs students and updating the state’s education funding formula.

“I don’t know why there is so much effort placed in this race to discredit me. I have a proven track record of service to my community,” Stovall said.


Other contests on the ballot

Several other races will also be decided in the Georgia House and Senate on Tuesday, with the winners of these matchups going into the Nov. 5 general election as the heavy favorites. 

Sen. Shelly Echols is the only Senate Republican incumbent not running again, but Democratic senators are losing three long-serving lawmakers to retirement. 

Butler, a Stone Mountain Democrat, is stepping down after 26 years in the Legislature.

DeKalb County attorney Randal Mangham and Gwinnett County registered nurse Iris Knight-Hamilton are set for a rematch Tuesday in the Democratic primary for Butler’s district. The winner will face Republican Mary Williams Benefield.

State Rep. Pedro “Pete” Marin, a Duluth Democrat who is the longest serving Latino lawmaker in Georgia, is one of this year’s high-profile departures from the Legislature. He is retiring after two decades in office. Jill Nolin/Georgia Recorder

State Rep. Pedro “Pete” Marin, a Duluth Democrat who is the longest serving Latino lawmaker in Georgia, is one of this year’s high-profile departures from the Legislature. He is retiring after two decades in office.

Credit: Jill Nolin/Georgia Recorder

In a Democratic runoff to replace outgoing Sen. Horacena Tate, nonprofit executive RaShaun Kemp is facing real estate broker Ralph Long III to see who emerges victorious in the suburban Atlanta district.

newly drawn majority Black district covering Monroe and Macon-Bibb counties will be up for grabs as educators Juawn Jackson and Tangie Herring compete in the Democratic runoff for House District 14. The winner will face Republican Noah Redding Harbuck. 

A new member of the House will replace Evans Republican Rep. Jodi Lott, who announced last year that she would not seek reelection. The final two candidates in the Republican primary are Rob Clifton, a commercial general contractor, and Paul Abbott, a retired educator.

There will be a Democratic runoff election in Gwinnett County Tuesday as Arlene Beckles faces Sonia Lopez to replace retiring Duluth Democratic Rep. Pedro Marin. No Republican candidates qualified for the primary.

Another Gwinnett showdown Tuesday will determine which Republican, J. Gregory Howard or Fred Clayton, challenges Democratic Sen. Nabilah Islam Parkes in the general election.

This story comes to GPB through a reporting partnership with Georgia Recorder