The race to fill the District 117 state House seat vacated by Regina Quick is about to get underway now that she has been appointed as a superior court judge by Gov. Nathan Deal. One challenger for her seat is Houston Gaines, an Athens native and the University of Georgia’s 2016-17 student government president.
Gaines, who is the grandson of the late Athens Judge Joseph Gaines, already has a good bit of political and public experience under his belt. He ran Athens Mayor Nancy Denson’s 2014 re-election campaign while he was a freshman in college and is currently a consultant at Lighthouse Counsel, an Athens-based company that engages with nonprofits.
And, despite his youth, Gaines appears to have some heavy political hitters who are ready to go to bat for him. In addition to Mayor Denson’s endorsement, he has the support of Oconee County Commission Chairman John Daniell, Oconee County Sheriff Scott Berry, Barrow County Commission Chairman Pat Graham, and Jackson County Sheriff Janis Mangum. He also appears to be affiliated with Brian Robinson, Deal’s former communications director and a UGA instructor, and he has reportedly raised over $110,000, no small chunk of change for a state House race.
If elected, Gaines would be the youngest member in the Georgia House of Representatives, where 21 is the minimum age to serve. He’d have to wait at least one election cycle before running for the Georgia Senate, where candidates must be at least 25.
In order to get to the House, he’ll have to defeat former state Rep. Doug McKillip, who represented the area as a Democrat from 2006 to 2012. McKillip switched to the Republican Party for the 2012 elections and was defeated by Quick in the GOP primary. In general elections from 2012 to 2016, Quick never faced a challenger, indicating a strong Republican hold. However, in the 2016 presidential election, Donald Trump only beat Hillary Clinton by 3.4 points in the district, meaning a Democrat might be competitive here. Athens lawyer Deborah Gonzalez might try to take advantage of this slim margin as she is running as the race’s sole Democrat (so far).
Because Quick is leaving the seat midterm, it looks like a special election will be called to fill it. As we all remember from the 6th Congressional District days, special elections in Georgia are held in a top-two or jungle format with an initial special election featuring all candidates who file and then a runoff election between the top two candidates, provided no one gets more than 50 percent of the vote in the first round. If that is the case, Gonzalez’s Democratic affiliation might give her a lock on one of the top two spots, meaning Gaines and McKillip will have to duke it out for the Republican spot. Expect Gaines’ war chest to keep growing as the race gets more and more heated. More candidates might jump in, making this special election anything but predictable.
Here is a link to Gaines’ website. Here is a link to Gonzalez’s website.