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|Longtime political activist ready for his own turn on the ballot|
|Written by Ryan Watkins|
|Friday, 27 April 2012 00:00|
For Ken Britt, the time is finally right.
“I have the ‘fire in the belly,’” Britt told GA Voice during a recent interview. “If you had asked me 10 years ago, I probably would have said I was content to stay on the sidelines.”
Britt, 63, recently announced his candidacy for the District 56 seat in the Georgia House of Representatives, currently held by Democrat and gay-rights ally Rep. Kathy Ashe. Ashe announced her retirement in mid-April after more than 20 years under the Gold Dome.
Britt, also running as a Democrat, is no stranger to Georgia’s political landscape. He’s worked behind-the-scenes for some of Georgia’s most prominent gay and lesbian politicians, but the long-time activist says he’s finally ready for his own shot at elected office.
“I want to continue Kathy’s [Ashe] legacy. Education and transportation are things that I’ve been working on for a long time. Jobs are number one. Access to affordable housing. That’s just the beginning. There is a tremendous amount of work that needs to be done,” Britt said.
He retired in 2009 after serving as executive director of law firm Alston & Bird LLP.
Britt’s recent political career has seen him chair Alex Wan’s 2009 campaign for a seat on the Atlanta City Council, which made Wan the first out gay man to serve on the council. Britt also served as treasurer for Joan Garner’s Fulton County Commissioner campaign in 2010 when she became the first openly gay person to serve on the commission.
Britt worked with former Atlanta City Council President Cathy Woolard during her campaigns, as well. Woolard became the first openly gay person elected to public office in Georgia when she won a seat on the Atlanta City Council in 1997 and then became the first female and openly gay City Council president in 2002.
Britt’s recent work on Wan’s and Garner’s campaigns sparked his desire to run for office.
“Alex and Joan were defining moments for me because they were able to successfully win their races,” Britt said. “The roles I played in both of those races has led me to feel comfortable in running my own race.”
If Britt wins his election, he will serve alongside Wan and Garner representing Atlanta’s Midtown neighborhood.
“If you look at Alex Wan’s district, if you look at Joan’s Fulton County Commission district and this district [House District 56], there’s overlapping precincts,” he said. “If I win, I’m going to be working with them and we already have a working relationship.”
“I know exactly how it’s done,” Britt continued. “I don’t have a learning curve with respect to reports, filing periods and ethics rules. I’ve got everything organized.”
Britt supports the State Fair Employment Practices Act, which would ban job discrimination against state employees based on sexual orientation and gender identity, and efforts to enact state hate crimes legislation. Georgia is one of only five states without a hate crimes law.
But Britt said he has plenty of legislative priorities outside of LGBT issues.
In a continued down economy, employment persists as one of the top issues of the coming election cycle, both nationally and locally. The Georgia Department of Labor’s most recent statistics show the state’s unemployment rate hovering at a steady 9 percent. The national average is somewhere around 8 percent, according to the Labor Department.
“I really take this as a real opportunity to unite but not divide. There’s a lot that can be done with the issues in the north end of the district and the south end of the district. I’m still studying the issues. In some ways, they’re the same throughout the district. It’s transportation, it’s housing, it’s jobs,” he said.
Britt said he considers himself to be a mainstream progressive.
“I may be a little bit fiscally conservative,” Britt said. “As far as my social policies, I’m kind of mainstream progressive, if there is such a thing.”
Britt said that a successful campaign could cost more than $100,000. He has already begun fundraising.
As of press time, no other potential candidates for the seat had filed a DOI (Declaration of Intent to Collect Campaign Contributions) form, the first step in legally forming a campaign.
The official candidate qualifying period is set for May 23-25, which will finalize the field of Democratic and Republican candidates. The primary elections will be held on July 31, followed by a runoff if necessary, and then the general election on Nov. 6.
“This race could be decided by as few as 2,000 people,” Britt said, adding that he expects to face challengers in the July primary.
A major challenge for Britt will be the new House districts, redrawn after the 2010 United States Census.
“If you look at District 56, it’s the most bizarre looking district, Britt said. “It’s going to be challenging.”
The new district encompasses parts of Midtown and continues south to the Pittsburgh neighborhood.
House Democrats panned the redistricting proposals in 2011 and accused the state’s Republicans of redrawing the maps in such a way that would pit longtime House Democrats against one another in the state’s July primaries.
“A lot of people are upset about what the Republicans did when they gerrymandered this district. They want to drive the white people out of the Democratic Party, especially the men, back to the Republican party. I hope that we are past that and that people can see through it and work together,” Britt said.
Top photo: Ken Britt, already well-known in Georgia’s political circles, announced his bid for Ga. House District 56 on April 17. (by Ryan Watkins)
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