2022 YIR: Jewish Legislators’ Comings and Goings
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2022 YIR: Jewish Legislators’ Comings and Goings

There was plenty of movement between elected offices for Jewish legislators this past year.

Dave Schechter is a veteran journalist whose career includes writing and producing reports from Israel and elsewhere in the Middle East.

Democratic State Rep. Esther Panitch
Democratic State Rep. Esther Panitch

Jewish state legislators and those seeking to serve were on the move in 2022.

Democratic Rep. Mike Wilensky announced Jan. 31 that he would not seek a third term in the House. Wilensky represented Dunwoody-based District 79 for two terms.

In a statement to the AJT, Wilensky said: “In four years, I accomplished many of the goals I set out to perform. These goals included the passing of the hate crimes bill, working on the Judiciary and Regulated Industries committees and having two bills pass the House, one of which was signed into law by the governor. While I have enjoyed my time serving in the legislature, I am looking forward to spending more time with my children.”

Former Republican Rep. Mitchell Kaye returned to the House. He won a May 3 special election runoff to serve District 45 for the eight months remaining in the term of Republican Matt Dollar, who resigned in February to become deputy commissioner of the Technical College System of Georgia. Kaye won 56.7 percent of the runoff vote to defeat Dustin McCormick and told the AJT that he was “humbled and overwhelmed by the magnitude of the victory.” Kaye opted not to seek a full two-year term. He represented District 37 from 1993-2003. Kaye is believed to have been the first Jewish Republican elected to the Georgia legislature.

House district 51 saw a Jewish Republican and a Jewish Democrat square off. Attorney Esther Panitch defeated Erendira Brumley in the Democratic primary on May 24, while Republican Peter Korman faced no primary opposition. Panitch and Korman sparred frequently on Twitter during the early months of the campaign. In the Nov. 8 general election, Panitch received 55.8 percent of the vote to defeat Korman. District 51 takes in most of Roswell, northeast Sandy Springs, and a section of Johns Creek.

Betsy Kramer, a long-time member of the Republican Jewish Coalition and the former first vice chair of the Fulton County Republican Party, made a bid in District 50, but lost in the May 24 Republican primary.

Democrat Jeff Auerbach was unsuccessful in his bid to represent House district 121 in the Athens/Oconee area. A visiting assistant professor of political science at Emory University-Oxford, Auerbach received 39 percent of the general election vote and was defeated by Republican Rep. Marcus Wiedower, who represented district 119 before the redistricting that followed the 2020 Census.

Republican Rep. Todd Jones won a fifth term in House district 25, receiving 62 percent of the general election vote against Democrat Todd Meyer. The district is comprised of southeast Forsyth County and a piece of northern Fulton County. In an interview with the AJT in June, Jones explained that while his mother is Jewish and his late father was Protestant, “I don’t want to be judged by one hour of every week, where I sit. I want to be judged on seven days a week, 24 hours a day, so I work as hard as I can with the ethos that both sets of grandparents gave me…I think they raised me to really just do the right thing, whether Christian or Jewish, just do the right thing.”

There are 236 seats in the General Assembly, 180 in the House and 56 in the Senate. An estimated 130,000-plus Jews make up about 1.2 percent of the population of Georgia but hold an even smaller percentage of legislative seats.

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