Jews on the Ballot
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Jews on the Ballot

Jews in the House and Senate cross party lines. Catch up here with the Jewish politicians of Georgia.

Rachel is a reporter/contributor for the AJT and graduated from the University of Central Florida in Orlando. After post graduate work at Columbia University, she teaches writing at Georgia State and hosts/produces cable programming. She can currently be seen on Atlanta Interfaith Broadcasters.

45th Senate District: Renee Unterman-R

Renee Unterman

Incumbent State Sen. Renee Unterman appreciates the support she has received from the Jewish community on her priority issues, including child sex trafficking and hunger.

“The Jewish community has helped quite a bit,” the Republican from Loganville told the AJT. “Rabbi [Peter] Berg at The Temple has been great. We’ve done seminars together on social issues, and I’ve been to The Temple for talks several times over the last 10 years.”

Unterman has represented the 45th District in northern Gwinnett County since 2003 after serving in the state House in 1998. She is being challenged for re-election by Democrat Jana Rodgers.

With degrees in nursing from Georgia State University and social work from the University of Georgia, Unterman chairs the Senate Health and Human Services Committee.

Unterman named health care and transportation as key issues for her constituents. She supports the expansion of MARTA into Gwinnett County as well as increasing the capacity of the existing road system, two items in a transportation bill she backed.

In 2016, Unterman described herself as a Jew by choice, telling the AJT that she was raised Catholic, but converted to Judaism according to Orthodox tradition and law, including a year of study, testing by a panel of rabbis and visits to a mikvah.

As she campaigns for re-election this year, Unterman said, “I feel like it’s unusual to be a Republican and Jewish. But because of my background, I can connect with certain social issues I may not have if I wasn’t Jewish.”

Serving in the Georgia House or Senate is a part-time job that pays $17,342 per year, and $173 per diem when the legislature is in session.

56th Senate District: Ellyn Jaeger-D

Ellyn Jeager

Ellyn Jaeger draws a parallel between the historic condition of Jews as outsiders and the stigma that afflicts people needing mental health treatment.

Jaeger wants to bring her professional passion as an advocate for mental health care into the political realm, as a member of the state Senate.

A New York native who has lived in Georgia for 42 years, Jaeger is the Democratic candidate from the 56th District, running against Republican incumbent John Albers, who is seeking a fifth term.

The 56th District includes portions of northern Fulton County and southeastern Cherokee County, taking in the city of Roswell and parts of Sandy Springs, Johns Creek, Alpharetta, Milton and Woodstock.

“We forget what it means to not be a part of the larger group. I don’t understand why Jews forget. That’s at the center of my campaign and my thoughts,” said Jaeger, a member of Congregation Or Hadash.

Her resume includes serving as director of public policy and advocacy and Southeast regional director of public policy for Mental Health America of Georgia. She also is a past board chair for the Georgia Council on Aging.

“Mental health is important, no matter where you live. If you want a healthy society, people must have access to healthcare. Some counties in Georgia don’t even have a pediatrician or any physician at all. Our dollars can go a long way in rural areas to help these people,” Jaeger said, explaining her support for expanding Medicaid access in the state.

36th House District: Jen Slipakoff-D

Jen Slipakoff

To replace the longest-serving member of the Georgia House of Representatives, Jen Slipakoff must defeat his wife.

Slipakoff is the Democratic candidate in the 36th District, located in Cobb County.
Her Republican opponent, Ginny Ehrhart, is running to succeed her husband, Earl Ehrhart, who represented the district for 30 years.

“I’m up against Republicans who are running on a platform of preserving Georgia’s conservative values,” Slipakoff told the AJT. “They’ve deemed those values to be family, and faith, and freedom. Those sound an awful lot like my values. Those aren’t conservative values. They’re American values.”

The mother of two children, one a transgender daughter, Slipakoff is a member of the Human Rights Campaign Atlanta and has served as co-president of PFLAG (Parents, Families and Friends of Lesbians and Gays) Atlanta.

“Advocating for the LGBTQ community and working across the aisles with legislators who don’t necessarily share our ideology is so important,” said Slipakoff, whose views on the subject differ markedly from Earl Ehrhart’s.

She also has served on the board of Congregation Shearith Israel.

Other priorities for Slipakoff are transportation, pay equality, access to quality education, and expanding Medicaid in the state.

“There are so many issues to fight for. Things like making sure we can afford healthcare, if not necessarily for us, our spouses, or our children, then certainly for our aging parents,” she said. “We need to find solutions to transportation because I know we’re all tired of sitting on gridlocked roads. We also need to talk about education and the disparity of the quality of the education that exits in Cobb County,” Slipakoff said.

“We need to figure out how single moms trying to raise their kids can make the same amount of money as a man doing the same job.”

51st House District: Alex Kaufman-R

Alex Kaufman

Alex Kaufman grew up at Temple Emanuel in Sandy Springs.

He played little league baseball at the Atlanta Jewish Community Center, attended camps at Zaban Park and Camp Isadore Alterman, where he also worked later as a counselor. He still keeps in touch with some of his fellow counselors and campers.
Kaufman and his wife, Kasia, went on the Honeymoon Israel program.

Now 35, he’s making his first run for public office, as the Republican candidate for the 51st District of the Georgia House of Representatives. Kaufman and Democrat Josh McLaurin are vying to succeed long-time Republican Rep. Wendell Willard.

The 51st District takes in sections of Sandy Springs, Roswell and Johns Creek.

“I know that District 51 cares about many issues,” Kaufman told the AJT. “That includes growing our economy, providing quality education opportunities, providing health care options, lowering Fulton County property taxes, revitalizing those big-box stores as well as struggling shopping centers, and seeking to alleviate traffic congestion.”

Kaufman, a graduate of the Emory University School of Law, works for the business law firm of Kaufman & Forman, P.C. His resume lists work and volunteer efforts with several federal and local government agencies.

He’s pledged to continue working with community leaders on the opioid crisis and favors tougher sentences for those convicted of distributing drugs to minors.

His interests range from environmental preservation to combatting human trafficking. “In short, we are collectively invested in this community,” Kaufman said. “I was raised that I have a responsibility as a member of the community to make the world a better place, and I want to improve opportunities for all people … through responsible and limited government intervention and policies.”

79th House District: Mike Wilensky-D

Mike Wilensky

Mike Wilensky, the Democratic candidate for Georgia House District 79, credits his Jewish upbringing with his belief in equality under the law and equality in society.

“It gives you a different view on the balance of power that exists,” he told the AJT. “There’s that balance between liberty and equality, and it’s important to remember how important it is that we’re all equal to each other.”

Wilensky, an attorney specializing in wrongful death and serious injury cases, is contesting with Republican candidate Ken Wright, Dunwoody’s first mayor, to succeed four-term Republican Rep. Tom Taylor, who is not seeking re-election.

The 79th District is comprised of Dunwoody and a sliver of Doraville.

An active member of Congregation B’nai Torah, Wilensky also lends his legal expertise as a board member of the Anti-Defamation League’s Southeast region, for whom he has lobbied the legislature in support of hate crimes legislation.

The Sandy Springs native is a graduate of the University of Georgia and the University of Maryland School of Law. He has been active in various Dunwoody civic associations.

Other priorities in his campaign includes what he terms “common sense” gun control and preventing legislation that might hurt the state’s economy by discriminating against any group of Georgians.

“We need leaders who focus on bringing good jobs and don’t create legislation that discriminates,” he told the AJT. “Religious freedom bills, for example, are important. Some churches might want to discriminate against the LGBTQ communities, which hurts us and sends business away. We have a thriving movie industry that brings a very large part of our current economic revenue. We need to make sure they stay in Georgia.”

86th House District: Michele Henson-D

Michele Henson

Michele Henson has no Republican opponent as she runs for a 16th term representing the 86th District in the Georgia House of Representatives.

Henson, a Democrat from Stone Mountain, is the only Jewish lawmaker in the House and also its longest-serving female member.

She credits being Jewish as one of the elements that fuels her activism in support of the Anti-Defamation League, the Georgia Commission on the Holocaust and other organizations.

Two years ago, Henson told the AJT, “I think I want to be more inclusive at times. I look at the inclusiveness of all religions. We were all immigrants. I have a more liberal view regarding that, a more liberal view toward people practicing religion and practicing their different religions. I feel that we should accept people, not discriminate against people, but that also extends beyond religion.”

Among the issues most important for Henson are access to affordable healthcare, providing quality education, making sure Georgians have substantive employment, and strengthening DeKalb County as a whole.

In the legislature, she has supported legislation that mandated insurance companies cover mammograms and has continued to advocate medical coverage for women, children and working families. Instituting all the provisions of the Affordable Care Act has also been key to her platform.

Henson voted for the creation of the state-funded pre-kindergarten program and has campaigned to continue its funding. She worked to get dental insurance for children included in the PeachCare for Kids program.

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