Maintaining a Jewish Voice in the Legislature

Maintaining a Jewish Voice in the Legislature

As the lone Jewish member of the General Assembly steps aside, three Jewish hopefuls seek House seats.

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

(From left) Democrat Esther Panitch and Republican Betsy Kramer
(From left) Democrat Esther Panitch and Republican Betsy Kramer

Mike Wilensky’s announcement that he would not seek re-election to the state House raised the possibility that there would be no Jewish voice in Georgia’s legislature.

Wilensky, a Democrat who represented the primarily Dunwoody 79th district for two terms, has been the lone Jewish member in the 2021-22 legislative sessions. He previously told the AJT that he would seek a third term, but Jan. 31 announced otherwise.

Democrat Esther Panitch

Now, however, at least three other Jewish Atlantans are seeking seats in the state House: Republican Betsy Kramer in the 50th district, along with Democrat Esther Panitch and Republican Peter Korman in the 51st.

In the 50th district, long-time Fulton County Republican Party official Kramer is joined on the primary ballot by Narender Reddy and Jill Trammell. The winner will face Democrat Michelle Au, whose state Senate seat was a victim of redistricting.

In the 51st district, incumbent Democratic Rep. Josh McLaurin is seeking a seat in the state Senate. Panitch, an attorney, will face Erendira Brumley in the Democratic primary. Korman, an information technology executive, has no primary opponent.

Republican Betsy Kramer

Should Panitch win the Democratic primary and face Korman in the general election, that would ensure the presence of at least one Jewish legislator when the General Assembly reconvenes next January.

There are 236 seats in the General Assembly, 180 in the House and 56 in the Senate. An estimated 130,000 Jews make up about 1.2 percent of the population of Georgia. One Jew makes up 0.4 percent of the legislature.

Asked in October 2020 why a Jewish voice in the General Assembly was needed, Wilensky said: “It is important that our legislature represents the diversity of Georgia’s population, including race, religion, and ethnicity. The Jewish community reflects different views politically and about almost all issues. People of all backgrounds bring different perspectives, due to experiencing life through their own lens, and it is important to have different voices on how our state should move forward.”

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