Tuesday, August 23, 2022

Democratic Candidates For Oconee County State Legislative Seats Say Republican Incumbents Are Absent, Out Of Touch

***Focus On Reproductive Rights***

Andrew Ferguson said Sen. Bill Cowsert is not actively engaged in Oconee County.

Jeff Auerbach said much the same about Rep. Marcus Wiedower.

Mokah Jasmin Johnson said Rep. Houston Gaines is out of touch with the community he has been elected to serve.

The three Democratic candidates for Oconee County’s seats in the Georgia General Assembly were speaking to Oconee County Democrats, explaining why the three Democrats think they should be able to defeat the three Republican incumbents in November.

The three acknowledged that the odds are against them, but Ferguson and Johnson said many citizens are unhappy with the overturning of Roe v. Wade and that this attention to the issue will help them in November.

Cowsert, Gaines, and Wiedower voted in favor of the restrictive fetal heartbeat bill passed by the General Assembly in 2019. The Bill passed the Georgia House by only a single vote.

The three candidates focused on their own backgrounds and stands on issues in last week’s in-person and live streamed meeting of the party.

Following their presentations, the party voted to provide financial support to each of the candidates, but it decided not to provide any funds to the two Independent candidates on the ballot for the Oconee County School Board in November.

Johnson On Decision

Johnson, who ran unsuccessfully against Gaines in 2020, said she had reservations about running a second time.


“I learned a lot of different things when I ran in 2020,” she said. “And even though I enjoyed the ride, I wasn’t sure if I was going to run again for various reasons.”

“Some of you might have heard when I was running in 2020 we had racist attacks. We had COVID-19. My father also passed two or three months right before the elections,” Johnson said.

“And so as a candidate, a first time candidate, all those different things, it made me really, really sit back and think about my next step,” Johnson said. “What I could really do to help people that I care about within my community.”

Johnson said that she decided to get into the race after Cowsert, Gaines, and Wiedower set aside the redistricting map approved by a majority of the members of the Athens-Clarke County Commission and instead passed their own map.

“After redistricting occurred and I saw how they drew some of our commissioners outside of their districts,” Johnson said. “I decided that I wanted to take on the challenge again and jump in the race because I believe that people deserve more, they deserve better, they deserve a choice.”

“So we see now with the attack on women’s rights, we see an uprise in women that want a difference. They want a change,” Johnson said.

“My platform is a freedom platform. It is about protecting our freedom. And creating an equitable plan and policy changes where everybody can thrive,” Johnson said. “Everyone can have a seat at the table. And plan for their family and plan for their future.”

Contrast With Gaines

When Johnson finished talking, a member of the audience asked her “Where do you think the weaknesses are in Houston Gaines?” Both Gaines and Johnson live in Athens-Clarke County.

“I have more life experiences,” Johnson said. “Even though he is a young candidate and he has been participating in politics for some time, I would say of my role in life I’m a mother, a educator.” Johnson is director and educator at Athens Anti-Discrimination Movement, a nonprofit. 

“Because of my diverse background I feel that I have the upper hand in being able to relate to people in various ways and that I would advocate for policy changes that are more equitable,” she continued.

“I’m looking for ways to build bridges,” she said. “I’m looking for ways to collaborate, to change the way that we do our politics.”

“I want to listen and really have a relationship with my constituents,” Johnson said. “It is not just about having a relationship with corporations, with business owners.”

“It is also about having a relationship with the people,” she said. “And that’s what I’ve seen that he lacks. He is not on the ground level every day within the community, listening to what the constituents want.”

Johnson said that “Over 70 percent of Americans supported Roe v. Wade. He is one of the architects and one of the folks that said yes, we’re going to move forward with the heartbeat bill. Therefore, he’s not listening.”

“So I’m here today because I care about my district,” Johnson said at the end of her initial comments. “I care about learning more about this community. I want to learn more about Oconee County and what it is that you need, what it is that you want.”

Auerbach On Decision To Run

Johnson’s House District 120 includes only two precincts in Oconee County–Bogart and Marswood Hall. The remainder of Oconee County is in the 121st House District.


Auerbach, who lives in Athens-Clarke County, said he was running for the 121st House District “Because I care. Because there are problems in the state that need to be fixed, and I’ve got ideas.”

“I have ideas and energy that I’m looking to put forward to improve the state,” Auerbach said. “I’m looking to fix things that a lot of times other people don’t care about. Things that can seem small but have an outsized impact on our lives.”

Auerbach used medical insurance as one example.

“When you talk about health insurance, an extension of Medicaid is important,” Auerbach said. “But for everyone who pays for health insurance, through the private market, I want to set up a state reinsurance program, insurance for insurance companies.”

“What this does is it lowers the risk, and insurance prices are all about risk,” Auerbach said. “If we lower the risk in the system, what we do is we lower prices for everyone.”

Auerbach said health insurance available on the federal exchange is “ridiculously expensive for mediocre insurance. “If you run a business, you’re having to pay too much for insurance for your employees because this state doesn’t have” a reinsurance program, Auerbach said.

“Other states have reinsurance programs but we just don’t–yet,” Auerbach said. “This is the kind of thing I want to focus on.”

Auerbach On Wiedower

Auerbach said of Wiedower, “nobody seem to know where that guy is.” Wiedower lives in Oconee County.

“He is expecting you to vote for him because he’s got an R behind his name,” Auerbach said. “I’m asking for your vote. I’m not expecting anybody to vote. I’m coming to ask for your vote because I’ve got ideas.”

“He’s got money. I’ll give him that,” Auerbach said. “Here’s the thing. The only thing that he seems to be doing right now is paying consultants to do opposition research which, that’s money wasted.”

“Good, bad and weird, I push it all out there,” Auerbach said. “You deserve somebody who’s bringing real ideas. He hasn’t even updated his web site to have the right District in it,” Auerbach said.

“We should ask more of elected officials. We should ask them to try to actually try to represent us instead of just existing,” Auerbach said.

Auerbach is employed as Adjunct Professor at Emory and is Head of Data Analysis of Left Hand Math LLC, a market data analysis firm in Atlanta.

I have not found any web site for Wiedower that indicates he is running for House District 121, the new number of his district, which also includes parts of Clarke County.

His most recent campaign finance report, for February through the end of June, does not include any spending for opposition research.

Ferguson On Background

“I was raised by my mom and my sister, and so, in this moment, I’m very aware of where we are in this country when it comes to reproductive rights,” Ferguson said. “You cannot be raised by two women without understanding the impact of the overturning of Roe v. Wade has had and will have on our country.


“It was an egregious wrong,” Fergus said. “And we must fight until it is right.”

Ferguson is editor of Ethos Risk Services and lives in Athens.

“The government should not be making healthcare decisions for you and your family,” Ferguson said.

“You should be making healthcare decisions for your family,” he said. “They should not have this control, and we will not rest until these egregious wrongs have been righted.”

Since most of the attempts to restrict reproductive rights are coming from legislatures, Ferguson said, the three legislative races in Oconee County are very important.

Flip The Senate

“Not only must we elect Stacey Abrams as our next governor,” Ferguson said. “We have got to bring the state legislature with her–the state House and the state Senate.”

“The economy is getting better,” he said. “Gas prices are going down. With everyone so rightfully upset about Roe v. Wade, it is doable. I want to stress that here tonight.”

“So my question to all of you, is: Where has Bill Cowsert been? When is the last time you saw him actively here?” Ferguson asked. Cowsert lives in Athens-Clarke County.

Ferguson said Cowsert, along with Gaines and Wiedower, “threw three commissioners out of their seats (in Clarke County), which was unfortunate for them, but it is not about them, it is about their voters.”

“And its about the fact that the voters did not get the right to vote for the person that they wanted to. That right was stolen from them. It was a subversion of democracy perpetrated by Bill Cowsert, Houston Gaines, and Marcus Wiedower,” Ferguson said.

“Those folks clearly don’t believe in democracy, otherwise they wouldn’t do these things,” he added.

In response to a question from the audience, Ferguson said he wasn’t ready yet to support Abrams’ proposal for an amendment to the state constitution that would allow gaming, sports betting and casino gambling in the state of Georgia

He said the state should spend the existing surplus before raising new monies through gambling.

Nonpartisan Elections

As Auerbach was finishing his comments and Ferguson was coming to the front of the room, Oconee County Democratic Party Chair Eric Gisler, who was moderating the meeting, said he had a question for all three of the candidates.

“I think you are all aware that we recently did a petition drive to get independent Board of Education candidates on the ballot in Oconee,” he said.

“We put a straw poll question back in the primary about whether voters would prefer that those seats and Board of Commission seats should be nonpartisan,” Gisler continued.

Just under 90 percent of those who voted in the Democratic Primary said the elections should be nonpartisan, and just under 45 percent of the Republican voters agreed. The combined vote was 50.2 percent in favor of nonpartisan elections.

This change to nonpartisan elections would require legislative action, and Gisler asked if the candidates would support that.

Auerbach said he would, but neither of the other spoke up in response.

Current law allows candidates to run as Independents, but the race remains partisan, that is, each of the two recognized parties in the state is allowed to nominate a candidate to run under that label. Democrats did not nominate any local candidates this year.

Parties would not nominate candidates in a nonpartisan election, and candidates would not run with a party label or as Independents.

Business Meeting

The petition drive, which resulted in Ryan Repetske being placed on the ballot as an Independent for Post 2 on the Board of Education and Melissa Eagling being placed on the ballot as an Independent for Post 3, came up again in the Business Meeting.

“We did do the petition drive the last several months,” Gisler said. “It was successful. We turned in enough petitions to have about 200 rejected and still pass the threshold.”

“Everybody who worked on that, thank you,” he said. “It was something we worked hard on this spring, and it was a success. And we have the folks on the ballot.”

Gisler reported that the party Executive Committee was recommending that the party provide $500 to Johnson, Auerbach, and Ferguson for their campaigns.

Someone from the audience asked about supporting Repetske and Eagling.

“In the Executive Committee we decided that it may hurt them more than it helps them if we give them money,” Gisler said. “They already are all accused of being Democrats.”


Courtney Davis recorded the meeting below using a camera and tripod I lent to her.

I also recorded the meeting, which was held at the Oconee Chamber of Commerce in Watkinsville, via Zoom, but the sound is much better in the video that Davis recorded.

Johnson began her comments at 0:53in the video.

Auerbach began speaking at 11:55 in the video.

Ferguson began his comments at 33:05 in the video.

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