Two Jewish Dems seek to capitalize on Georgia’s leftward tilt in 2024
Susie Greenberg and Debra Shigley face tough odds in their respective Atlanta-area races. Their election would significantly increase Jewish representation in the Peach State’s legislature
In the last four years, Georgia has experienced a remarkable political evolution — from a Deep South state represented by two white Republicans in the U.S. Senate to a hotly contested political battleground now represented by two Democratic senators, one Black and one Jewish.
The diversity of the state’s federal delegation is only just starting to trickle down to its state legislature, where there is only one Jewish lawmaker — despite the Atlanta metropolitan area boasting one of the largest Jewish communities in the country. Two Jewish Democrats hope to change that next year by challenging powerful Republicans in the state’s General Assembly.
Both face long odds. But their decision to enter tough races in Atlanta’s traditionally conservative suburbs — while proudly flaunting their Jewish identity at a time of rising antisemitism in the Peach State — signals a change in the state’s political trajectory.
“We’re beginning to see some integration and some diversity inside the Statehouse, just like we’re seeing at the congressional level. It seems like we should be further along. But nonetheless, it’s happening,” said Adrienne Jones, a political science professor at Morehouse College in Atlanta.
A trial is currently underway in federal court in Georgia to determine whether Georgia Republicans illegally diluted the power of Black voters. If the legislature is tasked with redrawing the state’s legislative maps, suburban Atlanta districts that had already started to shift leftward in recent years could become even more competitive for Democrats like Susie Greenberg and Debra Shigley.
Shigley, a former employment attorney, is challenging Rep. Jan Jones, the No. 2 Republican in the General Assembly who ran unopposed last year and in 2020 beat a Democratic opponent by more than 20 points. That opponent — Anthia Carter — is also running in the Democratic primary, seeking a rematch against Jones in the 47th District, located north of Atlanta.
“Maybe this woman doesn’t win against the longtime incumbent. But the run is still happening. Some other Jewish person is seeing her run and saying, ‘Well, maybe I can,’ and then another, and then another,” said Morehouse’s Jones.
Greenberg has a better shot at unseating state Rep. Deborah Silcox, who lost a 2020 reelection bid by fewer than 400 votes but narrowly won election to a different district last year. Greenberg, an activist who runs a college consulting business, decided to run for office after last year’s Dobbs decision reversing Roe v. Wade led to Georgia’s adoption of a ban on abortions after six weeks. (Silcox voted against the bill.)
“I’ve always been involved as a legislative advocate from, I guess, the onset of the 2016 presidential election, when it became very clear that women and reproductive rights were under assault,” Greenberg told Jewish Insider in an interview. After Dobbs, she said, “it got me thinking, ‘I have to do more. I’m fed up.’”
Both Greenberg and Shigley are leaning into their Jewish identity in the race.
“Our legislature should look like the state of Georgia,” Shigley told JI in a statement. “With more Jewish representation, the Jewish community in Georgia has a stronger voice in their own government.”
Shigley is active at her synagogue, The Temple, and Greenberg has served as a board member at Temple Sinai and recently earned a “Shero” award from the National Council of Jewish Women’s Atlanta chapter.
“I’m very excited that they’re running. It gets old saying I’m the only Jewish member,” said Georgia Rep. Esther Panitch, a Democrat who endorsed both Greenberg and Shigley. Panitch co-sponsored a bill that sought to define antisemitism in state policy to help educate policymakers and public officials, but the bill — which utilized the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance’s (IHRA) working definition of antisemitism — was not taken up in the state Senate after it passed the House.
“It became painfully obvious to me arguing the antisemitism bill that one Jewish voice is not enough,” said Panitch. Gov. Brian Kemp, a Republican, has not signaled whether he supports the bill, which was held up by a Republican lawmaker who disagreed with some of the IHRA definition’s examples of antisemitism. (Both Silcox and Jones voted for the bill in the House.)
Greenberg told JI she would support the bill, although she added that she is “just not familiar with the ins and outs of those conversations” about the definition. Shigley also pledged to support the bill.
Georgia has faced an uptick in antisemitism in recent months: Flyers targeting Jewish residents of communities like Sandy Springs were distributed several times this year, and in June, neo-Nazis targeted two synagogues on Shabbat.
“People talk about it everywhere,” said Greenberg. “It’s frightening. We have increased security at the synagogues and at the Jewish day schools.”
A key focus of Greenberg’s campaign, she explained, is what she’s calling “community safety” — a rebranding of gun control that includes proposals such as gun storage requirements and mandatory background checks.
“I’m not sure that [voters] shifted more left. I think, though, the Republican Party has shifted more to the right,” said Panitch. “Issues like abortion and gun violence reduction affect and impact Republicans as they do Democrats.”
Greenberg is counting on some crossover Republican votes to win her race if she makes it to the general election. She already has the backing of several prominent Democrats, including Georgia House Minority Leader James Beverly.
Georgia “is changing from red to purple, hopefully blue,” said Greenberg. “I hope that the country is inspired by the fight that we’re leading here, and the way we are trying very hard to take back our rights, to take back the notion of liberty and justice for all.”
Silcox did not respond to a request for comment. In an email, Jan Jones said she looks “forward to a robust airing of the issues” and that “most residents here support the conservative policies that have led to north Fulton’s high quality of life and the state’s unparalleled reputation as a desirable place to live, work and raise a family.”