U.S. Rep. Tom Price has been nominated as president-elect Donald Trump’s secretary of Health and Human Services, setting off a potential string of political dominoes to replace him.
For the congressman, it’s a long-awaited to chance to replace Obamacare, a topic he frequently discusses in local Rotary Club and Chamber of Commerce meetings. For his Sixth District—which includes parts of Brookhaven, Dunwoody and Sandy Springs—it’s the beginning of a political shake-up as incumbent state legislators appear likely to run for his seat. State Sen. Judson Hill (R-Marietta), whose District 32 includes part of Sandy Springs, announced a run Nov. 30.
Among other locals cited as potential contenders are state Sen. John Albers (R-Roswell) and Bruce LeVell, a prominent Trump campaign operative from Dunwoody, who said they’re open to running, as well as state Rep. Scott Holcomb (D-Atlanta).
Price, a Roswell Republican, has held the Sixth Congressional District seat since 2005. He’s a medical doctor and a strong critic of the Affordable Care Act, or Obamacare, and its health insurance mandates and marketplace. His demands for an Obamacare replacement appear to be a main factor in Trump’s decision to nominate him to the health cabinet position. It’s a criticism he had made often to locals, such as a 2013 Rotary Club of Sandy Springs speech where he said Obamacare would “destroy the quality of health care in this country…”
In a candidate statement to Reporter Newspapers for his re-election campaign this fall, Price said, “We see examples of Obamacare failing the American people every day. Premiums and deductibles going through the roof. Patients losing their doctors. Millions getting insurance cancellation notices in the mail. That’s why we’ve developed an alternative to Obamacare and it’s called a Better Way for Health Care.”
In a Nov. 29 written statement, Price said he was “humbled” by Trump’s nomination and took aim at Obamacare.
“I am humbled by the incredible challenges that lay ahead and enthusiastic for the opportunity to be a part of solving them on behalf of the American people,” he said. “There is much work to be done to ensure we have a healthcare system that works for patients, families, and doctors; that leads the world in the cure and prevention of illness; and that is based on sensible rules to protect the well-being of the country while embracing its innovative spirit.
“The citizens of Georgia’s Sixth Congressional District have given me the privilege of representing them in Congress,” Price’s statement continued. “I am so proud and grateful to live in and work on behalf of such a wonderful community and hope to continue serving our fellow citizens in this new role.”
Price’s nomination must be confirmed by the U.S. Senate, and he has not yet resigned his Congressional office. Assuming those events happen, local political sources say a special election will be held as soon as March 21 to replace Price and any incumbents who leave other offices to run for his seat.
Long lists of possible candidates have been floated by the Atlanta Journal-Constitution and GeorgiaPol. Among the locals mentioned with varying degrees of likelihood are Sen. Hill; Sen. Albers; Rep. Holcomb; state Rep. Taylor Bennett (D-Brookhaven), who recently lost a re-election bid; Sandy Springs Mayor Rusty Paul; Sandy Springs City Councilmember Gabriel Sterling; state Attorney General Chris Carr, a Dunwoody resident; and Bruce LeVell, the owner of Dunwoody Diamonds U.S.A., who had a prominent role in Trump’s campaign as a diversity spokesperson.
Hill is the first to announce a candidacy. He did so Nov. 30 in a written statement with a headline calling himself “Conservative Senator Judson Hill” and saying he is running to “continue the Price/Isakson/Gingrich record of principled conservative congressmen representing our district.”
“I am asking for the votes of the citizens of the Sixth Congressional District because I want to serve them as a conservative reformer,” said Hill, who has served in the state Senate since 2004. “I am running for Congress with a record of standing firm on principles of liberty, limited government and fiscal responsibility.
“The people of our great country voted in November to chart a new course to restore America’s leadership role in the world,” he continued. “America’s best days are ahead of us if elected leaders will simply return to our founding principles and seize the opportunity to fundamentally reform Washington, D.C.”
LeVell, in a phone interview, did not rule out a run for Price’s seat or some other type of government service.
“I don’t know. I’m all over the grid,” he said. “I’m trying to serve, whatever President Trump wants me to do.”
About possibly running for Price’s seat, LeVell said, “It’s not off the grid. [Trump] does want a champion in Congress. So it could go either way.”
Bennett and Holcomb, the only prominent Democrats to have their names floated as potential candidates, both said they will not run.
“I’m happy where I am and looking forward to the 2017 [state Legislature] session,” Holcomb said in a message on Twitter.
“I have not given it an iota of a thought until I heard from six media outlets today that apparently I’m considering it,” said Bennett on Nov. 29. “I hadn’t even thought about it.”
But Bennett said it is important for a Democrat to run for the seat.
“It’s certainly interesting that this is happening and obviously I will look in the district and talk to people about a Democrat that is ready to jump in there, but by no means am I saying that person is me,” he said. “I would be interested to know if other people are interested.”
Another local official political sources say might be interested in higher office is Sandy Springs Councilmember Ken Dishman, but he said in an email that he is not considering a jump into any Price-related races.
“I am committed to remaining in my council seat and will not be running for any state office that might open up this cycle,” Dishman said.
Most of the other possible candidates did not respond to questions or declined to comment.
If the race for Price’s seat happens, it could set off political dominoes in other offices and campaigns. Sterling’s situation is an example: several months ago, he made an unusually early announcement of a 2018 run to replace retiring Sandy Springs state Rep. Wendell Willard.
Dyana Bagby contributed.