Sandy Springs Democrat Kevin Abel is the latest candidate to announce a challenge to Republican U.S. Rep. Karen Handel in the 6th Congressional District next year.
Abel is the founder of Abel Solutions, an Alpharetta-based IT consulting firm, and serves on the board of such organizations as Sandy Springs’ Davis Academy and New American Pathways, a refugee resettlement and assistance nonprofit.
According to his campaign’s Facebook page, Abel is a native of South Africa. He says he lived the American Dream, but is running because he fears for its future.
“While my family and I have benefited from the American Dream, this beacon of hope and opportunity has been eroded,” Abel wrote. “Our national political arena has devolved into a perpetual shouting match; anger and acrimony dominate our national dialogue. Republicans and Democrats alike have an abysmal view of our United States Congress.”
He said he wants to work in Congress on bipartisan solutions to “our country’s biggest domestic challenges, including healthcare policy, immigration, social security, climate change, campaign finance, and the ever-expanding debt.”
In a phone interview, Abel said his campaign was inspired by Democrat Jon Ossoff’s relatively close competition with Handel for the 6th District seat in a nationally spotlighted special election earlier this year.
“Living in Georgia as a Democrat, I never considered getting into politics because it’s not very friendly to Democrats,” he said. But the special election showed the “door opened to a centrist Democrat … to get elected.”
Abel said he grew up in Alpharetta, living there for 20 years before his move to Sandy Springs. He said many of his friends then and now are centrist Republicans. They include Sandy Springs City Council candidate Jody Reichel, who is his neighbor in the Mount Vernon Woods subdivision, and whom he says he supports. Reichel is competing with Le’Dor Milteer, a Democrat, in the nonpartisan race for the District 4 council seat.
“I always thought that we had more in common that what separates us,” especially on domestic policies, Abel said of the area’s centrist Democrats and Republicans.
Abel does not count Handel among those centrists.
“Her stance on Planned Parenthood doesn’t exactly make her a centrist in my mind,” he said. In 2012, Handel resigned as a vice president at the Susan G. Komen breast cancer charity after enormous controversy over its defunding of a Planned Parenthood cancer screening program. Critics say Handel played a key role and was motivated by her anti-abortion stance, while Handel has said she was following the organization’s general plan to focus on more proven cancer prevention programs.
“I’ve got nothing bad to say about Karen Handel,” Abel said, but then immediately added, “I believe Karen Handel represents the right wing of the Republican Party … that is not going to stand up to Donald Trump and say no to the crazy things emanating from the White House.”
“Karen Handel is part of that … That is not centrist, in my opinion,” he said.
One of Abel’s passions is his work with New American Pathways, a Tucker-based nonprofit that resettles refugees, largely in Clarkston. An immigrant himself, he said his experience is nothing like that of, for example, people fleeing Syria’s civil war. But he said he understands “coming from the outside where we looked in and said, ‘Oh, my God, look at how lucky they are.’ … We really are a great country.”
Trump’s election was an “absolute disaster for refugee resettlement from Day One,” Abel said. The “travel ban and Muslim ban” was not a specific motivator for him to enter the race, but is “something that’s very disturbing to me,” he said.
Abel described today’s political divisions at making him fear for the immediate future of democracy itself. He said of his campaign, “If not now, when? If not who, me?”
Bobby Kaple might argue that “who” could be him. Kaple, a Democratic former TV news anchor from Milton, recently announced a run for the 6th District seat. Abel said Kaple is a “credible candidate” with similar politics, but hasn’t lived here as long and lacks the business experience. “I believe strongly I’m the one who can beat [Handel],” Abel said.
Ossoff recently moved to Brookhaven, within the 6th District, while not ruling out another campaign.
Meanwhile, Handel is is not yet looking ahead to campaigning, according to her political spokesperson, Charlie Harper.
“Karen’s total focus right now is on her constituents and the issues that are important to them, such as securing tax cuts for working families,” Harper said.
The Congressional district includes parts of Brookhaven, Dunwoody and Sandy Springs, as well as areas of Cobb, DeKalb and north Fulton counties.