The third time was the charm for state Rep.-elect Erick Allen, D-Vinings, who is set to be sworn in Jan. 14 after defeating Republican challenger Matt Bentley in November.
Allen’s District 40 includes parts of Mableton, Smyrna and Vinings in Cobb, as well as a piece of Fulton County.
State Rep. Rich Golick, R-Smyrna, announced this year he would not seek re-election after representing the district since 1999.
Allen, who is originally from Nashville, lives in Vinings with his wife, Dr. Tameka Allen, a dentist, and their young daughter.
Despite running unsuccessfully against Golick in 2016 and 2014, Allen only had kind words for his predecessor.
“I always start out by saying Rich Golick served this community extremely well for years, not only based on his service, but his sacrifice,” Allen said. “As I get into this transition, I’m really getting a good sense of the sacrifice you have to make of family and other things. But I think the biggest difference (constituents) will see is hopefully more engagement with voters in the district and also more visibility.
“It’s been five and a half years of campaigning, so I think I’ve gotten that part down pretty well. Now it’s time to learn the ways of legislating, so I look forward to it,” he said with a laugh.
To do that, he said he attended orientation with the Biennial Institute for Georgia Legislators and has been holding meetings with department heads and leaders in state government.
Allen said once he gets settled in, he hopes to focus on criminal justice reform and opioid addiction. He said he is encouraged by the First Step Act, which was supported by both parties and signed by President Donald Trump Friday. That act institutes a host of reforms to reduce harsh sentences, including increasing opportunities for getting time off for good behavior and reintroducing offenders into society through programs such as job training. It would only affect people incarcerated in the federal system.
“I think it’s a great step,” he said. “I think there’s a lot more that needs to be done with criminal justice reform, but I think it’s a great step in the federal system ... I’m also encouraged by what Gov. Nathan Deal has done. Gov. Deal worked really hard on criminal justice reform, and I’d like to see us continue to build on his past success.”
Allen said he hopes to use his experience from his job as executive director of talent management for the Georgia Department of Behavioral Health and Developmental Disabilities to help tackle the opioid addiction problem in Georgia.
One issue Allen said he is not looking forward to tackling is a Religious Freedom Restoration Act, or RFRA, bill. Opponents say it is a thinly-veiled excuse to allow discrimination toward LGBT people that drives businesses away from states that implement it. Supporters say it protects religious freedom. Allen referenced House Speaker David Ralston, who has said he is not in favor of reconsidering a religious freedom bill.
“I pray that it doesn’t come back up, and I believe the speaker has made a couple comments that he would not like to see that come up as well,” Allen said. “I fully support his comments of hoping that does not come back this session.
“We have a lot more to focus on as a state than guns and RFRA,” he said.
Allen said he is looking forward to seeing whether the state’s Quality Basic Education formula is fully funded again next year and participating in discussions about how local schools are funded, but he indicated he would not be in favor of getting rid of Cobb’s senior tax exemption, which allows residents over 62 to avoid paying school taxes.
“The senior exemption serves a purpose,” he said. “It is a good exemption in the sense of being able to allow our seniors to retire in place.”
Allen also said he is not in favor of changing the school calendar to appease businesses like the Atlanta Braves and Six Flags. Those organizations have urged state senators to mandate later start dates for Georgia schools.
“I think when it comes to the school calendar, we need to listen to parents and teachers and find out what’s best for students and then calibrate that with the needs of businesses,” he said. “I don’t think it should be the other way around.”
There has been talk about creating new cities in unincorporated east and south Cobb. Allen said he will consider those ideas when he has more information.
“I’m waiting to see the feasibility studies. None have been sponsored for south Cobb … Right now, I’m in a pattern of let’s review the information and let’s talk to people who will be impacted and county leaders to figure out what the impact will be for the county.”
Allen will enter office during a time of transition for the Cobb Legislative Delegation. With Allen’s victory and the defeat of state Rep. Sam Teasley, R-Marietta, by Democrat Mary Frances Williams, the 21-member delegation will be majority Democrat next year, but Allen said he thinks the two parties will be able to work together for the good of Cobb.
“I think it’s going to go well,” he said. “I think that there’s obviously going to be a change in delegation leadership, but I don’t think the cooperation will change. The priorities will shift a bit, but I think there’s still going to be a willingness to show we’re willing to work across party lines and across geographic lines within Cobb. Cobb is a very diverse county, so I think we’re going to continue to see some of that cooperation.”