The two candidates vying to fill the state Senate’s District 32 seat in a May 16 runoff election have different views about which issues unite the Sandy Springs-East Cobb district.

Republican Kay Kirkpatrick, an orthopedic surgeon, and Democrat Christine Triebsch (pronounced “Trib-ish”), a family law attorney, emerged from an eight-candidate field in an April 18 special election.

Kay Kirkpatrick

The two agree on some issues, such as opposing “religious freedom” legislation and the new “campus carry” gun law. But they have plenty of differences, including whether the election itself is a bellwether for a Democratic shift or Republican stability, the way the 6th Congressional District race between Karen Handel and Jon Ossoff is being played. Triebsch was the top vote-getter in the historically Republican district in the April 18 election, with about 24 percent; Kirkpatrick drew about 21 percent.

“My goal is to turn 32 blue and Jon’s goal is to the flip the 6th,” said Triebsch.

Kirkpatrick said the only similarity is that both races’ special elections were on the same day, while the runoffs are not.

“[Triebsch] was able to ride the wave of Ossoff or whatever,” Kirkpatrick said. “I’m much more interested in what’s good for my district.”

Both candidates live in East Cobb. Kirkpatrick has more Sandy Springs connections, having worked at the Resurgens Orthopaedics in the Medical Center from 1998 until her retirement this year, and serving as its president for 12 of those years.

Christine Triebsch

She said she’s long known state Rep. Deborah Silcox (R-Sandy Springs) and recently met with Sandy Springs Mayor Rusty Paul and City Councilmember Chris Burnett about local concerns.

Triebsch said she does not have those sorts of connections, but emphasized her skills in communication and collaboration that she honed in courtroom negotiations over children’s welfare.

“I don’t have a personal relationship with them,” Triebsch said of Sandy Springs officials, adding she would reach out if elected.

The candidates have different views about the specific top district-wide issues, though they agreed on their overall importance.

“I think their issues are the same” in Sandy Springs and Cobb, said Triebsch. She cited education — she’s married to a Cobb County public schools teacher and is against privatization — and healthcare, where she favors Medicaid expansion.

Kirkpatrick says she agrees with Gov. Nathan Deal’s previous decision not to expand Medicaid, and cited a different top local issue.

“The common theme is traffic and congestion,” Kirkpatrick said, adding that she would leave it to local governments to propose state-supported solutions. “I don’t think the state should necessarily ram things down the throat of Sandy Springs, Cobb, Fulton or anybody else,” she said.

Triebsch said the state should work on boosting transportation infrastructure investment, which “would also have to include transit as well. We have to have it.”

In her attempt to join Ossoff in shifting the area’s leadership Democratic, Triebsch cites the backing of such homegrown groups as Pave It Blue and Liberal Moms of Roswell and Cobb. She also picked up a campaign manager, Liz Ernst, who filled the same role for her brother John in 2015when he won the Brookhaven mayor’s office, another election heralded by Democrats as a blue shift.

“My campaign has been grassroots — strictly, almost exclusively grassroots,” Triebsch said.

While Kirkpatrick says that Congressional politics are separate from the local Senate race, she boasts of one big connection to it: her friendship with former 6th District incumbent Tom Price, a doctor whose appointment as U.S. secretary of Health and Human Services kicked off the Handel-Ossoff battle. Her Resurgens group formed from a merger with Price’s physicians group.

“He and I worked side by side for 20 years,” Kirkpatrick said of Price. “He’s a friend. I know him very well,” she said, adding she also knows state Rep. Betty Price (R-Roswell), the spouse of Secretary Price.

The candidates agree on opposing “religious freedom” or “religious liberty” legislation of the type debated as allowing discrimination against LGBT people.

“I think it’s adequately addressed at the federal level,” said Kirkpatrick, adding she was concerned about state legislative attempts to “end-run” opposition to such laws. “I do not believe in discrimination… I’m a person of faith myself, but we just have to be very careful” about the details, she said.

“I’m opposed to any type of discrimination in any way, shape or form,” said Triebsch. “We have the U.S. Constitution and the Georgia Constitution, and that’s all we really need.”

Another point of agreement: opposition to the “campus carry” law allowing the concealed carrying of properly permitted guns on college campuses.

Triebsch said she wished she had been in the Legislature to vote against the bill. She called it a “bad idea” and added, “Law enforcement’s going to have a tough time doing their jobs right now.”

“I have real concerns about the mixture of guns and alcohol” on campuses, said Kirkpatrick, calling the campus carry law “confusing and very difficult to administer…I would say I would not have voted for the bill.”

John Ruch

John Ruch is an Atlanta-based journalist. Previously, he was Managing Editor of Reporter Newspapers.