State Rep. Bell Seeks Re-Election in Diverse District
Bell is the first African-American lesbian to serve in any state legislature
Editor's note: Early voting continues for the July 31 General Primary that pairs Democratic State Representatives Simone Bell (58) and Ralph Long (61) against each other in the District 58 race. The newly redrawn district includes portions of Old Fourth Ward, Sweet Auburn, Cabbagetown, Reynoldstown, Grant Park, Summerhill, Turner Field, Capitol View and Lakewood Heights. The winner will face Republican Earl Cooper in November. A profile of Long can be found here.
Representative Simone Bell’s District 58 looks like a backwards “L” on a map of Atlanta. It stretches from Virginia Highlands all the way to Fort McPherson, southwest of the city.
Bell is running for re-election in the district and said that one of its challenges is the district’s odd shape.
“The map itself is a challenge. There’s a huge difference in economic, racial and educational status,” said Bell.
Despite this, Bell said there is a perception that her constituents have different needs. “We all want the same things,” she said. Those priorities include safe neighborhoods, high quality education and low taxes, according to Bell.
The problem, she says, is that different areas of her district require different solutions for their problems.
Take the transportation sales tax referendum that will go up to vote in two weeks. Bell is neutral on the issue, though she voted against it when it reached the general assembly.
Her decision came down to MARTA rail access. Though she knew that some of her constituents in south Fulton would benefit from the improvements in T-SPLOST, the bill did not include provisions for more MARTA rail lines south of the city, where she believes they are needed.
After conferring with fellow Democrats to ensure the bill would pass, Bell symbolically voted against it. Her constituents weren’t getting what they wanted, she said.
In some circles, Bell is better known for her identity than her voting record. She is the first African-American lesbian to serve in any state legislature, something Bell said she didn’t realize at first.
“I wasn’t aware that that was going to happen,” Bell said, referring to the media attention she received during her first campaign in 2009.
Bell has been an out as a lesbian all her life and is honored by her historic role in the legislature. “I wear it as a badge because I know how much it means to other people,” she said.
One way Bell has championed Lesbian Gay Bisexual Transgender rights as an out legislator is by working with the Georgia Legislative Black Caucus, of which she is a member. Before she was elected in 2009, there was not an out legislator in the caucus.
By acting as a liaison between state house democrats and the black caucus, Bell has been able to garner additional votes for bills like the Georgia Fair Employment Practices Act, which prevents state employees from being discriminated against because of their sexual orientation or gender identity.
“I had some tough, emotional and meaningful relationships with members [of the black caucus],” she said.
Since this year’s legislative session has ended, Bell has been squarely focused on the upcoming election. Preferring not to focus on her primary opponent, State Representative Ralph Long III of District 61, Bell is instead focused on learning how to best represent her constituents.
“We focus on the map itself,” she said, “I believe in building relationships, I believe in collaborative leadership, and I make sure that I keep [my constituents] informed.”