The only Republican woman running in the 6th Congressional District, Karen Handel, likely has one advantage over the other 17 candidates on the ballot April 18: Anyone who has lived in the suburbs north of Atlanta for any extended period has likely heard of her.
“The people of the 6th know me. They know me very well from my time as (Fulton) County Commission chairman and then again as secretary of state,” Handel said in an interview in her Alpharetta office.
She entered the race on the last day of qualifying in February, when it was clear how crowded the ballot would be, but she said: “It’s an opportunity to really make a difference. This is a unique time in history, I think, in Washington.”
Handel was Georgia’s first conservative female secretary of state, proceeded in that post by only one woman, Democrat Cathy Cox. Handel ran for governor in 2010, losing in a close primary runoff against eventual winner Nathan Deal, and for the U.S. Senate in 2014, finishing third in the Republican primary.
If elected, she would be the only woman in Georgia’s 16-member congressional delegation.
“I take it very much to heart. I never expect anything other than a level playing field,” Handel said.
She views an unbalanced budget as the greatest threat to the country. She supports a simpler, flatter tax system, preferably the FAIR Tax — the elimination of the federal income tax and the IRS, to be replace by a flat sales tax — and wants less regulation on businesses.
She said with an almost self-conscious laugh, “I would love — even though I’m told by people that it’s not the plushest place to go — I would love to serve on the Budget Committee if I have this privilege.”
Asked what she could do to bring jobs home to the 6th District, she didn’t hesitate in pointing to cutting federal regulation in connection with her strong belief in returning power to the states. She did not cite specific regulations, but Handel said overregulation stifles business growth. “When regulations are left on the shelf to languish for 10, 20, 30 years, they get stale and outdated,” Handel said in calling for a broad regulatory review. “Meanwhile, companies and industries evolve. So you have regulations in place that don’t really apply to how businesses are run today.”
Like many candidates, Handel said she supports term limits, and she wants a stronger U.S. relationship with Israel.
While she backs free trade, Handel also wants a wholesale review of the quarter-century-old NAFTA to be sure Georgia is competing on a level playing field.
Regarding Trump administration talk of a border adjustment tax that would make Mexican imports more expensive, Handel said that “as with most things, the details really do matter. On the surface, it sounds really great to say we want to have everything manufactured in the United States. … But we have to recognize that there are a great many industries in the 6th District and the state that would be hurt severely with the BAT. I would put myself in the very cautious category.”
While her time in Georgia and the district informs the policies she would support, Handel’s personal story also plays a role. She said her Christian religion is important, sometimes leading her to drive up to two hours to Milner to hear sermons at the Rock Springs Church by Pastor Benny Tate.
“I don’t know that a young girl can leave home at 17 from a pretty difficult situation and make it out on the other side without faith,” Handel said. “It informs how I lead my life.”
Handel cited former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher as someone whose leadership style she admires. “I’m not a ‘we have to have everything or we have nothing’ kind of person. She used to say that there was something to be said about relentless incrementalism, and that type of relentlessness is very much a part of who I am.”