Call to Service Leads Wiskind Into Election
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Call to Service Leads Wiskind Into Election

Democratic candidate hopes to appeal to fiscally conservative Republicans

Michael Jacobs

Atlanta Jewish Times Editor Michael Jacobs is on his second stint leading the AJT's editorial operations. He previously served as managing editor from 2005 to 2008.

Bob Wiskind was observing a state Senate debate on the expanded medical use of cannabis oil during this year’s General Assembly when he heard at least three senators incorrectly cite the testimony of the head of the Georgia Chapter of American Academy of Pediatrics.

Bob Wiskind is one of the few residents of the 32nd Senate District who is outside the 6th Congressional District.

The AAP is concerned about a provision that would allow children with severe autism to be treated with cannabis oil because no studies have been done on the oil’s effectiveness, proper dosing or side effects. In effect, said Wiskind, a former Georgia AAP president who has practiced at Peachtree Park Pediatrics for 25 years, the legislation would turn the 10,000 Georgia children on the autism spectrum into experimental test subjects.

But that’s not the story the senators told their colleagues.

“They got the facts so terribly wrong that I wanted to be able to just stand up and say, ‘No, that’s not the way it’s been explained to you by people who know it, and that’s not the way reality works,’ ” Wiskind said. (The legislature passed Senate Bill 16, which awaits Gov. Nathan Deal’s signature.)

The chance to be a voice of medical knowledge and in the process help people beyond his pediatric practice inspired Wiskind to enter the April 18 special election for the 32nd District seat in the state Senate.

Wiskind, a member of The Temple who lives in the riverfront section of western Sandy Springs near Ray’s on the River, is running as a Democrat in a district represented for more than a decade by Republican Judson Hill, who resigned to run for Congress. He is married to gynecologist Anne Wiskind, and they have two children, Sam, 25, who works for PriceWaterhouseCoopers, and Claire, 21, a senior at the University of St. Andrews in Scotland.

8 Seek Senate Seat

Pediatrician Bob Wiskind is one of eight candidates running April 18 in the special election for the state Senate seat Republican Judson Hill resigned to run for Congress. The three Democrats and five Republicans are on the same ballot; if no one gets a majority, the top two vote-getters, regardless of party, will compete in a runoff May 16.

The other seven candidates:

  • Democrat Christine Triebsch, a family-law lawyer who attends St. James’ Episcopal Church, She wants Georgia to accept the expansion of Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act, supports Planned Parenthood and opposes private management of any public schools.
  • Democrat Exton Howard, a TV director for the Weather Channel, He proposes a light-rail link from the northwest suburbs to MARTA, supports a higher minimum wage, backs the expansion of Medicaid under the ACA, wants funding for Planned Parenthood, rejects religious liberty measures proposed in recent years and opposes private management of public schools.
  • Republican Gus Makris, a tax lawyer who attends Holy Spirit Catholic Church, He wants to protect the HOPE scholarship, reform the state’s school funding formula, enhance post-high-school alternatives to four-year colleges, invest in roads and bridges, overhaul government spending to allow tax cuts, and help law enforcement fight human trafficking.

Wiskind entered the race in part to ensure that both parties were on the ballot.

“I don’t like when there are uncontested races when there’s just one side represented or the other,” he said.

Wiskind said he has learned a lot about running a campaign in the compressed special election cycle. He now understands the importance of fundraising and time involved for a candidate to reach the voters. If he loses this election, he might shift to running for local government next time.

He said it’s important for people to understand that even in a district that consistently elects a Republican, at least 40 percent of voters are on the other side, and many people find themselves somewhere in the middle.

“I am certainly willing and able to look at both sides so I can adequately represent everyone in the district,” Wiskind said.

He particularly hopes to appeal to Republican voters who consider themselves fiscal conservatives but social liberals.

“We really do have a responsibility to our fellow citizens, especially to those who … are less fortunate or need a helping hand,” Wiskind said. He sees that not only as a core tenet of the Democratic Party, but also as a vital teaching of Judaism.

Wiskind grew up in Akron, Ohio, and came to Atlanta 30 years ago for medical school at Emory. Although he sees more politically conservative Jews today than in his youth, he still thinks liberal policies better align with the beliefs of at least Reform Judaism.

His political beliefs fit that Reform tradition, such as:

  • Adequate health care, especially preventive care, is a responsibility of the community.
  • Georgia should expand Medicaid as authorized under the Affordable Care Act. The $18 billion Georgia turned away by not expanding Medicaid the past several years would have had an economic impact of $60 billion, Wiskind said.
  • State money should not go to private schools through vouchers or the popular student scholarship organization tax credit, widely used by Jewish day schools. “It potentially legitimizes discrimination,” he said.
  • Transportation solutions, from rail to buses to roads, require coordination.
  • The state, already running on a lean budget (49th on Medicaid spending, for example), should not cut taxes.
  • The HOPE scholarship must be fully funded.
  • The minimum wage should be raised so that it is a living wage.
  • The enactment of campus carry for firearms adds danger without any benefits.

Expressing an opinion that reflects his Jewish and Democratic ideals and sets him apart from Republicans, Wiskind said, “It is my responsibility as somebody who has done well financially to pay taxes to support those who need society’s help.”

Wiskind has a sister who has lived in Israel for more than 30 years and is a strong supporter of the state, although he’s concerned about some government policies, including the support for settlements. He opposes efforts to boycott or delegitimize Israel, and “I’m all for increasing economic ties between Georgia and the state of Israel.”

Family is a key to Wiskind’s decision to try politics. He saw his parents going out to meetings several nights a week because of their involvement in Jewish and non-Jewish community organizations in Akron when he was growing up, and political office offers “the ability to continue to build on the model of service that I saw my parents do and that they passed on to me and my brothers and sisters.”

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