Karen Handel

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Karen Handel
Karen C. Handel.jpg
Member of the U.S. House of Representatives
from Georgia's 6th district
In office
June 26, 2017 – January 3, 2019
Preceded byTom Price
Succeeded byLucy McBath
26th Secretary of State of Georgia
In office
January 13, 2007 – January 8, 2010
GovernorSonny Perdue
Preceded byCathy Cox
Succeeded byBrian Kemp
Personal details
Karen Christine Walker

(1962-04-18) April 18, 1962 (age 57)
Washington, D.C., U.S.
Political partyRepublican
Steve Handel (m. 1992)
EducationPrince George's Community College
University of Maryland, University College

Karen Christine Handel (née Walker; born April 18, 1962) is an American businesswoman and politician who served in the United States House of Representatives. A Republican, Handel worked in business before entering politics. She served as chair of the Fulton County Board of Commissioners from 2003 to 2006, and was thereafter elected Georgia's Secretary of State.

In 2010, Handel ran for Governor of Georgia,[1] narrowly losing the Republican primary to Nathan Deal, who portrayed Handel as overly supportive of gay rights and abortion rights.[2][3] In 2011, Handel was appointed Senior Vice President of public policy at Susan G. Komen for the Cure, a charity focused on fighting breast cancer.[4] In this role, Handel pushed the charity to cut off Komen's funding to Planned Parenthood.[5] Following an uproar over the politicization of the charity, Handel resigned from Komen in February 2012.[6][7]

In 2017, Handel became the first Republican woman from Georgia elected to Congress after defeating Democratic candidate Jon Ossoff in a special election to fill Tom Price's vacancy in Georgia's 6th congressional district; this special election remains the most expensive congressional race in American history.[8][9] In the 2018 election, Handel lost the election to a full term to Democrat Lucy McBath, but is challenging McBath for the seat in 2020.[10]

Early life[edit]

Handel was born Karen Christine Walker[11][12] in Washington, D.C. on April 18, 1962,[13] and grew up in Upper Marlboro, Maryland.[13][14] After graduating in May 1980 from Frederick Douglass High School[13] in Upper Marlboro,[13][15][16] Handel attended both Prince George's Community College, in Largo, Maryland,[13] and the University of Maryland, University College, in Adelphi, Maryland,[13] but did not complete any degree.[17] She then went to work for Hallmark Cards. Later, she served as deputy chief of staff to Vice President Dan Quayle's wife, Marilyn,[18] where she worked to promote breast cancer awareness and research.[19]

Handel worked at several major companies including global eye care company Ciba Vision and international accounting firm KPMG.[20] She served as president and CEO of the Greater Fulton County Chamber of Commerce. From December 2002 to November 2003, Handel served as deputy chief of staff to Georgia Governor Sonny Perdue, where she worked as a policy advisor and supervised constituent services, the Governor's Mansion, and general administration services.[13][18]

Early political career[edit]

In November 2003, Handel was elected chairman of the Fulton County Board of Commissioners in a special election to replace Mike Kenn, receiving 58% of the popular vote and continued to serve in that role until 2006.[13][18] She had run for commissioner unsuccessfully in November 2002, while serving as the president and CEO of North Fulton County Chamber of Commerce. Handel chose not to run for re-election as the chairman of the Fulton County Board of Commissioners in order to run for Georgia Secretary of State.[21]

Secretary of State of Georgia[edit]

In August 2006, Handel won the Republican primary election for Secretary of State of Georgia, defeating state Senator Bill Stephens of Canton.[22] Handel received 56.6% of the vote to Stephens' 42.4%.[23] In the November 2006 general election, Handel defeated Democratic nominee Gail Buckner, receiving 54.1% of the vote to Buckner's 41.8%.[24] Handel was the first elected Republican secretary of state in Georgia history.[25] She served as Georgia Secretary of State from 2007 to 2009.[13]

Soon after taking office as Georgia Secretary of State, Handel began a project to purge voter rolls.[26] The procedure involved matching data with information in various sources such as the Georgia Department of Driver Services database or the Social Security Administration database.[27][27] Some eligible voters were told that they were "non-citizens" although in fact they were citizens.[26] Voter suppression allegations were raised and the rule became the subject of a federal lawsuit by the ACLU of Georgia and MALDEF, which accused Handel's office of engaging in a "systematic purging procedure" expressly barred by federal law within 90 days of elections.[26][28]

In 2009, the United States Department of Justice Civil Rights Division (DOJ) ordered a halt to the state's "voter verification" effort (denying it approval under the Voting Rights Act of 1965), determining that "thousands of citizens who are in fact eligible to vote under Georgia law have been flagged" and that the program was "flawed ... [and] frequently subjects a disproportionate number of African-American, Asian and/or Hispanic voters to additional, and more importantly, erroneous burdens on the right to register to vote." This marked the first time since the 1990s that the Justice Department had denied approval to a change in Georgia election practice.[28]

Handel defended her program, asserting that it was appropriate and necessary.[28] A federal judge in Atlanta later dismissed a lawsuit that had accused Handel's successor, Secretary of State Brian Kemp of illegally bumping Georgia voters off the state's rolls ahead of the 2016 presidential election. In the 21-page ruling, U.S. District Judge Timothy C. Batten Sr. said the state had taken a "reasonable and nondiscriminatory" approach in trying to reach voters who had not cast a ballot within the past 7 years to confirm their addresses.[29]

2010 election[edit]

In March 2009, Handel announced her decision to run for Georgia governor.[18] Handel announced in December 2009 that she would resign as Secretary of State in order to focus on her campaign for governor in the 2010 election full-time.[30] On July 20, 2010, in the Republican primary vote, Handel received 34% and former Congressman Nathan Deal received 23%.[31] Since neither candidate received a majority, they faced off in the Republican gubernatorial run off on August 10, 2010.[32]

Handel received the endorsement of former Republican 2008 Vice-Presidential candidate Sarah Palin.[33][34] as well as former Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney.[35]

The primary campaign was particularly heated, and Handel's past association with the gay rights group Log Cabin Republicans became an issue. Handel denied membership with Log Cabin Republicans.[36] Handel lost the runoff election to Deal by 50.2% to 49.8% — with about 2,500 votes separating them out of nearly 580,000 cast.[13][37] She declined to request a recount and conceded to Deal the next day.

Susan G. Komen[edit]

In April 2011, Handel was hired as senior vice president of public policy at breast cancer charity Susan G. Komen for the Cure ("Komen"). In this position she was responsible for leading the organization's federal and state advocacy efforts, including management of Advocacy Alliance.[38]

At the end of January 2012, Komen stated it would cut ties with Planned Parenthood, the largest single provider of abortion services in the U.S.[39] The organization attributed the decision to a newly adopted policy not to fund organizations under investigation by a government agency. Republicans in Congress initiated an investigation into Planned Parenthood's alleged usage of federal funds to finance the organization's abortion services.[40]

On February 2, 2012, Jeffrey Goldberg reported in The Atlantic that "three sources with direct knowledge of the Komen decision-making process told me that the rule was adopted in order to create an excuse to cut-off Planned Parenthood." Goldberg further reported that his anonymous sources indicated "the decision to create a rule that would cut funding to Planned Parenthood, according to these sources, was driven by the organization's new senior vice-president for public policy, Karen Handel, a former gubernatorial candidate from Georgia who is anti-abortion and who has stated that since she is 'pro-life, I do not support the mission of Planned Parenthood'".[41]

On February 5, 2012, The Huffington Post reported that "emails between Komen leadership... confirm Handel's sole 'authority' in crafting and implementing the Planned Parenthood policy... Handel submitted the new grant criteria to Komen leadership in November and the board approved it in December, at which point Komen's top public health official resigned "on the spot."[42]

Four days after the decision to cut ties with Planned Parenthood, Komen reversed the decision and announced that it would amend the policy to "make clear that disqualifying investigations must be criminal and conclusive in nature and not political".[43] A few days later, on February 7, 2012, Handel resigned from Komen.[6]

The Los Angeles Times described Komen's decision to cut ties with Planned Parenthood as "one of the great PR faux pas of the decade", with Komen losing 22% of its funding in the subsequent fiscal year.[44] Komen officials also attributed much of the lost funding to the decision to cut ties with Planned Parenthood.[44]


On September 11, 2012, Handel published a book, Planned Bullyhood, about her tenure as vice president of public policy at Susan G. Komen for the Cure. In the book, Handel defended Komen's short-lived decision to end grants to Planned Parenthood.[45] She refers to Planned Parenthood as "a blatantly partisan" group of "bullies" that began a war with Komen over $700,000, an amount of money "inconsequential" to its $1 billion budget.[45]

2014 Senate election[edit]

On May 17, 2013, Handel announced that she would be a candidate for the United States Senate.[46] Incumbent Senator Saxby Chambliss did not seek reelection. Handel was endorsed by former Governor of Alaska Sarah Palin in March 2014.[47]

One of her 2014 opponents, David Perdue, criticized her for never having attended college. Julianne Thompson, co-chair of the Atlanta Tea Party, replied to the charge by saying, “One of the most important things we look for in a leader is that person's ability to identify with the citizens they intend to govern.”[48]

In May 2014, Handel came in third in the Republican Senate primary with 21.96% of the vote.[13][49]

U.S. House of Representatives[edit]



Karen Handel campaigning for the 2017 run-off election

In February 2017, Handel announced a run for U.S. House of Representatives in the 2017 special election to fill a vacancy in Georgia's 6th congressional district against Democratic candidate Jon Ossoff.[50] Former U.S. Senator Saxby Chambliss endorsed Handel.[51]

During the April 18, 2017, primary, Handel was the top Republican vote-getter in the 6th District race.[18] No candidate reached a majority of the vote, leading to a runoff election on June 20, 2017. Handel finished second in the jungle primary and faced Ossoff in the runoff. Ossoff received 48.1% of the vote and Handel received 19.8% of the vote.[52][53] Ossoff benefited by being one of only five Democrats on the ballot paper, with only one of those having previously participated in Georgia politics (former State Senator Ron Slotin), whereas Handel was one of eleven Republicans, four of whom had run for elected office on previous occasions, among them two former State Senators and one City Councilman.[citation needed] U.S. President Donald Trump congratulated her on advancing to the runoff and she welcomed his support.[54]

According to an article by Elise Viebeck originally published by The Washington Post, during the primary, Handel "went out of her way not to mention Trump".[55][56] According to the Chicago Tribune, during the runoff against Ossoff, she "embraced Trump" and invoked his name.[55][57][56] She said that she would welcome Trump if he wanted to campaign with her.[55] Handel and Trump held a fundraiser in April 2017.[58][59]

Speaker of the House Paul Ryan campaigned for Handel, saying "we need someone who is tested and true",[60] and Handel was endorsed by the United States Chamber of Commerce, Susan B. Anthony List, National Right to Life Committee and the National Rifle Association.[61]

On June 15, 2017, Handel's home was the target of a "suspicious package" containing a "white powdery substance" and a threatening letter. Several of Handel's neighbors received similar suspicious packages in the mail. Handel stated, "it is frustrating that my neighbors have been affected in this way. Steve and I know that running for public office often brings these kinds of challenges, but our neighbors did not sign up for this."[62][63] The FBI was called in to investigate.[64]

The race received significant national attention after being highly touted as an early test of how the first few months of Donald Trump's presidency may have shifted the opinions or voter enthusiasm of suburban voters who live in swing districts.[65][66] Combined spending by both candidates' campaigns reached over $55 million, which was the most expensive U.S. House election in history.[67]

On June 20, 2017, Handel won the special election runoff and defeated Ossoff 51.87% to 48.13%.[13] Following reports of the election results, The New York Times characterized the race as "demoralizing for Democrats".[68]


In the May 22 Democratic primary, Lucy McBath defeated Kevin Abel, Steven Knight Griffin, and Bobby Kaple. In the general election, Handel also faced Independent candidate Carlton Heston.

Lucy McBath won the election with 100% of the precincts reporting.[69]


Handel has announced that she intends to challenge McBath again in 2020.[70]


Handel was sworn into office on June 26, 2017.[71] She became Georgia's first Republican congresswoman.[72]

On June 22, 2018, Handel, while presiding over the House of Representatives, cited House Rule XVII to compel California Representative Ted Lieu to cease playing audio previously published by ProPublica that allegedly recorded the voices of children separated from their parents under the Trump administration family separation policy.[73] The rule cited reads, "A person on the floor of the House may not smoke or use a mobile electronic device that impairs decorum."[74]

Committee assignments[edit]

Political positions[edit]

In 2014, Handel described herself as an "unwavering conservative fighter" rather than a "go along to get along" Republican.[76] In the campaign for the 2014 Senate seat, she said that she would be a Senator in the mold of Ted Cruz, and called on Mitch McConnell to resign from the Republican leadership of the Senate.[76] In 2014, Politico described her as "a Palin-style conservative".[76]

Donald Trump[edit]

Handel voiced support for President Donald Trump's May 9, 2017 firing of FBI Director James Comey, stating, "it's been clear for some time that FBI Director Comey has lost the confidence of Republicans, Democrats and broader institutions, and his removal as FBI Director was probably overdue".[57] Regarding reports Trump had disclosed classified information to Russia, Handel said that such reports represented "potentially a gross assumption" by the press, stating "we have investigations underway...I would suggest that all of us would let the process play out, and let the facts take us where the facts take us."[77][59] In June 2017, she said that she was troubled by some of Trump's proposed cuts to federal research funds.[78] She has also criticized Trump's use of Twitter.[78] In May 2018, Handel voiced her support for the Special Counsel investigation, but adding "Do it expeditiously. Do it fairly and justly and move it along.”[79]

During the 115th Congress, Handel's votes aligned with Trump's preferred positions 87.5% of the time, according to political reporting website FiveThirtyEight's online tracker.[80]

Domestic issues[edit]


Handel has said that the federal government's role in combating climate change should be "limited so that state and local government lead the way."[81] She supported President Trump's decision to withdraw the United States from the Paris Climate Agreement.[82] Asked if she accepted the scientific consensus on climate change, Handel said, "Clearly, there have been changes in the climate" but did not say whether human activities contribute to climate change.[56][82]

Health care[edit]

Handel favored repealing the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare).[83][84] She had expressed support for Tom Price's legislation to replace Obamacare.[85] She supported the May 2017 version of the American Health Care Act, the Republican Party's replacement plan for the Affordable Care Act.[86][87] In a June 2017 debate, she stated that she would never support a bill that reduced protections for preexisting conditions and said that the AHCA did no such thing, while CNN noted that independent fact-checkers have found that the May 2017 version of AHCA would reduce protections for preexisting conditions.[88][89] Handel said, "I reject the premise of CBO", referring to the Congressional Budget Office estimate that 23 million more Americans would be uninsured if the May 2017 version of AHCA were to become law.[78][90]

Voter identification requirements[edit]

Handel supports laws that require Americans to show photo identification before voting.[91]

Economic issues[edit]


In a June 2017 debate, Handel stated that she opposed a minimum wage, saying "This is an example of a fundamental difference between a liberal and a conservative. I do not support a livable wage."[78][89] Handel stated "The private sector creates good paying jobs when we have a robust economy with lower taxes and less regulation."[89]

Tax reform[edit]

Handel has described the tax system as comprising "Onerous, punitive regulations, costly red tape, and a complex tax structure with rates that are too high are limiting business expansion and job growth."[91]

Handel voted in favor of the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017.[92] She called the passing of the bill a "historic moment" and said that the bill would be "transformative for hardworking American families and American companies, especially our small businesses." She said that "hardworking Americans" will "keep more of their money." She also said that the bill would enable small businesses to "innovate and grow."[93]

International issues[edit]


Handel opposed the bipartisan Senate "Gang of Eight" bill, which would have provided a pathway to citizenship for the estimated 11 million undocumented immigrants in the United States.[83] She opposes an automatic path to citizenship, saying, "These immigrants have come to our country and blatantly disregarded our laws. We cannot, we should not reward that. No amnesty. No ability to vote."[81]

She supports building a wall along the US-Mexico border. "True national security means securing our borders, she said, "the current immigration system is broken, and we MUST fix it."[91]

Social issues[edit]


Handel opposes abortion[94] and favors eliminating government funding for Planned Parenthood.[94] She wrote a book, Planned Bullyhood: The Truth Behind the Headlines about the Planned Parenthood Funding Battle with Susan G. Komen for the Cure about the subject.[91] She opposes embryonic stem cell research.[95][96][97]

LGBT rights[edit]

Handel opposes same-sex marriage and same-sex civil unions.[98][99][97] She has voted against legislation that would give domestic partner benefits.[99][97][100][101] She opposes the adoption of children by gay individuals, stating that it "is not the best household for a child."[98][97][102][103]

Personal life[edit]

Handel is married to Steve Handel.[104]

Electoral History[edit]

Georgia's 6th congressional district special election, 2017[105]
Party Candidate Votes %
Democratic Jon Ossoff 92,673 48.12
Republican Karen Handel 38,071 19.77
Republican Bob Gray 20,802 10.80
Republican Dan Moody 17,028 8.84
Republican Judson Hill 16,870 8.76
Republican Kurt Wilson 1,820 0.95
Republican David Abroms 1,639 0.85
Democratic Ragin Edwards 504 0.26
Democratic Ron Slotin 491 0.25
Republican Bruce LeVell 455 0.24
Republican Mohammad Ali Bhuiyan 415 0.22
Republican Keith Grawert 415 0.22
Republican Amy Kremer 351 0.18
Republican William Llop 326 0.17
Democratic Rebecca Quigg 304 0.16
Democratic Richard Keatley 229 0.12
Independent Alexander Hernandez 121 0.06
Independent Andre Pollard 55 0.03
Total votes 192,569 100.00
Plurality 54,602 28.35
Georgia's 6th congressional district special election (2017)[106]
Party Candidate Votes % ±
Republican Karen Handel 134,799 51.78% −9.90%
Democratic Jon Ossoff 125,517 48.22% +9.90%
Total votes 260,316 100.0%
Majority 9,282 3.57% −19.8%
Turnout 260,455 58.16%
Republican hold
Republican primary results
Party Candidate Votes %
Republican Karen Handel (incumbent) 40,410 100.0
Total votes 40,410 100.0
Georgia's 6th congressional district, 2018[107]
Party Candidate Votes %
Democratic Lucy McBath 160,139 50.5
Republican Karen Handel (incumbent) 156,875 49.5
Total votes 317,014 100.0
Democratic gain from Republican

See also[edit]


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External links[edit]

Political offices
Preceded by
Cathy Cox
Secretary of State of Georgia
Succeeded by
Brian Kemp
U.S. House of Representatives
Preceded by
Tom Price
Member of the U.S. House of Representatives
from Georgia's 6th congressional district

Succeeded by
Lucy McBath