Education activist Beth Majeroni challenges state Sen. Ben Watson in GOP primary

Sen. Ben Watson applauds a colleague in the Senate chamber. (Credit: Georgia Senate)

The Gist

In a rare primary challenge, incumbent Republican Sen. Ben Watson faces conservative education activist Beth Majeroni in the state Senate District 1 race in the Savannah area.

Watson has run unopposed or handily defeated Democratic challengers in seven previous general elections and hasn’t faced a Republican challenger since 2010, when he won 65% of the vote. 

The Georgia primary is May 21.

What’s Happening

Watson, 64, has represented coastal Chatham, Liberty and Bryan counties as a state representative or state senator since 2010. A primary care physician, he chairs the Senate Health and Human Services Committee and the Appropriations Health and Human Development Subcommittee. 

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He sponsored successful bills to expedite interstate medical licensing, to ease regulations governing hospital expansion and to create a program allowing seniors to get medical care while living at home. 

Watson also said he fought for funding for a new medical school at the University of Georgia and a dental school at Georgia Southern University in Savannah, both supported by Gov. Brian Kemp, who last week endorsed Watson. 

Watson has “championed conservative policies that boost the local economy and worked tirelessly to improve health care for all Georgians, and has supported our legislative agenda that promotes public safety, improves education for our children, and cuts taxes for hardworking Georgians,” Kemp said in a statement

Watson has supported GOP-backed election reform bills in recent years, including those limiting absentee and early voting, requiring stricter voter identification, eliminating QR codes on ballots and requiring more ballot auditing. 

He reported $102,012 in campaign spending since July, with $295,681 cash on hand as of April 30. 

In January, Majeroni declared her candidacy in the GOP race, saying she wanted to make Watson “earn his seat this time.” She has reported spending $50,821 on her campaign and had $20,473 in her account through April.

A retired primary schoolteacher and pharmaceutical rep, Majeroni, 68, said improving student literacy is her top priority . She has made a name for herself as an education activist in the Savannah area, speaking at local school board meetings to ban sexually explicit books, opposing mask-wearing mandates during the pandemic and pressing for more parental rights regarding public school curriculum and materials. 

“I’m not a book banner — I believe in freedom of speech — but we’ve got some books in our schools that would curl my hair, that absolutely violate the obscene materials law in Georgia,” Majeroni told State Affairs.

Majeroni is against puberty-blocking drugs for transgender minors and contends that Watson has not worked hard enough to ban the drugs over the last two legislative sessions. 

She criticized him for accepting a compromise with Democrats over Senate Bill 140 in 2023 that outlawed gender transition surgery and hormone replacement therapy but allowed minors to continue receiving puberty-blocking drugs, which are reversible.

Majeroni said her dogging of Watson on the issue led him during the last two weeks of the 2024 session to add a ban on puberty blockers to House Bill 1170, originally aimed at providing opioid overdose-reversing drugs to students. 

The surprise amendment provoked outrage among Democrats, health care and LGBTQ+ advocates, and ultimately tanked the bill, which had originally passed 166-1 in the House but whose leaders didn’t grant its altered version a floor vote.

“He snuck the puberty blocker ban into the Narcan bill, knowing it would never pass,” Majeroni said. “He just wanted to go on record as doing something.”

Watson told State Affairs that he was persuaded by “new FDA information and warnings” indicating the healthy sexual development of youth can be permanently impeded by puberty-blocking drugs and that he intends to file legislation blocking them next session. 

Majeroni was endorsed by the far-right Georgia Republican Assembly and is ideologically aligned with the ultraconservative Georgia Freedom Caucus, which seeks to repeal the state income tax and resist any restrictions on gun ownership. 

She disagrees with Watson on legislation passed this year that allows private water utilities to operate in coastal communities without first getting permission from local authorities. House Bill 1146 was designed to address a growing problem near the Hyundai automotive plant under construction in Bryan County, which lacks the water supply to meet the demands of housing under development for thousands of workers.

“Decisions about water allocation are best made at the local level, where officials have an intimate knowledge of the community’s needs and its capacity and know how to balance those two things out,” Majeroni said. “House Bill 1146 disrupts that balance and places the interests of the private entities above the well-being of the community … and poses significant risks to Georgia’s long-term water security.”

Watson said an adequate water supply is crucial to the success of the Hyundai development, where “30,000 acres are still not covered.” The new law, he said, will force Bryan County officials and private water suppliers “to get their act together within 18 months” to forge an agreement, or the state will step in. “And Bryan County says that they can do it, and I’ll take them at their word.” 

What’s Next?

Early voting in Georgia’s primary election continues through this Friday, May 17. The primary election will be held Tuesday, May 21. The general election happens Nov. 5.

Meet the Senate District 1 GOP primary candidates.

Ben Watson (incumbent)

Age: 64

Hometown: Isle of Hope, Savannah

Occupation: Primary care physician

Party affiliation: Republican

Top issues: Health care expansion, improving roads and infrastructure, election security, tax relief.

Elizabeth Majeroni

Age: 68

Hometown: Skidaway Island, Savannah

Occupation: Retired teacher, pharmaceutical marketer

Party affiliation: Republican

Top issues: Education reform and literacy, election security, repealing state income tax, gun rights.

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