Karen Handel, the former Georgia Secretary of State, won the highly-anticipated Georgia Congressional Election to represent the Peach State’s 6th Congressional District. Handel ran against the young Democrat Jon Ossoff and the two were tied in polls released just before voters began heading to the polls on June 20. The 55-year-old Handel was born in Washington, D.C. and was raised in Maryland before she moved to Georgia.
Handel is married to Steve Handel. The two have been married since 1992 and do not have any children.
Handel is the oldest of three siblings.
Here’s a look at Handel’s family and her background.
1. Handel Was Born in Washington D.C. & Grew Up in Maryland
Handel, who was Georgia’s first Secretary of State from 2007 to 2010, was actually born far from the Peach State. As her state biography noted, she was born in Washington, D.C. on April 18, 1962. Her parents moved to Upper Marlboro, Maryland, a small town located east of Washington D.C.
Her Premiere Speakers bio notes that she left an “abusive home” at age 17, when she entered the workforce. However, The New York Times reports that she was raised in “modest circumstances” in Maryland. She is also a fan of the Indianapolis Colts, who left Baltimore in 1984.
2. Handel Did Earn a High School Diploma in Maryland, But Didn’t Complete College
Back in 2009, when Handel was running for governor, there was controversy about whether or not she actually completed high school in Maryland. But as the Atlanta Journal-Constitution noted at the time, Handel insisted during a TV interview that she does have a high school diploma.
Handel attended Frederick Douglass High School in Upper Marlboro and graduated in May 1980. Online Athens notes that she did attend Prince George’s Community College and University College at the University of Maryland, but did not graduate.
In a 2012 interview with the Atlanta Journal Constitution, Handel explained how difficult it was for her to deal with the rumor that she didn’t have a high school degree.
“That was such an issue with me because I know how hard I worked to be able to keep up with school and make A’s and to be there every day, while at the same time getting my sister off to school, making sure she had a shower or bath that day and that her hair was brushed and her homework was done, that she had breakfast before she left, all of those things. Again, I guess it’s just one of those things that when there’s a lie out there, I just have a deep need to make sure the truth is told.
3. Handel’s Mother Was a ‘Very, Very Serious Alcoholic’ & Grew Up in a Difficult Home
In a 2012 interview with the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Handel described just how difficult her childhood was. She described her mother as a “very, very serious alcoholic,” and there were constantly financial struggles at home. Her mother dealt with a serious medical condition after her youngest sister, Jennifer, was born.
“I never knew what a day was going to bring, I really didn’t,” Handel told the Journal-Constitution in 2012. She explained that the situation got so bad that she spent the second half of her senior year with another family in their neighborhood until graduation.
While she took college courses, she found her first job, working as a clerk typist for the American Association of Retired Persons.
Handel discussed much of her difficult upbringing in Planned Bullyhood, her memoir that also focuses on her difficult experience as senior vice president of the Susan G. Komen for the Cure charity in 2011 and 2012. In January 2012, the charity cut ties with Planned Parenthood while Republicans in Congress investigated the organization. Just days later, the decision was reversed and later reports found that Handel was the driving force behind the decision. Handel defended that decision in her book.
4. Handel’s Christian Faith Plays a Major Role in Her Views
Handel’s faith has shaped her political career. She opposes abortions and same-sex marriages. Just days before the election, The New Civil Rights Movement posted video of Handel saying that she is against LGBTQ people adopting because of her “faith.” A mother asked Handel, “What protections do I have for her having a family in the future, wanting to adopt a kid?” The mother tells her that she accepts her daughter for who she is and hopes that she can have her own family.
“I have to be honest. My faith calls me to a different place on the issue,” Handel tells her. Handel also told the mother that she tries to be compassionate about issue, adding, “I’m not aware of anything in the law, right now, that I’m aware of, that’s going to be impactful, from a discriminatory standpoint, against your daughter.”
During her gubernatorial campaign, Handel said she “would consider” banning gay adoptions.
“I think that for a child to be in a household — in a family in a household with a situation where the parents are not married, as in one man and one woman, is not the best household for a child,” Handel said in 2010.
5. Handel Doesn’t Have Any Children Herself
Handel and her husband, Steve, do not have any children themselves. In her 2012 interview with the Journal-Constitution, she said they did want to have children, but can’t. She declined to go into further detail.
“We crossed the bridge together,” she said, when it came time to realize they wouldn’t have children of their own.
Handel moved to Georgia in 1994 when Steve got a job promotion at Partner Networking Solutions. After working for several other tech companies, he formed his own company, Steve Handel LLC, in 2009. According to his LinkedIn profile, he’s also president of Text-4-Profit, which works “with clients to develop creative text messaging and mobile websites to increase revenue and improve profitability.”
After Handel left Komen and published her book, she ran for the Republican nomination for the Georgia U.S. Senate seat that opened up after Saxby Chambliss retired. However, David Perdue, who went on to win the general election, beat her. She reached the runoff election against Ossoff after getting 19.8 percent of the vote, the most of any Republican candidate.