GOP Races To Watch: Georgia House

No, I’m not going to try to run down every contested Georgia House race. It’s difficult enough to even try to pretend from Atlanta I have a true understanding of far flung races. By the time you divide Georgia into 180 equal pieces “state” politics becomes quite local. As such, this is just a preview of some of the races that hit my radar, and why. Feel free to tell us about any of interest that I missed in the comments below.

Speaker David Ralston faces a primary challenge redux from “Coach” Sam Snider. My gut tells me that Snider was cheered on by some of the same suspects as two years ago, but that mysterious presence from Dacula and her more mysterious funding didn’t show up for the sequel. If Snider has any advantage this time around it’s “Trump”. My gut tells me that the people of Blue Ridge and Ellijay are comfortable with the decision they made two years ago, and enjoy having the gavel in Georgia’s 7th district.

Majority Leader Jon Burns faces opposition, but the fact that I learned about this by checking the SOS website (and not general campaign chatter) tells me that not many are concerned for his future in House leadership.

Likewise, House Appropriations Chairman Terry England has had an eventful campaign which has demonstrated some of the lower points of current campaign tactics, but likely faces no real challenge. England not only helps balance the state’s checkbook, but he is an active and visible part of his community of Houschton. He’ll skate this evening without breaking a sweat.

Information and Audits Chairman Mike Cheokas has one of the more unique challenges in the state ahead of him. He’s facing a primary challenge from his right, and a challenge in the fall from a Democrat. Cheokas should be fine today, setting up a November race that will show if a Georgia Republican can remain conservative enough to win a GOP primary and still be mainstream enough to win a general election. My observation of asking around during a visit to Americus last weekend says he’s pretty popular, so maybe this is more of a theoretical exercise than a practical one.

Local politics affects a lot of these races and probably no more so than in Paulding County. There’s been an attempt to turn an airstrip into Hartsfield-Jackson II (hyperbole alert), and they may be the only people in the state of Georgia losing money on a movie studio. The commission is embattled with hotly contested local races, and reps Howard Maxwell and Paulette Rakestraw have both drawn serious opposition.

There’s a pair of races in Northwest Georgia where incumbents are vulnerable due to perhaps opposite reasons. Dalton has become the de facto HQ for the GOP resistance (Thanks David Pennington!). And while it may be difficult to oust a Tom Graves or Doug Collins by running to their right across an entire congressional district, the forces of “purity now!” seem to be transfixed on Representatives Tom Dickson and Bruce Broadrick.

There’s a couple of Reps close to home for me with primary opposition. Bert Reeves is facing a challenge from Kennesaw State student Christopher Lowe. He opened a forum I participated in by saying he was running because (paraphrased) “No one is fixing our problems. Take traffic. Our roads suck and no one is doing anything about that.” Apparently Mr. Lowe had an exam or something and missed the entire 2015 session of the General Assembly, or all the damn orange cones that are growing faster than mushrooms after a spring rain in the Cumberland and I-75 corridors. Likewise, Sharon Cooper’s opponent Peter Minetos, at the same forum said that we need to get outside the box and solve some real problems, like the opioid epidemic that “no one” is working on. Cooper was able to recite about six separate bills she’s sponsored and passed into law dealing with that issue from multiple angles. In short, neither opponent exhibited any intellectual curiosity to figure out real problems and what is actually being done – rightly or wrongly – to solve them. They should be awarded no points for showing up with an “everything is awful, vote for me” platform. I was proud to vote to re-elect Sharon Cooper today. I’d vote for Bert Reeves too, if given the chance.

There’s the fight over Joe Wilkinson’s seat, that began with supporters of Graham McDonald hosting a retirement party for Wilkinson before he had decided that he was retiring. It appears that was the “wrong way” to earn Joe’s endorsement, as he’s now working for Deborah Silcox to replace him.

Then, there’s a couple of comeback kids. Tim Bearden has had a bit less than two weeks to campaign to return to his former seat, vacated by Georgia’s newest Judge, Dusty Hightower. He faces J. Collins (apparently didn’t slow down at qualifying long enough to write down his full name) and Marc Lattanzio. Clay Cox faces Patty Gabilondo in a bid to replace B.J. Pak, who once replaced Cox.

Tommy Benton faces a challenge from Wes Lewis after local radio host Michael Graham openly recruited candidates. In case in needs repeating, NOTHING GOOD CAN, WILL, OR SHOULD COME FROM DEFENDING THE KLU KLUX KLAN FROM THE HOUSE FLOOR.

House Education Committee Chairman Brooks Coleman faces a challenge from John Marsh. Apparently there are still some unhappy people that Coleman’s committee didn’t pass that “anti-Common Core” bill from 2014 that didn’t end Common Core in Georgia, but would have stopped the teaching of evolution in Georgia’s science classes. For reals.

Brookhaven? Did someone say Brookhaven? In reality it’s a three way battle between Alan Turner, Meagan Hanson, and Catherine Bernard. Bernard made the most recent headlines by calling GeorgiaPol contributor and former Georgia College Republicans Chair Will Kremer a “smirking frat boy” in response to an ethics complaint he filed against her. Hmmmm. Smirking Frat Boy. Just thinking out loud here, but has Bernard seen the target resident demographic of Brookhaven lately? I believe in Brookhaven “Smirking Frat Boy” is usually abbreviated as “the base”.

Two House races seem to be part of adjacent State Senate Races. Scot Turner faces a challenge from Kevin Moore, but the talking points seem to parallel Brandon Beach vs Aaron Barlow. Most believe Turner will prevail, but a few of my Cherokee County peeps are insisting Moore is in reach.

Likewise, House Banking Chairman Greg Morris has a challenge from Lee Burton. While not directly tied to the Tillery-Dutton race, the forces of anti-establishment fervor got a charge when reports began to circulate that Morris is settling a suit related to one of Georgia’s many bank failures stemming out of the recession.

Tom Owens vs Tom Taylor? Sigh. There’s one major difference between these two candidates. Tom Taylor knows he has a major problem, has admitted his problem, and is seeking help for his problem. Tom Owens, meanwhile, remains a man amok. With full understanding and appreciation of how serious Tom Taylor’s traffic incident was and is, I say this: If you live in this district and have yet to vote, vote for the child endangering drunk. It’s important. Yes. Tom Owens really is THAT BAD. As an upside, the liberal activist group Better Georgia has gone all in to defeat Taylor. Should Owens wins, he is and will forever be the “Better Georgia” candidate. This election was a binary choice, and they chose against Owens. They need to live with the consequences of such.

And then, there is the primary challenge of Representative John Yates by Karen Mathiak and Mario Driver. Dr. Mathiak is a friend of mine. But John Yates is a hero of mine. He’s the last serving veteran of WWII in Georgia’s house. He may be the last one in the country. (Several years ago I was told WWII state legislators numbered in the single digits.) The local voters will decide if Yates returns to Atlanta or if it is time for Rep Yates to come home. We’ll await their decision tonight, with possibly nine more weeks to discuss this race a bit more.

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