December 14, 2016 8:00 AM
With a voter turnout of 6.61%, Chuck Payne earned the most number of votes, but he was unable to secure an outright win with his 36.1% of the vote. He’ll be the sole Republican facing Democrat-running-as-an-Independent Debby Peppers, who came in 2nd with 27.42% in the January runoff. Justin Tomczak, who has been advising Chuck’s campaign, had to say this about the runoff:
“Chuck Payne heads into the runoff in strong position v. a life-long Democrat, having bested her in all four counties in the District. Chuck has served his community for decades and supported conservative candidates at all levels. Meanwhile, his opponent was donating to Michelle Nunn and Jason Carter, and voting for Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton for President. NW Georgia has little in common with those liberal politicians” said Payne’s political adviser Justin Tomczak. “Chuck’s volunteered for every Republican candidate I’ve supported and so I volunteered to run his race” added Tomczak.
Chuck is a friend, and he’s someone I would consider a political mentor. He’s someone who has not sought out the public spotlight while serving in leadership of the Republican Party. He’s gone door-to-door, made phone calls, put out signs at precincts for conservative candidates that he believe would respect and honor the power of “We the People”. He is definitely one of the strongest conservatives I know.
With it being a special election right after the General Election, some people have to peddle conspiracy theories in order to explain away eventual outcomes. Chuck was a strong Republican candidate who has good relationships in the community. That obviously means that Governor Nathan Deal, Judge Charlie Bethel, and Chuck Payne were all in cahoots with each other. At least, that’s what one Jan Pourqoui believes in his letter to the editor of the Dalton Daily Citizen:
You would be a fool to believe that Gov. Nathan Deal, Charlie Bethel and Chuck Payne did not know for months that these events would unfold. So why did they wait until after the presidential election to announce Mr. Bethel’s appointment and the need for a special election? It’s called electoral strategy.
They know that voters in Whitfield/Murray counties have turned their backs on establishment-anointed candidates before. The chance for a non-establishment-approved candidate in a big turnout election to take Bethel’s seat would have been too big of a risk to take. Small turnouts — like this special election is expected to be — make it easier for loyal establishment candidates like Mr. Payne to win with the support of the party loyalists who are expected to vote as a faithful herd. That is the plan, I believe.
Judge Bethel is another upstanding man who served his community well as Senator from the 54th. He decided to pen a response to the letter linked above. From his letter (picking up about midway through the timeline):
Between the Oct. 3 announcement of the “short list” (which was reported in the media) and the appointment on Nov. 9, I had a handful of conversations with people in the district about the possibility that an appointment could create a vacancy. I had zero such conversations with the governor, his staff or Chuck Payne. As of the date of this letter, I have never had a conversation with the governor or his staff about Mr. Payne being a candidate in the 54th District. The first notice I had that Mr. Payne might consider pursuing this seat was a social media post I saw on Nov. 9 by Mr. Nathan Smith. Chuck (as well as two others who ultimately qualified) did call me in the next day or two to discuss the seat. I had similar calls from several people who elected not to qualify. Though I consider him a personal friend and a qualified candidate, I told Mr. Payne and everyone who reached out to me that I would not be formally endorsing in the race (I haven’t) and that I would help them in any way I could to get information about the race and district and I would be a resource to them in the event of their success.
I resigned when I did and I urged the governor to call for a special election as soon as possible for a very simple reason. I want our community to be represented in the Senate. The privilege and responsibility of representing the people of the 54th Senate District has been a distinct honor for me. Throughout the vetting process for the judicial appointment, I worried about the representation our community would have in the event I was appointed. Thus, I wanted my successor to have every opportunity to be duly elected before the legislature convenes in January.
Thanks for the hat tip, your honor. Anyway, believe it or not, there is a process to these nominations. I don’t believe Judge Bethel wanted to count his chickens before they hatched and resign his senate seat in hopes of getting a judicial appointment. The Judge has a heart for his community, and I believe he wanted to continue to serve where he was needed…either in the Georgia Senate or from a judicial appointment by Governor Deal.
I’m very proud of Chuck. He ran a hard, fast race. It’s not over yet, but I’m confident that he will keep Georgia’s 54th Senate District Republican and be a strong conservative voice under the Gold Dome.
Well done, sir. Good luck in January.