The endorsement, from a key city in the largest county of the Congressional district, may not seem so unusual – except that Cox’s main opponent for the Republican nomination, Don Balfour, is the state Senator from Snellville.
“The 7th District has been the focus of my life and work from my childhood, to my career in business, to my service in the Georgia General Assembly,” Cox said. “I gladly and humbly accept Mayor Oberholtzer’s endorsement. This is another of many endorsements from community leaders tired of being bullied by government. I will be a voice for our conservative values and local control in Congress.”
As you know, Don Balfour is the state senator from Snellville. So an endorsement by his hometown mayor for his opponent seems strange on the surface, but a brief look back in history will clear up a lot.
During the late 1990s, Snellville was ran by the administration of Mayor Emmett Clower (mayor since the mid-70s). Clower was favored by Snellville First Baptist Church, a political organ in Snellville and a base for old-line politics, including strong opposition to Sunday Sales. Along with the church’s backing, Clower had control of the Snellville City Council with several members voting his way on multiple occasions. By 1999, all this power gave birth to opposition for Clower. By this time, Brett Harrell and his friends Melvin Everson and Jerry Oberholtzer, worked together to try to oust Clower from the Council. It was a surprise upset given Clower’s backing by the old line residents. Nevertheless, Harrell defeated him, and the Council makeup shifted.
Enter Don Balfour, state senator since 1993. Balfour’s base comes from Snellville First Baptist Church, whose candidate and Council have just been ousted by Harrell, Everson, and Oberholtzer. This gutsy move placed Oberholtzer on Balfour’s enemy list.
By 2003, Harrell decided not to run again and councilmember Jerry Oberholtzer ran for Mayor, winning the race. In the meantime, the lines of opposition grew in Snellville. The race between Phyliss Miller and Melvin Everson was decided by 54 votes, with Miller the victor. When Miller left the seat in 2005 and a special election was held , Melvin won by 54 votes. When Melvin and Warren Auld were in a special election runoff in that cycle, Melvin won by 27 votes. In 2007, Oberholtzer won reelection by 19 votes. As you can see, Snellville was/is very polarized.
After Oberholtzer was elected, he and Balfour went head to head more and more as the Snellville City Council realized that all the restaurant chains were setting up outside of the city limits. Snellville doesn’t allow the sale of alcohol in restaurants on Sunday, so these restaurants set up outside city limits. Because of the ban, Snellville looses the tax revenue from these restaurants. Oberholtzer and the Council began to try to lift this ban for the economic benefit of the city. The ban may be settled this year with a referendum on liquor by the drink.
As Balfour’s strongest alliances come from members of Snellville First Baptist, he opposes a lift of the ban. The Snellville City Council has six members that vote: Five At Large members and a voting Mayor. In 2009, there were three votes that were reliably old-line Snellville and three votes that were reliably working to modernize the city. To swing control of the Council the other way, Balfour introduced a Bill in the Senate that would remove Mayor Oberholtzer’s power to vote (except when a tie exists), thereby creating a 3-2 majority for Oberholtzer’s opposition.
Why did Oberholtzer endorse Clay Cox instead of hometown state senator Don Balfour? Balfour is the legislator who tried to strip away Oberholtzer’s vote.