It’s the most wonderful time of the year for political geeks. Primaries generally don’t see a high turnout when compared to the General Election. Tuesday’s election will be the deciding factor in who will lead Walker County for the next four years (barring any run-off, of course) . I’ll give a run down of a few races of interest in Walker County.
There is a lot of interest in the sole-commissioner race between incumbent Bebe Heiskell and Dr. Paul Shaw. Both are running for the Republican nomination. No Democrats qualified for the General Election, so the victor on Tuesday will essentially be Commissioner. Commissioner Heiskell was elected back in 2000 and was re-elected in 2004 and 2008 and is running for re-election in 2012. Dr. Shaw is a relative newcomer, and I don’t believe he has ran for elected office before this year. He has served in the US Army as a doctor and practiced medicine in LaFayette, GA for a number of years until 2010 when he retired.
There’s generally been a number of folks who do not like the incumbent commissioner over the years, but she won re-election in 2004 and again in 2008. Comes now, Dr. Shaw campaigning primarily on becoming Walker County’s “Last Sole Commissioner” and promising to place on the ballot in 2014 a referendum for the citizens of Walker County to continue with a sole commissioner or to switch to a five-member commission board in an effort to expand the representation of the county as well as institute term limits for those positions. I’m not sure how Dr. Shaw would be able to place a question on the ballot since Georgia law doesn’t give a commissioner that sort of power. If elected, he would need to discuss with the new legislative delegation from Walker County in order to introduce legislation to change the form of government and be approved by the Georgia General Assembly. Both candidates have been working hard for votes. I believe it will mainly come down to people deciding on if they like how things are currently or if they want a change.
The sheriff race is another race that seems to be gaining a lot of attention from voters in our county. Incumbent Sheriff Steve Wilson was first elected as a Democrat in 1996 and then successfully ran again in 2000, 2004, and 2008. He switched to the Republican Party in November 2011 and qualified as a Republican for the 2012 primary ballot. Sheriff Wilson will be facing two primary opponents: Freddie Roden and Billy Mullis. Mr. Roden is currently on leave from the Catoosa County Sheriff’s office and was the treasurer of the Walker County Republican Party until he resigned a month before qualifying to focus fully on his campaign. Mr. Mullis is employed by the LaFayette City Police Department (I believe he is currently on leave as well pending the outcome of the election) and was Sheriff Wilson’s Republican challenger in 2008. There has been some controversy over how the incumbent sheriff runs the department (including the jail) as well as being accused of letting deputies somewhat protect Sam Parker when his estranged wife, Theresa Parker, turned up missing and later found dead in the woods in Chattooga County. However, the incumbent sheriff was the highest voter getter in the 2008 election…and ran as a Democrat in Walker County. It will be interesting to see how the race plays out. There is one Democrat, Tim Westbrook, who is running for sheriff as well. He would have to complete a course to become a certified peace officer in Georgia since he is not currently one.
The District Attorney for the Lookout Mountain Judicial circuit is one to keep an eye on. Long-time incumbent Buzz Franklin was elected in 1997 as a Democrat and ran for re-election in 2000, 2004, and 2008 as a Democrat as well (I believe he was unopposed in most of those re-election bids). In early 2011, he quietly switched to the Republican Party and qualified as such for his 2012 re-election bid. Doug Woodruff is the Chief Assistant in the Public Defendant’s office (currently on leave pending the outcome of the election). He’s also been a 911 dispatcher, sheriff’s deputy in Walker County as well as had a private law practice. The thing that will probably be most controversial is the Tonya Craft trial that garnered national attention and turned into a circus when the prosecution’s case crumbled. Not to mention that the incumbent district attorney passed this high-profile case to one of his assistance and wasn’t seen very often while the case was playing out in 2010. I’m wondering how long the voters’ memory is and how much they pay attention to what happens in the District Attorney’s office. No Democrats qualified for the office of District Attorney.
State House District 1 is an open seat (Representative Martin Scott has decided to retire from politics) with three contenders–two from Walker County and one from Dade County. The two from Walker County are Alan Painter, a software developer from Chattanooga Valley who served on the county school board a few years ago and ran for the Clerk of Courts back in 2004 and 2008, and Mike Nowlin. The guy running from Dade County is former commission board chairman and Dade County Republican Party Chairman and is a salesman for Horizon Electronics, John Deffenbaugh. Mr. Painter has done a good job of working the district from Dade County to Walker County and appears to have a pretty good grasp on what is going on in the district as well as the issues. Mr. Nowlin has been fairly visible at political events in Walker County, but I cannot say about his attendance over in Dade County. I believe he’s getting out into the communities, but I haven’t seen much more than yard signs. Mr. Deffenbaugh seemingly jumped into the race at the last minute and left the Dade County Republican Party somewhat in disarray, but I believe they are holding their own. It seems like he has been courting the wealthier types on Lookout Mountain for financial support, but I haven’t seen much in the form of mailers. He does have a big billboard in the St. Elmo neighborhood of Chattanooga as you are heading south towards Georgia. There is one Democrat running for this open state house seat from Dade County–Tom McMahan.
State House District 2 is a contest between incumbent Jay Neal and former 9th District Congressional GOP contender and former Chickamauga City School Board member and Councilman Steve Tarvin. Representative Neal is an ordained minister and a former real estate agent, and Mr. Tarvin owns a textile business in Chickamauga. Representative Neal first ran for the seat in 2002 against Democrat Representative Mike Snow where Neal won, but the election was tossed in court. Then there was a special election where Neal won again, but that one was tossed in court as well. Representative Neal finally scored a win for good in 2004 and has represented constituents in both Walker and Catoosa Counties. He seems to be fairly popular in the area and has been able to raise money throughout the newly drawn district which includes parts of Walker, Catoosa, and now Whitfield Counties. I believe that the addition of Whitfield County, albeit a more rural portion, makes things more interesting. Representative Neal has lead the charge in banning certain mind-altering drugs such as synthetic marijuana and bath salts, and he has supported Congressman Tom Graves’ JOBS Act when he was in the state house. Mr. Tarvin has a loan of over $9000 and doesn’t appear to have raised any money according to campaign disclosures. He seems to be mainly working the TEA Party circuit in Walker, Catoosa, and Whitfield Counties, but hasn’t darkened the door of a Walker County Republican Party since 2010 when he ran for Congress. I’m not sure if he has visited the Catoosa or Whitfield GOPs or not. I know there is some concern that his run is mainly a stepping stone to something bigger than just the state house, but I believe Mr. Tarvin would represent his constituents in Atlanta if he were elected. However, it seems more like a railing against T-SPLOST than offering up what sort of things he would do under the Gold Dome and why he would be a better, more effective representative. No Democrats qualified for this office, so it will be decided on Tuesday.
This rundown of a few races of interest isn’t meant to be all-inclusive of what each candidate has done, but hopefully it gives readers across Georgia (and outside of Georgia) a little more insight to the politics of a county in Northwest Georgia. The LaFayette Underground has a number of Q&As with various candidates if you’re interested in learning a bit more about them.