ALBANY, Ga. -- In a week of election qualifying that has seen more than its share of surprises, perhaps two of the biggest area shockers came Friday on the last day for candidates to throw their hats into the ring.
Tax reform advocate Richard Thomas, co-chair of the Dougherty County Taxpayers Association, qualified to run for the District 6 Dougherty County Commission seat held for the last 24 years by incumbent Jack Stone, while Dougherty Republican Party Chair Karen Kemp qualified to run for the state House District 150 seat held for the past 14 years by Winfred Dukes.
"I guess I painted myself into a corner," Thomas joked shortly after completing qualifying paperwork. "I had made a pledge to do everything I could to see that no incumbent in the county ran unopposed. I talked with eight or nine folks in District 6, which has become a dumping ground for the county, and no one was compelled to run.
"To prove that I am a man of my word, I became a candidate for the District 6 seat."
Kemp, meanwhile, said she was still undecided whether to take on the challenge of trying to unseat Dukes as late as Thursday night when her husband gave her some no-nonsense advice.
"We were driving to Atlanta, and I kind of mentioned to Scott that I was looking for a sign of some kind to help me decide," Kemp said Friday after returning from the Capitol. "He's one of those no-nonsense kind of guys, and he said, 'What are you waiting for, a burning bush?'
"Then he said, "You don't just fight the fights you know you can win. You fight the fights worth fighting'."
In keeping with the theme of the surprise-filled election season, once Republican gubernatorial candidate Austin Scott of Tifton announced Friday that he had decided to forego that crowded race and instead qualified for the U.S. House District 8 seat currently held by conservative Democrat Jim Marshall.
And a political newcomer -- Freddy Grimsley -- made his presence known at the 11th hour Friday when he qualified as a Democratic challenger to House District 151 incumbent Carol Fullerton, also a Democrat. That left Democratic state Sen. Freddie Powell Sims and Republican House District 152 Rep. Ed Rynders as the lone unopposed members of the local legislative delegation.
Thomas, who said in a release that District 6 is "riddled with urban blight, crime, severe unemployment, poverty and 'good ol' boy politics'," told voters they should not vote for him if they are satisfied with the status quo.
"District 6 is a failed district," he said. "The people in East Albany deserve a choice, and the people throughout Dougherty County deserve to have someone willing to shine a light on the mismanagement and corruption in this community.
"Jack Stone has tentacles and roots that run deep in this county, and he will be a formidable opponent. But if the citizens of District 6 and Dougherty County want a change of direction, they now have a choice."
Thomas, president of an estate planning firm, said he will most likely have to take a less active role in the Dougherty taxpayer group as he begins work on his campaign.
Kemp, executive director of the Lily Pad SANE Center, said she wanted to offer citizens in District 150 a "new voice."
"I have a passion for public service locally and in Atlanta, and I'm someone who has been able to work both sides of the aisle to get things done," she said. "I firmly believe reasonable people can come to the table together and find solutions.
"I want to be a part of that process. I'm concerned about this district. I feel we have unique challenges unlike those in Atlanta or any other part of the state. I want to be part of the solution.
Kemp said she began thinking about a run for office after hearing retiring Dougherty School Board member Emily Jean McAfee speak at a Leadership Albany function.
"She was talking about people stepping up and offering themselves for public service," Kemp said, "and she quoted someone -- I'm not sure who, it may have been Ronald Reagan -- who said 'If not now, when? If not me, who?' That really stuck with me."
Now that the dust has settled, only three Dougherty County races (of seven) are left with one contender, and only one of those was an incumbent. Dougherty Commission Chair Jeff Sinyard drew no opposition for his third term as head of the Commission.
In District 4, Ewell Lyle was the lone challenger for the County Commission seat being vacated by Dr. Charles Lingle, and Carol Tharin stood alone as the only challenger for McAfee's District 4 School Board seat.
In addition to Stone, Democratic incumbent John Hayes has opposition for his District 2 Commission seat. Newcomer Lonnie Smith, a Republican, qualified to run against Hayes, while the Districts 2 and 4 School Board races drew six candidates.
Dean Phinazee, a retired educator, and Darrel Ealum, who once gave Sanford Bishop a strong run for his District 2 U.S. House seat, will vie for the District 6 School Board seat being vacated by Michael Windom; while Democratic incumbent Milton Griffin is being challenged by a pair of Democrats -- Lynda Weaver and Sherrell Byrd -- and Republican Donnie Smith, wife of Commission candidate Lonnie.
In Lee County, Republican District 3 Commissioner -- and board chairman -- Ed Duffy drew the challenge of former Utilities Authority member Lester Leggette, while District 1 Commissioner Dennis Roland, also a member of the GOP, drew no Republican or Democratic opposition, although Independent Mary Egler is reportedly collecting signatures for a run against him.
The Districts 1 and 3 Lee School Board races are nonpartisan, so qualifying will not be held until the week of June 28-July 2.
Lee Republican Party Chair Jimmie Brown said Friday he's pleased with the candidates who qualified to run in the July 20 primary.