ALBANY — With a March 3 qualifying date looming just weeks away and an early May 20 primary shortly after, local elections are shaping up to be the most interesting in recent memory.
In U.S. House District 2, three Republicans have announced bids to face veteran Congressman Sanford Bishop Jr. in the November general election.
In area Georgia House races, two other Democrats have stepped up to challenge incumbent Carol Fullerton in District 153. Thus far, no challengers have announced to face incumbents Winfred Dukes (D, District 154) and Gerald Greene (R, District 151).
Two seats are already up for grabs — with two others scheduled for re-election — on the Dougherty County Commission, including that of veteran Ward 6 commissioner Jack Stone and Jeff Sinyard’s commission chairmanship.
Three seats are in play for the Dougherty County School Board: District 4 Board Chair Carol Tharin will not be seeking re-election; District 6 will be open after Darrel Ealum opted to run for Fullerton’s House seat, and long-time District 2 board member Milton “June Bug” Griffin’s seat is up for re-election.
Here is how the races shaped up as of Saturday:
U.S. House Georgia District 2
Bishop is seeking his 12th term in a seat he has held since first being elected to U.S. Congress in 1992. His opposition will come from the May 20 Republican primary field of Greg Duke, John House and Vivian Childs.
Bishop seems entrenched in his seat, especially after the redistricting of 2012 returned District 2 to an overwhelmingly majority black district. The closest he has come to losing the seat came in the 2010 election when he defeated Mike Keown 51 to 49 percent.
In 2012 Bishop defeated House with 63 percent of the vote.
Duke is a former Lee County School Board member, and Childs is a long-time Republican from Warner Robins.
State House of Representatives
Both announced challengers for Fullerton’s House District 153 seat have declared a serious 2013 automobile accident that has left the six-year representative unable so far to attend the Legislative session did not enter into their decision to challenge for the seat.
Darrel Ealum, who is currently in the final year of his four-year term on the Dougherty County School Board, said he has the ability to work across the aisle and have an impact on the needs of South Georgia in an overwhelmingly Republican and an overwhelmingly metro Atlanta-centric Legislature. He said one of his priorities in office would be securing funding for a fine arts building at Albany State University, which is located withing District 153.
Former Dougherty County Commissioner Muarlean Edwards, who stepped down from that office for an unsuccessful run against Fullerton in 2012, said she’s more focused on her campaign this time around and has already started putting together a team of volunteers to help her get her message out to voters.
Fullerton is set to undergo what she hopes is a final surgery related to her accident on Monday, but she said if all goes as planned she will be back in Atlanta in two weeks. Since she has not yet run unopposed for office, she said she’s ready for the challenge again.
“I haven’t been to the General Assembly yet, but I’ve kept up with what’s going on through the Speaker of the House, the leadership of my party and friends in Atlanta,” the incumbent representative said. “I’ve made it clear to the speaker that if I’m needed for a vote, I will come to Atlanta.
“I probably won’t have my stamina back for a while, so I won’t get to walk as many blocks and talk to as many voters in the district as I’d like. But I’m ready to go. I know there are a lot of citizens in District 153 who do not want to be represented by Darrel or Muarlean.”
Greene, the lone Republican among the local delegation, and Dukes have not drawn announced opposition yet, but that is not expected to be the case by the time qualifying opens March 3. Rumors swirling around Greene indicate the veteran lawmaker could draw Republican and Democratic opposition.
Dougherty County Commission
Sinyard stunned many political followers when he announced at the end of a Jan. 27 commission meeting that he would not seek re-election when his term expires at the end of the year. That has left the county with the possibility that it will have a drastically new look when the election dust has settled.
With Sinyard leaving office, District 5 Commissioner Gloria Gaines has made clear her interest in seeking the chairmanship. She is expected to announce plans to run Monday after the county’s work session. With her seat up for grabs, many have speculated that Harry James, who ran unsuccessfully against Gaines, would take another shot at the District 5 seat.
Former Chief Assistant District Attorney Chris Cohilas, who is in private practice now with the Watson Spence law firm, was the first to commit to the chairman’s race, saying he wants to work with others in the community to foster economic development in the community. School Board member James Bush, whom Sinyard defeated by a handful of votes to first win the chairmanship, and both Edwards and Ealum had been mentioned as possible candidates, but Bush has repeatedly declared he is not interested, and both Ealum and Edwards have declared for the House 153 seat.
Anthony Jones, who directed the county’s 4-H program through a joint University of Georgia/county extension position for 29 years, also added spice to the commission race Friday when he announced he would run for the District 6 seat long held by veteran politico Jack Stone. Jones stirred the ire of many in the community by complaining at his announcement press conference that the Albany Fire Department did not respond to a recent fire in the district and that a Worth County firetruck eventually came to the scene after it was too late.
One of those who was most incensed by the comment was Stone himself, who declared Saturday that his doctor has given him the go-ahead to make another run for the District 6 seat. Stone had said after Sinyard made his announcement that he was considering leaving too, but Jones’ comments appear to have rekindled Stone’s interest.
“I talked with my doctor, and he said if I wanted to run there was nothing (health-wise) to keep me from it,” Stone said. “After reading what (Jones) had to say, I’m about 90 percent leaning toward running again. I just wish that anybody who makes statements like he did would get their wires straight before they did it. What he said has thrown rocks at me and the rest of the commission.
“Sometimes, if you don’t know what you’re talking about, it’s better to remain quiet and have people think you’re not very bright than to open your mouth and remove all doubt.”
Incumbents John Hayes’ and Ewell Lyle’s District 2 and 4 seats, respectively, are also up for re-election, but so far no challenger has come forward to declare against them.
Dougherty County School Board
With Tharin’s decision not to run for re-election in District 4, two names have come into play: Darton State College Economics Professor Aaron Johnson and businesswoman Melissa Strother.
Johnson is a political newcomer, while Strother lost a 2011 Albany City Commission race to Ivey Hines.
Neither has formally announced his or her candidacies nor could be reached for comment Saturday.
District 6 opened up when Ealum announced he was running against Fullerton. Two names are in the mix for Ealum’s seat: former School Board member Michael Windom and Dean Phinazee. However, neither has formally announced.
“Yes, I am considering running for the school board, but I haven’t made up my mind yet,” Windom, who served on the board for 16 years before choosing not to seek re-election in 2010, said Saturday. “I really enjoyed my time on the board, and I think I can make a difference again.”
Phinazee, who lost previous school board elections to both Windom and Ealum, could not be reached for comment.
In District 2, Griffin is the dean of the school board, having served 14 years in his seat. As of Saturday, he is unopposed for a fourth term.
Local qualifying for the County Commission and School Board seats kicks off at 9 a.m. on March 3 and ends at noon on March 7. Qualifying will be conducted at sites selected by the chairs of the two parties at as-of-yet undisclosed sites.
Other statewide seats up for re-election during the May 20 primaries include governor, lieutenant governor, secretary of state, attorney general, commissioner of agriculture, state school superintendent, state Senate in District 12, two Public Service Commission seats and commissioner of Labor.
Primary winners will face off in the general election Nov. 4