Dougherty School Board candidate Melissa Strother, standing, talks with Sherwood Acres neighborhood resident Doris Hines about her campaign Saturday. Joining Strother during her campaign stop are her husband, Jay, and their children Jack, 4, and Olive, 18 months. (Staff photo: Carlton Fletcher)
ALBANY — Like other national, state and local political candidates aiming squarely for Tuesday’s Republican and Democratic primaries, two of three candidates for the state House District 153 seat have been spending the final hours of the campaign talking about leadership and influence.
Incumbent Carol Fullerton and challenger Darrel Ealum, who left the Dougherty County School Board to run for the House seat, said over the weekend they offer voters in Southwest Georgia the kind of leadership that makes a difference in the state Legislature. Former Dougherty County Commissioner Muarlean Edwards is the third Democratic candidate seeking the House 153 seat, her second bid for the job.
“It takes a long time to build meaningful relationships in Atlanta, and that’s very important, especially now when rural parts of the state, and south Georgia in particular, are often overwhelmed by the delegation around metro Atlanta,” Fullerton said. “You look at the announcements about new businesses locating in the state, and every one of them is north of Griffin.
“I knew a number of the people in the Legislature before I was even elected for my first term, so I went to Atlanta knowing who to call. The people in the Legislature knew me, and they trusted me. That, and the ability to create a united front with the other members of the local delegation, is important as we demand attention to the issues that are important to our region. Those are things I think I bring to the table that my opponents don’t.”
Ealum said he’s gone on the offensive against Fullerton, in campaign ads and at political forums, because she has been unwilling to discuss the issues.
“We’ve had to generate the energy in this campaign because we don’t feel our opponent is willing to discuss the issues in a public forum,” Ealum said. “I don’t understand that kind of strategy, and I feel the people of District 153 are frustrated by what they’re not hearing from the person who is representing them.
“Being an old Marine, when it’s time to take on a challenge, I start looking for a challenger. I haven’t seen her in this campaign.”
Ealum said he’d proved his leadership ability during his tenure on the Dougherty County School Board.
“I think my actions with the School Board speak for themselves,” he said. “We had some real problems within the system when I came on board, and most of the problems had to do with poor leadership. We’ve got a very capable man at the top now in Dr. (Butch) Mosely, but even before he came on board I was working to remove some of the ineffective system personnel from those top positions. Today, the top eight in the system hierarchy have been replaced.
“I feel personally responsible for helping bring about this significant change, and that’s the same kind of leadership that will create energy in Atlanta.”
Fullerton, who said she’s close to fully recovered from a serious automobile accident that curtailed her activities for part of this year’s legislative session, admits she’s been surprised by some of Ealum’s campaign tactics.
“I’m sorry he’s gotten in the gutter like he has,” she said. “An enormous number of people have contacted me saying they’re fighting mad. I just hope that something like that will inspire them, no matter how they feel, to get out and vote.
“I’m glad Darrel has enough money to finance his campaign, and there are some who say when you don’t get outside donations you’re free and independent. I don’t have that kind of money, but when I look at the donations that have been made to my campaign — whether it’s a $5, a $25 or a $500 check — I feel that every time I make a vote in Atlanta I am responsible to those people who believed in my campaign enough to get involved in the process.”
While a number of the national and statewide races that are on Tuesday’s ballot involve Republican and Democratic candidates, there are no contested Republican contests at the county level in Dougherty County. Therefore, those interested in the Dougherty County Commission and School Board races would have select a Democratic ballot at their precincts. Once a voter selects a party ballot Tuesday, he or she will only be able to vote in that party’s election if there is a runoff. It does not affect who the the voter can vote for in the November general election, when all parties will be on the same ballots.
Former Dougherty County Commissioner Gloria Gaines, who left her District 5 seat to challenge for the commission chairmanship, is mounting the kind of momentum-building grassroots campaign against challenger Chris Cohilas that won her a seat on the commission six years ago. Cohilas, meanwhile, has taken his well-organized campaign to a broader segment of the community.
“I feel blessed to have been so openly received by the community,” Gaines said. “I am so thankful for this opportunity to be in a position to do even more for the people in a land that has been my family’s home for four generations.”
Political newcomers Tracy Taylor and Pat Garner, who both say their platforms are based on “nonpartisan issues,” are seeking the County Commission’s District 4 Democratic nomination. The winner of Tuesday’s primary race will challenge Republican incumbent Ewell Lyle in the Nov. 4 general election.
The longest-serving member of the commission, District 6 incumbent Jack Stone, is facing the challenge of retired University of Georgia Extension Service agent Anthony Jones. Stone got a late start on his campaign because of health issues, but said “any incumbent running for office should be running on his record anyway. The people in District 6 know what I’ve done.”
Jones, meanwhile, said his focus during his first political campaign has been on the issues, not on his opponent.
“I’m very pleased with the reception I’m getting from the people in the district,” Jones said Saturday. “I’m just out talking about the issues, and I’ll keep doing that — I’ll keep working — right up until 7 o’clock on May 20. That’s the only thing I know how to do. We’ve just got to get the people out to vote.”
A field of three is vying for Ealum’s vacant District 6 School Board seat: political newcomer Shirlette Davis-Marcus, who teaches in the Mitchell County School System, and retired educators Princess Milledge and Dean Phinazee. Davis-Marcus picked up the endorsement recently of political activist and former Albany State University head football coach Hamp Smith.
In the District 4 School Board race, Darton State College assistant professor Aaron Johnson and businesswoman Melissa Strother are vying for the seat being vacated by board chairwoman Carol Tharin.
“The more I talk with people in the community, from teachers to administrators to parents, the more I hear about how important literacy is,” Strother said. “But what concerns me is that we don’t seem to be doing anything about it. We need to be working to find more money, more grants, for reading education. That’s where it starts.”
Like most of the candidates campaigning in local races, Strother stressed the importance of voting.
“Just because we’re not voting for a president doesn’t mean this is not an important election,” she said. “When you vote, especially in a local election, you’re saying you care about your family’s future.”
In neighboring Lee County, incumbent District 1 County Commissioner Dennis Roland is facing the challenge of Mike Sabot in the Republican primary, while David Brokamp and Bob Usry are squaring off in the District 1 School Board race.
Incumbent House District 152 Rep. Ed Rynders is being challenged by perennial candidate Mary Egler.
On both Republican and Democratic ballots in Lee County will be a referendum on a $13 million bond issue for the Lee County School Board. School system officials want the funds for school facilities improvement, specifically athletic facilities after the high school was moved into a higher classification by the Georgia High School Association.
Polls in Georgia will be open 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. Tuesday.