Oconee County voters turned out in big numbers on election day, with a plurality picking Democrat Jonathan Wallace to represent voters in Georgia House District 119 and a majority picking Houston Gaines to represent voters in Georgia House District 117.
Wallace won strongly in the Clarke County part of the evenly split 119th District, ending with 56.7 percent of the votes in the unofficial tally—enough to avoid a runoff on Dec. 5.
Democrat Deborah Gonzalez dominated voting in Clarke County, giving her 53.1 percent of the votes in the 117th, which, in addition to Clarke County and Oconee County, includes parts of Barrow and Jackson counties.
Democrats won shocking victories in two special elections for Athens-area state House seats on Tuesday, winning the conservative-leaning seats in spite of well-funded opposition from Republicans.
In District 117, Deborah Gonzalez overcame Republican opponent Houston Gaines' $200,000 war chest and much-publicized support from Democratic Athens-Clarke County Mayor Nancy Denson.
As of 9 p.m., Gonzalez led Gaines 53 percent to 47 percent, with some Clarke County precincts left to be counted, but all the votes in staunchly Republican Oconee, Jackson and Barrow counties have been counted, leaving Gaines no chance to catch up.
Likewise, with all Oconee precincts reporting, Jonathan Wallace avoided a runoff by winning 56percent of the vote in District 119, which historically leans even further to the right than 117. (Both districts were specifically drawn to elect Republicans.)
Photo Credit: Sarah Bell
In individual sessions held with the Oconee County Area Republicans in recent weeks, the three Republican candidates in the special election on Tuesday for Georgia House District 119 have shown rather different characteristics.
Tom Lord took few firm stands in a session with a small number of Republicans gathered on Sept. 30, using the 50 minutes given him instead to get feedback and suggestions from those who turned out to meet him. He focused on his trustworthiness and his conservative values.
Steven Strickland was given less than 40 minutes on Oct. 19, and he used his time to make the case that his technological expertise would serve the state well. He defended his assertion that government should play a role in infrastructure development and stressed the need to help rural Georgia.
Marcus Wiedower was energetic is his nearly 45 minutes with the group on Nov. 2, talking about his personal life, including his love of sports, and his accessibility. He repeated his pledge not to raise taxes and his complaint that the state has bowed to pressure from the film industry in not defending religious liberty.
Republican Houston Gaines had raised nearly $200,000 as of last week for his Athens-area House District 117 race, outpacing Democratic opponent Deborah Gonzalez nearly four-to-one.
In documents filed Monday with the Georgia Government Transparency and Campaign Finance Commission, Gaines reported raising $196, 251 and had $140,436 on hand as of Oct. 23, 15 days before Election Day, Nov. 7.
It's a common strategy for candidates with such overwhelming fundraising advantages to keep some of their powder dry to ward off future challengers.
Gaines' list of contributors is a Who's Who of powerful, connected Republican politicians and business interests in Athens and Atlanta.
In Monday's Federation of Neighborhoods candidate forum, Republican Houston Gaines kept referring to the "unique perspective" he'd bring to the state House of Representatives.
One would think that Gaines, who just graduated from the University of Georgia in May, was referring to his youth. When Flagpole intern Nate Harris asked him what made him unique, though, Gaines' answer was anything but clear.
After much hemming and hawing, Gaines at one point said, "It's obvious just by looking at us that we have a different perspective."
With the Nov. 7 special election drawing nearer, the candidates for state House districts 117 and 119 met Monday night for one final forum, organized by the Athens-Clarke County Federation of Neighborhoods at the ACC Library.
Candidates running in both districts responded to prepared questions from a Federation representative; much to the disappointment of both attendees and some of the candidates, they did not field questions from the audience, nor did they debate the topics.
Republican Houston Gaines and Democrat Deborah Gonzalez took to the stage first, starting out with their legislative priorities. For Gaines, that includes fostering business and economic growth while addressing education and transportation issues; for Gonzalez, improvements to education and public health, she said, would lead to improvements in other areas as well, including crime and mass incarceration.
Houston Gaines, running to replace Republican Regina Quick, who stepped down in August as representative from Georgia House District 117, had a warning for the Oconee County Republicans who attended the party’s meeting in late September.
“We’ve got to work hard to keep this seat,” Gaines said of the 117th, which is dominated by Clarke County but includes parts of Oconee, Barrow and Jackson counties as well.
Ed Perkins, vice chair of the Oconee County GOP, underscored the importance to Oconee County Republicans of what Gaines had said.
U.S. Rep. Jody Hice mostly echoed common Republican rhetoric during his visit to the University of Georgia College Republicans on Wednesday, lauding Republican lawmakers’ new tax plan, which is still taking shape, and efforts to repeal the Affordable Care Act.
Hice, who represents most of Athens in Congress, predicted that the GOP is not done trying to overhaul the ACA after two failed attempts earlier this year. "This battle over health care is not over," he said. "That's the good news."
Hice dove into the gridlock in Congress, particularly the Senate, saying the 60-vote filibuster rule in the Senate has caused a "backup of House bills waiting at the door of the Senate." He also explained the reconciliation process, which only requires a simple majority to pass a budget bill. Republican Senators tried unsuccessfully to repeal the ACA using the process earlier this year.
When asked about future plans to attempt to repeal the ACA, Hice said he has heard talk of another reconciliation-based strategy next year, but did not know of any specifics.
Photo Credit: Joshua L. Jones/file
Donald Trump played a role in the candidate forum for the Nov. 7 special elections for House Districts 117 and 119 held Tuesday night at the Oconee County campus of the University of North Georgia, as he did in a forum last week.
In response to a question about Trump’s behavior as President, the three Republican candidates in the race for House District 119 strongly endorsed Trump, though Steven Strickland did say he had problems with 5 percent of what Trump does.
When Houston Gaines, running as the sole Republican in House District 117, was asked, if the 2016 election were tomorrow, would he vote for Trump or Hillary Clinton, he did not answer.
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