Update: Bad Night for Incumbents; Voters Signal Desire for Change

May 23, 2018

Update: Superior Court Judge Ralph Van Pelt Jr., the incumbent, was declared the winner in last night's Republican primary with 745 more votes than his opponent, Melissa Hise. Hise had taken Dade solidly but the Lookout Valley Judicial Circuit includes four counties.


In the extremely close Dade Board of Education District 2 race, the Dade Board of Elections has confirmed that Jennifer Hartline will not in fact have to face challenger Larry Williams in a runoff; with 1040 votes to his 1032, she meets the "50 percent plus one" rule. But Williams has requested a recount.


Or will request one: Lowanna Vaughn at the election board explained that semantically Williams cannot request the recount until the vote is certified, which she says will happen either Friday or next Tuesday. Then the request will be formally presented and the recount made. Ms. Vaughn said this just involved "rerunning everything," a computerized process, and will be done the same day. The Planet will duly report on the results.


Dade often seems a stodgy county reluctant to try anything new, but that turned around some Tuesday night in the Republican primary as the county voted overwhelmingly against its incumbent Georgia State House representative and superior court judge. A county board of education incumbent also lost her seat, and on the county commission District 2's 16-year incumbent Scottie Pittman will have to fight hard if he is to keep his seat against a challenger who outstripped two others to almost tie him.


(Photo: Colton Moore finally gets affirmation he had squeaked out a victory  over incumbent John Deffenbaugh.)


First of all, TSPLOST, the transportation special purpose local option sales tax that would have raised the local sales tax from 7 to 8 cents on the dollar, was defeated decisively on the primary ballot's referendum question, 1107 no votes to 731 yes. No surprise there--the antis were organized and verbal, while the county commission never delivered on public meetings on the subject it had announced earlier in the year. A few Vote Yes signs had appeared around the county toward the end of the spring, but no real effort to sell voters on the tax ever really emerged.  


The big nailbiter of election night was the Georgia House of Representative race, in which 24-year-old challenger Colton Moore waited tensely to hear if he had narrowly won over or narrowly lost to incumbent John Deffenbaugh. Moore easily took Dade, where he had finished high school not that long ago, with 1436 votes to Deffenbaugh's 721, but lost by 500-odd points in Walker. Long after the polls closed and the last vote was tallied in Dade, Moore, ahead by 22 votes, was careful not to crack a victory smile as he awaited word on whether that translated to victory or loss. The call finally came and the grin finally broke--Moore was pronounced the winner with 54 percent of the vote in the two-county district.


"I've had 20 years to campaign in Dade County but only 20 weeks to campaign in Walker," said Moore (not elaborating that for the first several years of the former he wasn't speaking plain yet). He hoped Dade residents understood that's why he had spent the last months knocking on more doors over the mountain than here. Plainly, they did.


Lookout Mountain Superior Court Judge Ralph Van Pelt, who has presided over Dade courtrooms for over two decades, also got a big thumbs down here, losing to challenger Melissa Hise in Dade 1005 to her 1407. But at this writing Van Pelt seemed to be leading in Walker County and overall. 


(Photo: Lamar Lowery awaits election results with local political junkie Donna Street.)


In Dade County races, Lamar Lowery seems set to return to the county commission's first district after sitting out the last eight years, defeating Jane Dixon 1057 to 955 in the primary. He will face Democrat Patrick Hickey in November, but Dade votes overwhelmingly Republican these days, 80 percent in the last presidential election. Lowery lost his seat in 2010 to Mitchell Smith, who chose not to run for reelection this year.


Jane Dixon, who lost a run for board of education four years ago, says she will probably give up politics for good this time. "I think I'm done," she said. But Ms. Dixon is big in the local Optimist Club so who knows? The starch may be back in her by next qualifying date.


The District 2 county commission seat will definitely require a runoff--incumbent Scottie Pittman had 747 votes to Phillip Hartline's 700. Warren Johnson and Michael Scott trailed at 380 and 284, respectively. Pittman says he enjoys serving and will fight for his seat but: "If people think I've been in too long after 16 years, what can I say to change their minds?" 


And voting the incumbents out did seem to be the motif of the evening. The quiet and restrained District 1 school board incumbent Cindy Hall Shaw lost her seat to challenger Daniel Case 1276 to 871. This would have meant that Case faced Democrat Ronald Baldwin in the fall, but Baldwin, who had blustered, "Don't underestimate me," at the April 19 candidate debates, withdrew before anybody got a chance to.


And in District 2, incumbent Jennifer Hartline and challenger Larry Williams were neck and neck at 1040 and 1032, respectively. The rule for runoffs is 50 percent plus 1--which would seem to indicate Ms. Hartline is the victor, but The Planet will double-check with the board of elections in the morning as to whether a runoff is indicated in that race.


With 2624 votes cast, the board of elections reported that turnout was at 26 percent.

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