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.
Democrat Jonathan Wallace met with citizens via a live session on Facebook on Nov. 2, and he gave detailed answers to a wide range of questions. He was measured in his responses, restating his opposition to Campus Carry and for Medicaid expansion and touting his work teaching computer coding to children in Athens.
About 2,700 voters cast their ballots in early voting in the special election, and the polls are open from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. on Tuesday for final balloting.
A concern with Wallace and the resurgence of Democrats came up in all three of the sessions held by the Oconee County Area Republicans, a group organized by individuals unhappy with the leadership of the Oconee County Republican Party.
Bill Mayberry, who attended and was most vocal in all three of the Oconee County Area Republicans meeting, warned Lord that the Democrats are going to do everything they can to turn Georgia into a Democratic state. He then launched in an attack on the Democratic Party.
“I think we’re in a dog fight here,” Strickland said of Wallace, mentioning him by name.
“We’re going up against a Democrat who most likely is going to take this into a runoff. He’s smart. He’s energetic, passionate. And he’s a moderate Democrat” with a message “that resonates very well, not just with liberals in Oconee County, but individuals in the start-up high tech community here in Athens.”
Wiedower said, based on data available to him that night, that of the 2,137 votes cast in the 119th in early voting, 957 had been cast by Republicans, 950 had been cast by Democrats, and 230 had been cast by people in neither party.
Voters don’t register by party in Georgia, so Wiedower likely was classifying the voters based on their party proclivity. Past voting in primary elections is used by political consultants to classify voters.
Meetings And Audiences
The Oconee County Area Republicans decided to invite the three Republican candidates to sit down with them informally, starting with Lord.
That first session, held at the Community Center in Oconee Veterans Park, was attended by only seven people, according to Sarah Bell, who made a video of the meeting.
The session with Strickland was attended by 15, according to Bell’s count, and the session with Wiedower was attended by 10, again, according to Bell. Both were at the Oconee County Library in Watkinsville.
I had conflicts with other meetings when Lord and Strickland spoke, and I had intended to record Wiedower’s session.
The Facebook session held by Wallace was on the same night that Wiedower met with the Republicans, and I recorded Wallace’s session while Bell did Wiedower’s.
According to Karen Hilyard, who is a volunteer helping with communication for the Wallace campaign, Facebook reported 453 views of the hour-long session.
The Oconee County Area Republicans did quite a bit of coaching of Lord, suggesting issues he should address and even the way he should state his case.
Lord said he was asked to run for the House seat when Chuck Williams was being considered for appointment to the directorship of the Georgia Forestry Commission. Williams got the job, and Lord said he wouldn’t divulge who asked him to run.
“This is all new to me. This is totally unlike anything I’ve ever done,” Lord said. “I know I can do the job. I know I can represent the people. But I’m going to need input from the citizens before I can do that.”
House District 119 is split evenly between Clarke and Oconee counties, based on voter registration, but Lord’s focus was on Oconee County in his comments at the Sept. 30 meeting.
“I’m going to be for Oconee County. I live in Oconee County and I work here,” he said. “I’ve raised my family here. So I’m going to be in it for Oconee County citizens.”
Bell asked Lord to make his case that people should trust him.
“Nobody knew Tom Lord when I started 30 years ago,” said Lord, owner of a funeral business that has facilities in both Clarke and Oconee counties.
“But I had a dream. I had a vision. And I knew I could do it,” he said. “And I’ve spent my career treating the community right. Doing what I said I was going to do. And there’s nobody out there that will ever tell you that Tom Lord is not trustworthy.”
Strickland told the group he had worked for AT&T and NCR, large global companies, for small businesses and for start-ups in the technology area. He currently is with a company that provides mobile and broadband networks.
Strickland said the state is confronting serious problems with congestion in Atlanta and with inadequate rail and road networks from the state’s ports on the coast. The solution is intelligent highways systems, he said.
He said a solution to the needs of schools, particularly in rural areas, is increased broadband access.
“You use the word we a lot,” Mayberry said as Strickland listed the things he felt government, in partnership with private industry, should do. “That’s pretty leftist, isn’t it?”
“You know, we’re all in it together. Right?” Strickland responded.
“Why should I pay for their infrastructure down there?” Mayberry said, referring to rural Georgia.
“You don’t necessarily have to pay for it,” Strickland responded. “Think about this. I just talked about broadband earlier. If we accelerated the deployment of broadband, think of how many thousands of job that would bring.”
Wiedower said he would focus on education and transportation issues if elected. He said he wants to make sure local money comes back to the district and decisions on what to do with that money are controlled locally.
Wiedower said he is opposed to the Transportation Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax on the ballot in Clarke County and the projects proposed should be covered with tax money already collected.
“We have so much waste,” he said. “We have so much waste.”
“The government does not need to be in any private industry, including Internet,” Wiedower said.
If the state is giving “hundreds of millions” to the film industry to get them to come to film in Georgia “I’m pretty certain we have the brainpower to figure out a way to incentivize companies, private companies, to get Internet into rural areas.”
Wiedower stressed his involvement in the community.
“I’m an accessible guy,” Wiedower said, saying he’ll give his phone number to anyone who wants it.
Wallace’s Facebook Session
Wallace said one of his top priorities is fully funding education.
“I’d love to see us take care of the kids,” he said. “We want to plant the seeds for tomorrow today. If we do that by investing in our children, we’ll be guaranteed that we will be able to reap the fruits of that later on.”
Dan Mathews, Watkinsville Council member and active local Democrat, asked Wallace via the live videocast how he would reunite the Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders factions of the national Democratic Party.
Wallace said that “might be a little bit above my pay grade,” but he used the question to launch into a lengthy discussion about dialog between those with different points of view.
“I’ve heard some really good suggestions for how you can solve these types of challenges both in businesses and in politics, which is that each side should take the opportunity to specify what is good about the other side, not just focusing on what is bad about the other side,” Wallace said.
“When you have that type of dialog where you focus on the positives of the other person’s plan, it opens up a lot more dialog and leads to better solutions,” Wallace said.
“So I think the number one thing that we have to have is we have to make sure that we’re willing to talk to one another,” he continued. “That’s what the key is for us to find good solutions that work best for us in this district, in this state and the country.”
Lord, Strickland And Wiedower Videos
The videos recorded by Bell are below, in the order the three Republican candidates met with the Oconee County Area Republicans.
Pam Hendrix introduced the candidates in each case.
At the Sept. 30 meeting, Lord was followed by a presentation by Shane Mobley, a candidate for state Insurance Commissioner.
At the Oct. 19 meeting, Strickland was followed by Alex Johnson from the Georgia Republican Assembly.
At the Nov. 2 meeting, Wiedower was followed by Carolyn Fisher, state Republican Vice Chair.
The video in each case is of the entire meeting, and Lord and Wiedower are introduced immediately.
Strickland starts to speak a 1:40 in the video.
In the Lord video, Bell is quite engaged in the discussion. Her voice is picked up by her camera.
Wallace did his Facebook session from his home and is accompanied by Hilyard, his campaign volunteer.
Hilyard read the questions that had been submitted in advance and those that came in during the session. She also contributed information on her own as the session progressed.
I asked to record the session so I would have a video of Wallace roughly comparable to the video I had from Bell of Lord, Strickland and Wiedower.
I had uploaded the video from all four of the candidates as I received and edited them, but this is the first time I’ve written about them.
On Tuesday, voters in the 117th Georgia House District will be deciding between Republican Houston Gaines and Democrat Deborah Gonzalez in another special election.
Three Oconee County precincts, Athens Academy, Malcom Bridge and Bogart, are in the 117th, but the Oconee County Area Republicans did not have a session with Gaines.