Saturday, October 03, 2020

Forums Announced For Legislative Candidates Representing Oconee County On November Ballot

***Virtual Forums On Oct. 14 And Oct. 19***

The Oconee Chamber of Commerce and the Athens Area Chamber of Commerce on Friday were working out details for the virtual candidate forum being organized for 6 to 8 p.m. on Oct. 14 for races on the Nov. 3 ballot overlapping Oconee and Clarke counties.

Courtney Bernardi, president of the Oconee Chamber of Commerce, said Friday she was waiting on confirmation from three of the 11 invited candidates and well as from the invited moderator.

Questions to be asked at the forum will be selected by a Chamber committee, Bernardi said. Citizens are invited to submit suggestions in advance, but audience members will not be allowed to comment or pose questions during the session.

A second Oconee County forum for candidates for House District 117, House District 119, and Senate District 46 is set for 8 to 9:30 p.m. on Oct. 19. Oconee County is a part of all three of these districts.

Citizens can submit questions in advance for this forum and also as the forum progresses.

All three of the Democratic candidates–Mokah Jasmine Johnson in 117th House District, Jonathan Wallace in the 119th House District, and Zachary Perry in the 46th Senate District--have agreed to participate,

Republican candidates Houston Gaines in the 117th House District and Marcus Wiedower in the 119th have said they will not participate, and Sen. Bill Cowsert has not responded to the invitation. All are incumbents.

A forum for Oconee County Board of Commissioners candidates is scheduled for 8 to 9:30 p.m. on Oct. 12.

Chamber Forum

The Chamber Forum is scheduled to include Cowsert and Perry from the 46th Senate District, Democrat Dawn Johnson and incumbent Frank Ginn from the 47th Senate District, as well as Gaines and Johnson in the 117th House District, and Wallace and Wiedower in the 119th House District.


Candidates in the special election for district attorney also have been invited. They are James Chafin, running without a party label, Deborah Gonzalez, running as a Democrat, and Brian Patterson, also running as a Democrat.

Each race will have a designated time slot within the 2 hour time frame for the forum, Bernardi said.

Candidates will be allowed 90 seconds for an opening statement and will have 90 seconds to answer not more than four questions asked by a moderator, according to Bernardi.

Details on how citizens can join the forum have not been finalized but will be available on the Oconee County Chamber of Commerce web site, Bernardi said.

Questions can be submitted by October 7 to: or

Oconee Forum

I am organizing the Oconee County Forum for Oct. 19 in collaboration with my wife, Ann Hollifield, also an emeritus professor in the Grady College of Journalism and Mass Communication at the University of Georgia.

We will be assisted by Philip Ashford and Karen Hilyard, who co-hosted with us a forum last month for Board of Education candidates. The four of us also are hosting the Board of Commissioners Candidate Forum on Oct. 12.  

The candidates will be given an opportunity to introduce themselves. I then will ask questions submitted in advance before turning to questions from the audience.

Questions can be submitted in advance to

Registration for this forum is required. Here is the Zoom invitation:

Hi there,

You are invited to a Zoom meeting. When: Oct 19, 2020 08:00 PM Eastern Time (US and Canada)

Register in advance for this meeting:

After registering, you will receive a confirmation email containing information about joining the meeting.

Invitations Issued To Candidates

I communicated my interest in hosting a virtual candidate forum to all six of the candidates for House District 117, House District 119, and Sen. District 46 on the afternoon of Sept. 26, before the Chamber forum was announced.


“The forum would focus on Oconee County and would be promoted within Oconee County as Oconee County focused,” I wrote in an email.

“I know this is an extremely busy time for you, but, if you are interested, would you please look at your schedules and tell me when, starting on Oct. 5, you would be willing to join such a forum in the 8 to 10 p.m. time period,” I wrote.

I heard back from all of the Democratic candidates expressing an interest in joining such a forum.

I also heard from Wiedower and Gaines.

“Thanks for your willingness to set up a forum or debate,” Wiedower wrote me on Sept. 28. “As I am sure you are aware, the Clarke and Oconee County Chambers have decided to hold a joint forum on October 14th.

“It is my understanding news media outlets like yourself are welcome to cover the forum,” he said. “I encourage you to do so and write an article about it.”

Gaines wrote me on the 29th saying that “We are only 35 days away from the election, and at this point, trying to add something else to the calendar is going to be nearly impossible.”

Second Invitation

On the 30th, I wrote via email to Cowsert, Gaines and Wiedower again, telling them I had commitments from the three Democrats and asking them if they would commit to 30 minutes for a designated section of the forum on Oct. 19.


Wiedower wrote me on Oct. 1 that “I have stated twice I feel the forum already organized by both county’s Chambers is sufficient. I have always participated in forums you have organized in the past but unfortunately with only a few weeks until the election the one already organized will have to suffice.”

Gaines wrote me on Oct. 2, saying, “Unfortunately the date will not work. Thank you for the opportunity to be a part of the forum. I look forward to being a part of the other two over the next two weeks and continuing to talk to voters throughout the next 32 days.”

Gaines said the second forum he was referring to will be held by the Jackson County Chamber of Commerce on Oct. 7. The 117th consists of parts of four counties: Clarke, Oconee, Jackson, and Barrow.

The forum is not yet listed on the upcoming events of the Jackson County Chamber of Commerce.

Cowsert has never responded to my email correspondence or to a follow-up text to his mobile phone.

Democratic candidates Johnson, Wallace, and Perry said they would be pleased to take questions from citizens in the virtual forum even if the Republican candidates did not participate.

Repeat Of BOC Invitation

All five candidates for the Board of Commissioners election have agreed to participate in the forum on Oct. 12.

It is not necessary to register in advance for that virtual forum.

Please send questions in advance to

Below is that invitation from Zoom:

Lee Becker is inviting you to a scheduled Zoom meeting.

Topic: Oconee County BOC Candidate Forum Time: Oct 12, 2020 08:00 PM Eastern Time (US and Canada)

Join Zoom Meeting

Meeting ID: 818 1908 0650 One tap mobile +16465588656,,81819080650# US (New York) +13017158592,,81819080650# US (Germantown)

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