Monday, October 12, 2020

Republican Oconee Board of Commissioners Candidate Criticizes Current Board In Comments To Oconee County Republican Party

***Legislators, Mayor, Other Candidates Also Speak***

Aaron Nowak, running as a Republican in the special election for Post 3 on the Oconee County Board of Commissioners, introduced himself to Oconee County Republicans last month as a critic of the current Board of Commissioners and its policies and an advocate for conservative Republican values.

Nowak said his candidacy is based on three core ideas: thoughtful development, financial responsibility, and citizen engagement.

He said the current Board of Commissioners, made up entirely of Republicans, is failing on all three of these ideas.

Nowak also said the country ‘is currently in a battle of ideas” pitting its “Judeo-Christian values of freedom” versus “liberals” and “government intrusion.”

Nowak was one of a long list of speakers and candidates at a the September Republican Party meeting at the Chamber of Commerce in Watkinsville that ran for two hours and 15 minutes.

Others on the program included Houston Gaines and Marcus Wiedower, Republican candidates for House District 117 and 119 respectively, Michael Ransom, Republican candidate for Post 5 on the Board of Education, Brian Patterson, Democratic District Attorney candidate, and Watkinsville Mayor Bob Smith.

Nowak will be joined at 8 p.m. tonight in a citizen-organized virtual forum for candidates for the Post 3 Board of Commissioners race as well as for the position of Board of Commissioners Chair.

Join that meeting here:

The Oconee County Chamber of Commerce is holding a forum for legislative candidates and District Attorney candidates on Wednesday night, and the Oconee County Democrats are holding a forum for District Attorney candidates on Thursday night.

Nowak Comments

“I’m a conservative and I am a Republican through and through,” Nowak said. “I think I want what all of you here want as well. We want Oconee to be great for a very long time in our future.”


“Growth is coming, so let’s be the best at it,” he said. “The message is clear. People are not happy with development in the county.”

“Right now we are investing significantly in ill-advised infrastructure projects,” Nowak said, though he did not identify the ones he is critical of.

“The Board of Commissioners right now,” Nowak said. “You go there. You won’t have trouble finding an empty seat. People are disengaged. There isn’t information out there, it appears to be incomplete, it’s not transparent. I believe it has led to unbelievable frustration, and people do not feel heard.”

“Our country is currently in a battle of ideas, for it heart,” Nowak said in closing. “This isn’t just some politics that is being played. Are we a great country grounded in Judeo-Christian values of freedom? Or are we just inherently evil and the only cure is more liberals in our lives and government intrusion.”

In the audience as Nowak was speaking were Amrey Harden, also running as a Republican in the special election to fill the vacant Post 3 on the Board of Commissioners. Harden spoke at the Republican Party meeting in June.  (Correction: Harden told me after I posted that he left the meeting before Nowak made his comments to make another appointment.)

Jacob Douylliez, running as a Democrat, also will be at the forum tonight, which I’ve organized in collaboration with Ann Hollifield, Karen Hilyard and Philip Ashford.

John Daniell, incumbent Board of Commissioners chair and a Republican, will participate in the forum with Democratic Party nominee Eric Gisler. Daniell was in the audience as Nowak spoke at the Sept. 28 Republican Party meeting.

Wiedower And Gaines

Wiedower and Gaines both reviewed their work in the legislative session just completed and talked about their campaigns for reelection as they began their comments at the Sept. 28 meeting.


“Two years ago, when we were campaigning, the number one thing we said we were going to do was go to Atlanta and build relationships,” Wiedower said. “And we need to build those relationships so we could be effective, and we could be effective for our community, and get things done for our community.

“And I’m proud to say I think that’s exactly what we accomplished,” he said.

Gaines said he was proud of his work in the last session, and particularly of his shepherding through Senate Bill 416, which cut the $17,342 salaries of legislators by 10 percent because of the financial crisis caused by the recession.

He also cited his work on anti-human trafficking legislation, criminal justice reform and healthcare.

Gaines said he is “trying to cut red tape, trying to help physicians do what they do best, which is practice medicine. My whole family’s in medicine,” Gaines said. “I’m the one who went into politics.”

“We all know that the prices are skyrocketing and people are just–it is hurting people,” Wiedower said.

Wiedower said the legislature has had “30 pieces of legislation” dealing with healthcare. “It’s not a one swoop thing.”

“Obamacare didn’t fix anything,” he said. “So we can’t do it with a sweeping format. We’re going to do it a bite at a time. And continue to do it. And we’re going to do it so we can all have good, affordable healthcare in the state of Georgia.”

Wiedower said he also worked to reduce the cost of higher education and to help students pay for that education. And he also worked on legislation to improve foster care in the state, he said.

Campaign Asks

Wiedower had two requests of the nearly 50 people in the audience: turn out to vote and provide money for his and Gaines’ campaigns.


“I read something recently that was posted that said that Houston and I have so much more money than our opponents,” Wiedower said. Wiedower said his opponent is actually better financed. “I don’t have the money that is going to flood in here from all over the country,” he said.

(I have posted two stories that referenced the gap between Wiedower and Democrat Jonathan Wallace and Gaines and Democrat Mokah Jasmine Johnson, on Sept. 28, the morning of the Republican Party meeting, and on Sept. 17.) 

“When Obama is coming out and talking about Houston’s opponent, you don’t think they’re targeting this area?” Wiedower asked. “You don’t think we’re squarely in the bulls eye?

Former President Barack Obama endorsed Johnson on Sept. 25.

“So don’t let bottom line numbers fool you when you see disclosure numbers,” Wiedower said. “They will be well funded.”

“The next 35 days are going to be really crazy,” Wiedower said. “The biggest thing is that we have to get people to the polls.”

“If we don’t send Marcus Wiedower back,” Gaines said in response to Wiedower, “If we don’t send myself back, it will have significant ramifications for Oconee County and our community.”

Hedging On Competitiveness

My post on the morning of Sept. 28 was about comments by Gaines and Republican Sen. Bill Cowsert about the importance of turnout. Both had argued that the races for House District 117 and 119 were very close, and I used data on turnout from the June 9 primary to show the potential closeness of the races.

“I saw that same piece you’re talking about this morning talking about how competitive the race are,” Gaines told Wiedower. “We know what we’re up against.”

Then Gaines pivoted, saying the projection of a close race are wrong. “That same piece failed to mention that two years ago they were talking about how if you projected the race today that I would lose.”

Gaines said–correctly–that Deborah Gonzalez also got more votes in the May 2018 Democratic Primary than he did in the Republican Primary in 2018–and yet he won in November with 53.6 percent of the vote.

“That’s kind of confusing,” Gaines said. “I hope that makes sense. But basically we have a lot of facts, as you can imagine. It is so important that we get our folks to the polls because these are going to be close races.”

“Obama has never met Mokah, my opponent,’ he said. They don’t know each other.”

“If you ask people--folks--who are in this community who know the candidates, they’re supporting us,” Gaines said. “We’ve got to get that word out because it’s going to be a competitive race.”

September Disclosure Reports

In the Campaign Contribution Disclosure Report for Sept. 30, which Gaines filed on Oct. 7, he had $191,966 net balance on hand. Candidates are allowed a grace period in filing.

Johnson also filed her report on Oct. 7, and she lists $116,572 net balance on hand.

Wiedower’s net balance on his Sept. 30 form was $215,121. He also filed on Oct. 7.

Wallace filed his Sept. 30, 2020, disclosure report on Oct. 8. He listed his net balance as $57,251.

Watkinsville Mayor

Following the presentations by Gaines and Wiedower and introductions of local candidates who were not on the agenda, Steven Strickland, Republican Party chair, said he had added Watkinsville Mayor Bob Smith to the agenda.


“You’ve got the floor for about the next five minutes,” Strickland said after introducing Smith.

Smith gave an animated presentation that ran for 14 minutes and included an endorsement of Carolyn Maultsby, who is a candidate for Post 5 on the Watkinsville City Council in the Nov. 3 election and who had just introduced herself, and a loud shout-out to President Trump.

Smith then digressed into his long list of complaints against the City Council, including the decision to hire a professional city manager, cost overruns on the Harden Hill Road sidewalk project, the date of his swearing in, and his repeated filing of open records for city documents.

“People like it when you talk like this,” Smith said of his aggressive language. “They like the truth.”

“I need your help with Watkinsville, telling the real story,” he said. “The real story of what’s going on.”

Smith called on the people in the audience to write checks for Wiedower and Gaines and urged the two candidates to go door-to-door in their campaigning.

At the very end of his talk, he turned back to the Watkinsville City Council elections. Each of the three Council seats up for election has two competing candidates who are without party labels, as is required.

“We’re going to get some conservative Republicans in there,” Smith said. “Even though its nonpartisan. That’s one thing I really wanted to tell you. Don’t believe its nonpartisan. Don’t believe it.”

Two Senate Candidates

Before turning to the local races, Strickland introduced two of the six Republican candidates in the special election for U.S. Senate: Kandiss Taylor and Derrick Grayson.

Both of the candidates attacked Kelly Loeffler, appointed by Gov. Brian Kemp to fill the seat until the special election is held next month, and Doug Collins, the two most prominent Republicans in the race, which has 21 competitors, six of them Republicans.

“This is your chance to have somebody who represents you,” Taylor said. “Do not be scared to take a chance on me.”

Grayson said the two leading candidates “don’t care about you or the Constitution.”

“The power belongs to the people, not those abominations in D.C. that tickle your ears, tell you what you want hear, and then go and do what they have been doing all along,” Grayson said.

“We have only seen change in this country since Donald Trump got in since he is overturning the money changers tables on both sides of the isle,” Grayson said. He was wearing a Trump hat as he spoke.

School Board Candidate

“I see the School Board as a way to serve this community,” Ransom told the gathered Republicans. “There is a tradition of excellence, so I want to help continue that excellence.”

Ransom is competing for open Post 4 on the Board of Education and is the Republican Party nominee for that position. Joan Parker is the Democratic Party nominee.

In response to a question, Ransom said religion was important to him. He called the Bible the “number one book in the world. It should be taught if for nothing else than it is the number one sold book in the world. We teach other classics. It’s got a lot of history behind it.”

“Should we push our religious beliefs on everybody else?” he asked. “I don’t think so.”

In response to another question, he repeated his call for a mask mandate in Oconee County Schools but said, in response to a third question, that he is not in favor of schools requiring vaccinations.

District Attorney Candidate

Patterson is one of three candidate running in the open election for Western Judicial Circuit District Attorney.

Patterson is running as a Democrat, as is Deborah Gonzalez. James Chafin is running without a party label.

Strickland said since there are no Republicans in the race he invited Chafin and Patterson to speak, but not Gonzalez, whom he labeled as a “far left Democrat.” Chafin was not able to attend, Strickland said.

Patterson is the acting District Attorney, and he said he is running “because I believe I have the proven experience, leadership and commitment to do the job.”

He said he was driven by three basic ideas in running for District Attorney: “making sure that the law is justly, equally and fairly applied to all persons”; “that we vigorously safeguard our rights and liberties as citizens”; “to make sure that all citizens are treated with compassion and dignity and respect.”

Patterson, who lives in Oconee County, told the audience that “Oconee County has been and always will be a priority for me as your District Attorney.”


Sarah Bell attended the Republic Party Meeting on Sept. 28 and recorded the video below.

Wiedower and Gaines began their presentation at 2:33 in the video.

Strickland introduced Smith at 22:30 in the video, and Smith began speaking at 23:31.

Taylor began her comments at 42:17.

Grayson began at 54:52.

Nowak began speaking at 1:09:51

Ransom began speaking at 1:27:28

Patterson began speaking at 1:42:31

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