Friday, March 08, 2024

Six Candidates File In Oconee County In Final Day Of Qualifying For May 21 Primary

***Candidates Blur Party Lines***

Qualifying for the May 21 General Primary and Nonpartisan election took an unusual turn in Oconee County on the last day of qualifying on Friday when six candidates completed the required paperwork, one as a Democrat and five as Republicans.

Democratic Party Chair Harold Thompson said after qualifying ended at noon that one of the candidates who qualified as a Democrat on Friday as well as two who qualified as Democrats on Thursday were not recruited by the Democratic Party.

In addition, he said, “These candidates don’t support the values of the Democratic Party.”

At least two of the three candidates Thompson was referring to have partnered with four of the other candidates who qualified as Republicans on Friday in protests against programming and classification of books at the Oconee County Library.

With qualifying finished, each of the three open Posts on the Board of Education has two or more Republican competitors, and two have candidates running as Democrats, one with Democratic Party support.

Each of the three incumbent Republicans on the Board of Commissioners has a competitor, two of them running as Republicans and one as a Democrat, though without Party endorsement.

Sheriff James Hale, a Republican, has a Democratic challenger–recruited by the Party--and Clerk of Superior Court Angie Elder-Johnson, a Republican, has a challenger running as a Democrat who was not recruited by the Democratic Party.

House District 120 Rep. Houston Gaines, House District Rep. Marcus Wiedower, and Sen. Bill Cowsert, all Republicans, have Democratic challengers, and Wiedower has competition from another Republican in the May 21 Party Primary.

Friday also was the final day of in-person early voting for the March 12 Presidential Preference Primary, and 263 voters cast a ballot, up from 231 on Thursday. With the accepted mail ballots to date, turnout going in the election on Tuesday is 8.3 percent of registered voters.

Alternate Slate

Pam Hendrix, a Watkinsville attorney, said in early February that she was working with a group to form a “slate” of candidates to run against all of the Oconee County Republican incumbents in the Republican Primary on May 21.

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Hendrix said at the time she was planning to run for a spot on the Board of Education, but she qualified as a Republican on Friday to challenge incumbent Board of Commissioners Chair John Daniell in the May 21 Republican Primary.

Hendrix has long been active in the Oconee County Republican Party, has served as party treasurer, and was an Oconee County delegate in June to the state Republican Party convention.

In an email exchange on Friday afternoon, Hendrix would not identify the members of the “slate,” saying that “They have asked that I only speak for myself going forward.”

When I noted that her “slate,” based on the qualifications on Thursday and Friday, crossed party lines, she said “Are we certain there is really a difference between the two parties? They both seem to spend prolifically.”

The qualification form that candidates complete are directed to “The Chairman and Secretary of the County Executive Committee” of either the Democratic or the Republican Party, and the form ends with a required signature stating “I will not knowingly violate the rules or regulations of the” party selected.

The Oconee County Republican Party has an added notarized form in which the candidate “swear(s) or affirm(s) my allegiance to the Georgia Republican Party.”

The Oconee County Democrats do not use such a form, and The Atlanta Journal-Constitution is reporting a legal challenge underway in Catoosa County to the ability of the parties to control whether a candidate qualifies to run with a party label.

Friday’s Qualifiers

Three of the six qualifiers on Friday are seeking positions on the Board of Education, and three are seeking positions on the Board of Commissioners.

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Joyce Reifsteck qualified to run for Post 1 on the Board of Education, which is the position of chair, in the May 21 Republican Primary. She lists her occupation as advertising/pr and says she has lived in Oconee County for 19 consecutive years.

Douglas Adam Hammond qualified to run in the May 21 Republican Primary as a candidate for Post 4 on the Board of Education. He lists his occupation as a nonprofit executive director and says he has lived in Oconee County for 3.9 consecutive years.

Stephen L. Aleshire qualified on Friday to run in the May 21 Republican Party primary for Post 5 on the Board of Education. Aleshire lists his occupation as retired and says he has lived in Oconee County for 27 consecutive years.

Hendrix qualified to run in the Republican Primary for Chair of the Board of Commissioners. She lists her occupation as attorney at law and states that she has lived in Oconee County for 16 consecutive years.

Suzannah Heimel qualified to run in the May 21 Democratic Primary for Post 1 on the Board of Commissioners. She lists her occupation as a property manager and states that she has lived in Oconee County for four consecutive years.

Victoria Cruz qualified on Friday as a Republican candidate for Post 4 on the Oconee County Board of Commissioners. She lists her occupation as retired physician and says she has lived in Oconee County for 27 consecutive years.

Connections Among Qualifiers

Aleshire, King, Cruz, and Reifsteck all filed reconsideration requests regarding books at the Oconee County Library that were heard by Oconee County Library Board of Trustees at its meeting on Jan. 8.

Heimel had filed a similar request with the Board in March of 2023, and Hendrix spoke at the June 15, 2023, meeting of the Oconee County Board of Commissioners about her concerns about the programming and content of the Oconee County Library.

King spoke at the November Town Hall Meeting of the Oconee County Board of Commissioners about her beliefs about the inappropriate nature of library content.

Both Cruz and Heimel complained about the sexual content of materials in the Oconee County Library to the Board of Commissioners in February of this year.

Hendrix has spoken on numerous times in recent months before the Oconee County Board of Education, always about financial issues.

Both Heimel and Aleshire spoke to the School Board on Feb. 12 about financial matters, and Heimel introduced herself by stating “Let me first say that Pam Hendrick regrets not being here tonight.”

Democratic Party Chair Thompson said of Long, Heimel, and King that “we clearly wouldn’t have recruited them to run on the Democratic ballot. It appears to be a less than clever scheme to be relevant until votes are cast in November.”

“But nonetheless we look forward to their help in canvassing for all other Democratic candidates,” he continued. “The Oconee County Democratic Committee welcomes those who genuinely disapprove of the direction taken by the modern GOP.”

Multi-County Races

Andrew Ferguson qualified on Thursday to run in the Democratic Primary for Georgia House District 120 representative. Ferguson is an editor from Clarke County.

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Courtney Frisch also qualified on Thursday. She is running for the Democratic Party nomination for Georgia House Disrict 121 representative.

Frisch lists her occupation as transportation planning engineering consultant. She also is from Clarke County.

On Friday, Alexandra "Lexy" Doherty qualified to run in the Democratic Primary for U.S. House District 10 representative. She lists her occupation as educational consultant. She also is from Clarke County.

Doherty will face Jessica Fore, an Athens realtor and musician, who qualified on Monday, in the Democratic Primary.

Also on Thursday, Kalki Yalamanchili qualified to run as an Independent in the District Attorney race in the Western Judicial Circuit. Yalamanchili, an attorney from Oconee County, now must get voter signatures on petitions to have his name appear on the ballot.


Harold Thompson said...

Protip: Being anti-library runs afoul of Democratic values

Retired teacher Lawrence said...

Good questions for Pam Hendrix(R), the 'Democrat' challengers and all other candidates would be, "Do you support Julie Mauck?" and "Do you believe Biden legitimately won the 2020 presidential election?" It is past time to move on from the Moms for Liberty agenda and the 2020 election deniers. Instead, support fiscal responsibility and integrity!
-David Lawrence

JC said...

Heimel and Hendrix are also both in leadership roles of Conservatives of NE GA

Hence, not members of any Democratic Party.

Julie Crowe

Lsford said...

I’m wondering what the ulterior motive is in running such a “slate” of candidates. I’m a bit familiar with a couple of these folks, and I don’t see them lining up with Democratic values, based on what I’ve read about them in the paper, concerning protesting library materials. The fact that they were not recruited by the Democratic Party seems odd as well. Are they trying to fly under the radar as “secret” Republicans, hoping Democrats who are undecided or unfamiliar with these candidates will vote for them? Which feels like a vote for Republicans, and seems underhanded.
I agree with Retired Teacher Lawrence’s request that they answer the questions he poses. Their answers would let us know immediately if they are truly Democrats.
Retired Teacher Linda Ford

Harold Thompson said...


There's no mystery here. They are not Democrats. I would add than none of the 3 have attended an Oconee Democratic Committee meeting. Nor did they reach out to inquire about running as one in this election cycle. Their values, best I can tell, of opposing the independence and judgement of our librarians and denying the science behind climate change are not in synch (understatement) with the Democratic Party. I hope they respond to inquires from the Oconee Enterprise and David Lawrence's questions, but I'm not holding my breath.

Retired teacher Lawrence said...

Someone recently enlightened me to what is most likely going on here. The "Democrat" challengers will pass through the primary election by not facing the other Republican candidates then. And in November they will be on the general election ballot.
-David Lawrence

Lsford said...

Harold and David, thank you for clarification. I, too, hope they respond to questions, to demonstrate that they don’t truly share the values of Democrats. This kind of manipulation leaves a very bad taste in my mouth