Candidates qualify at U.S. Senate race heats up

By Billy Corriher

For daily coverage of the new candidates filing see the News Daily.

With Democratic Sen. Zell Miller stepping down after his current term, the field of candidates qualifying to run for his seat is getting crowded. Four Democrats and three Republicans have filed so far to battle for their party's Senate nomination.

U.S. Rep. Denise Majette, D-Decatur, has been in office since 2002 and said her diverse background as attorney, judge and legislator makes her the most qualified candidate.

"I've spent my entire adult life in public service," she said.

Majette, a member of the House Education Committee and Budget Committee, said that most of the voters she has talked to are concerned about affordable health care and education issues.

"I want to be able to bridge the gaps so the American dream will be accessible to each and every Georgian," she said.

State Senator Mary Squires, D-Norcross, has also qualified to seek the Democratic nomination for Miller's seat. Squires, a former state representative who was also elected to the Senate in 2002, said the economy is the biggest issue in this year's race.

"The thing we've noticed that is most prominent in people's minds is jobs," she said.

Squires said she will introduce a job creation plan in the next few weeks, and she said she would work to provide affordable healthcare in the Senate. Many voters are also concerned with President Bush's foreign policy, Squires said.

"People feel that the administration has lost its focus," she said. "The focus should not be on foreign conflict. It should be on protecting the homeland."

Former Public Service Commission candidate Jim Boyd, a Democrat from Duluth, said his Senate campaign is focused on getting Georgians to support the Democratic Party and vote President Bush out of office.

"There's only one issue for the voters in November n ?Do we need four more years of Bush, or do we need a change?" he said. "I really think it's time for a change nationally."

Albany attorney James Finkelstein qualified on Wednesday to seek the Democratic nomination for U.S. Senate. Finkelstein has never held office before and said the biggest factor in his decision to run was the war in Iraq.

Finkelstein said the death of Lt. Col. Bob Zangas, his son's friend and fellow soldier in Iraq, gave him a desire to do more for the troops. Finkelstein said many troops, particularly reservists and national guard soldiers, do not have all the resources they need.

"They literally weren't equipped with the right gear," he said. "I don't want to see a (Senate) election focus on trivial issues when we have people fighting and dying."

Finkelstein said he also supports simplifying the tax system and imposing taxes on companies that outsource labor.

In addition to the crowded Democratic field, two U.S. representatives and a millionaire businessman are battling to get on the Republican ticket for U.S. Senate.

U.S. Rep. Johnny Isakson of Atlanta, who has served three terms in Congress, emerged as the frontrunner early in the race. Isakson said his campaign is focused on supporting the War on Terror and making Bush's tax cuts permanent.

"We can't compromise in a world of terror and terrorists," he said.

Isakson also said the recent tax cuts have led to an economic recovery and making them permanent would help even more.

"The economy is on the way back," he said, noting that there are still some concerns with unemployment. "The biggest inhibitor to a sustained recovery would be letting the tax cuts sunset."

But one of Isakson's Republican opponents, U.S. Rep. Mac Collins of Jackson, is not as upbeat in his assessment of the economy.

After national security, Collins said that Georgia voters' main concerns can be summed up in three words: jobs, jobs jobs.

"The economy is coming back, but it's not as strong as we'd like it to be," he said.

Collins, a six-term congressman, said the loss of manufacturing jobs is an issue that particularly needs to be addressed in the Senate.

"We need to stop the bleeding," he said.

Collins said he wants to stop outsourcing by making it cheaper to produce goods in America by examining taxes and regulations placed on businesses.

Georgia voters are also concerned with national security, particularly along the nation's borders, Collins said.

"Our primary responsibility is the security of the American people," he said.

Former Godfather's Pizza CEO Hermain Cain, from McDonough, has emerged in recent months as another serious challenger for the Republican nomination. Cain said his message of fiscal conservatism is resonating with Georgia voters.

Cain said he advocates overhauling and streamlining Medicare, restructuring social security to include personal savings accounts, and replacing the tax code with a national sales tax.

"The (Medicare) system is broken," he said. "We need to stop using Band-aids and do major surgery."

Cain also said much of his campaign is based on his status as a Washington outsider.

"(My opponents) are politicians, and I'm a problem solver," he said. "They are part of the status quo, and I am going to challenge the status quo."

Scott files to run for reelection

U.S. Rep. David Scott, D-Atlanta, has qualified to defend his seat for the first time since it was created in 2002 by federal redistricting. Scott said that since taking office, he has been an effective and responsive legislator.

Scott said he has been active in seeking more funding for noise abatement for county residents near Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport, securing money for the proposed Atlanta-Lovejoy commuter rail line, and the effort to keep Fort Gillem open through the 2005 round of the military's Base Realignment and Closures.

"I've worked with the cities and (Clayton) County to make sure Fort Gillem and Fort McPherson stay strong and are expanded," he said.

As a freshman senator, Scott received a seat on the Democratic Group on National Security, a role that gives him unique insight into national security and the war in Iraq, which he acknowledges is going through a "very rough period."

"If there was any doubt about a link between Iraq and terrorists before the war, this fighting shows there is a link now," he said.

But Scott said it is important that U.S. forces stay the course.

"If we leave there with the job incomplete, the terrorists will win," he said. "The best way that we can be true to our soldiers, who are putting their lives on the line, is to complete the job and show them that the 700 lives lost have not been in vain."

No one had filed by Wednesday to challenge Scott.

School board incumbents, challengers file

Two incumbents and three challengers filed to run for the Clayton County Board of Education on Tuesday.

Incumbent Barbara Wells, who has been on the school board for eight years, filed Tuesday to defend her seat.

Wells said her experience will be an asset to her reelection campaign and will help her work with the system's new superintendent, Dr. Barbara Pulliam.

"I'm running on my voting record and the things I've did in the past eight years," she said.

But Wells said the controversy surrounding the school board will also be on voters' minds in November.

"It was a tough year, but I think it made me stronger," she said. "I will continue to fight for our kids."

Running against Wells will be Pastor Wendell Rod Johnson and Cobb County teacher Jermaine Dawson.

Johnson, the pastor of New Ambassador's Church in Fayetteville, said he wanted to run for school board because of concern for the system's students.

"I believe that Clayton County students have a bright future," he said. "By becoming a school board member, I can personally assure the success of our students in the future."

Dawson, now a math teacher in Cobb County, said his Gender-Based Approach to Educational Success program is proof that he can improve students' performance. Dawson said the program, which uses different teaching strategies for male and female students, leads to better test results.

"I think I know what the students and parents need in Clayton County," he said. "When I look at the (current) school board, they're making decisions without the children in mind."

Dawson said he would ensure the school board makes sound financial decisions, and he would offer his gender-based program to the system's administrators.

"Good school systems begin with good school boards," he said.

School board member Carol Kellam also filed to run for reelection and will face competition from David Ashe, a retiree with experience in local Parent Teacher Associations.

Ashe, a retired state employee, qualified to run for school board member Carol Kellam's seat. Ashe said he sent two children through Clayton County schools.

"(Running for school board) will give me an opportunity to give back to the community," Ashe said. "I think I have things to offer the school board in terms of leadership and experience."

Eddie White, who was a teacher and administrator in Clayton County schools for 43 years, also filed to run for the school board seat being vacated by Bob Livingston, who decided not to seek reelection.

White said his experience makes him qualified to serve on the school board.

"I'm very, very concerned about our school system," White said.

Cheryl Singletary, who is running for the seat held by School Board Chairwoman Nedra Ware, said she also has experience with local PTAs and the Georgia PTA.

Singletary said she is interested in the welfare of the county's children, and the school system being on probation will be a big issue for voters.

"The reason I located here is because? we had a great sense of pride in the school system," she said. "This probation concerns me."

Ware so far has not filed for reelection.

Chairman candidates qualify

Former Atlanta Police Chief Eldrin Bell and Wade Starr, administrative assistant to the county commission, both filed to run for chairman of the county commissioners Monday morning.

Starr, who has worked with the county commissioners for three years, said his experience makes him the most qualified candidate for chairman.

"The person who is chairman of the county commissioners has to not only deal with policies, but manage the day-to-day operations of county government," he said. "No other candidate has that kind of experience in Clayton County."

Starr said he will be able to address concerns that residents have brought to him, like quality of growth and education.

"I think there are some good people bringing their families into the county," he said. "But there is a real need to create housing in the upper-middle income range."

Starr said he also wants the county to be more aggressive with code enforcement and animal control. He said the county also needs to hire more police officers to keep up with population control.

Bell said his campaign will rely on his leadership experience.

"Clayton County is at the crossroads," he said. "This isn't a time to experiment with leadership. We need someone with his own proven track record and extensive leadership experience."

Bell's platform includes a "Clayton County Action Plan," which includes lower crime rates, safer streets and "smart economic development approaches."

Bell said that if he was elected, he would work to bring together the county's municipal leaders, school administrators, businesses, and county officials to work on a comprehensive plan for the county.

Sheriff's race draws four

Also in line to qualify Monday morning were four candidates for county sheriff.

Investigator Joe Mack Eckler of the Clayton County Police Department said he filed Monday morning even though the county's policy of forcing employees to seek a leave of absence to run for office is still up in the air. The county's policy was challenged by another candidate, detective Victor Hill, and the county is waiting to have the Department of Justice clear the policy as required under the Voting Rights Act.

"Whatever the commissioners decide, I'm going to follow it," he said. "I think it's very important that everybody in the county government work together."

Eckler said his campaign will focus on putting more money toward crime prevention and programs to keep the county's youth out of gangs.

"I've locked up thousands of people in my career, and it hasn't done anything," he said.

Eckler said he would cut overtime pay for jail employees and put the money toward community programs.

"It doesn't take much to make a gigantic difference in the community," he said.

Sheriff Stanley Tuggle said he is counting on his experience from 30 years in the sheriff's department n including eight years as sheriff n for his reelection campaign.

"There's no way anybody knows more about the sheriff's department than I do," he said.

Tuggle said he has guided the department through the county's explosive growth and changing population in the past decade.

"I have made sure the Sheriff's office reflects the community in which we serve," he said. "We do that better than any other county department."

But Hill said the escalating crime rate in Clayton County means that new law enforcement leadership is needed.

"We don't just need a new sheriff, we need a tough sheriff," he said.

Hill said he had a plan to pinpoint high-crime areas in the county and focus law enforcement on those areas. Hill said he also wanted to see "realistic programs" to deter youth from crime.

Hill said he is still waiting to hear from the county or the Justice Department about the department's decision on the county's policy on employees running for office.

"I'm not even worried about it," he said. "I'm going to run my race and run to win."

Hill said the county's enforcement of the policy is an attempt to discourage him from running.

"I will not be intimidated," he said. "This country is based on the ideology that gives every man and woman the right to run for office."

Used car salesman Clifford Hall also qualified to run for sheriff on Monday.

"I want to see what I can do to make this a better county," Hall said. "I just want to work for the people of Clayton County."

Hall said he is still talking to residents about their concerns with the sheriff's department.

Commission races draw new candidates

Local high school counselor Danny Hayes has filed to run for Commissioner Virginia Gray's seat.

Hayes said he jumped in the race because the people of his district need a more effective voice on issues like dense development and the construction landfill near Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport.

"I got involved to be a watchdog for the community," he said.

With all the growth the county has experienced, Hayes said citizens are also worried about overcrowding in schools.

"We don't have enough schools to accommodate the kids we have already," he said.

Hayes said his district, in the Riverdale/College Park area, also needs more recreational facilities for youth.

Ronald Ringer has filed to run for the seat of Commissioner Gerald Matthews, who is not seeking reelection in November.

Race for vacant state House seat heats up

Four candidates have filed this week to qualify to run for the seat of state Rep. Victor Hill, D-Riverdale, who is leaving his seat to run for Clayton County Sheriff.

Republican Emory Wilkerson, a former candidate for state Senate, said he has been involved in the community for years and running for office was the next step.

"I decided that it was time to offer my skills and leadership to the community," he said.

Wilkerson said he is a supporter of strong public schools, and the community needs an effective voice in state government.

"With the continued development in the South side, we need someone who can help keep our communities strong," he said.

Wilkerson will face whichever Democrat emerges from the July 20 primary. So far, three Democrats are vying for the spot.

Jonesboro attorney Johnny Castaneda is also seeking Hill's seat.

"I think it's time for me to do something for the community," Castaneda said.

Northcutt Elementary Principal George Jeburk has also thrown his hat into the battle for Hill's seat.

Jeburk has said that as a state Representative, he would focus on education issues like cuts to the HOPE scholarship and teachers' pay raises.

Riverdale resident John Jones, an airline pilot, has also filed to qualify to run for Hill's seat.

In addition to the newcomers running for the vacant spot, six Clayton County incumbents have filed to defend their seats in the state Senate and House of Representatives.

Sen. Valencia Seay, D-College Park, said voters in November are going to be concerned with how well the state handles the budget during this "economic crunch."

"We need to make sure we work together to make sure the state's needs are still met," she said. "I'm hoping that we can continue with the $1 million we have left (in the state budget for operating costs) for the Atlanta-Lovejoy rail line."

Sen. Terrell Starr, D-Jonesboro, also said he hopes the state budget can keep money for the commuter rail line, despite the state's tight budget.

"We're in critical times and I've been working (in the House) on the budget and education for a long time," he said.

Starr said he thinks voters will also look at the candidates' position on smaller class sizes and instituting caps on non-economic damages in medical malpractice lawsuits.

Starr, who has served in the Senate for 36 years, said his experience will be an asset in his reelection campaign.

Rep. Mike Barnes, D-Hampton, has served in the House for three terms and also said his longevity makes him an effective legislator.

"Probably the most important thing you can look at when you're electing a legislator is experience and seniority," he said. "I'm the best qualified because of my budget experience and I have a vice-chairmanship on (the Appropriations Committee)."

Rep. Ron Dodson, D-Lake City, is also running for his fourth term.

"It takes a couple of years to really get adjusted," Dodson said.

As this year's election gets nearer, Dodson said he thinks voters will be concerned about cuts to funding for health care and education.

"The Medicaid cutbacks in the budget his year have already affected a lot of people," he said. "The House put back some of the Medicaid money and made (the budget) a little better? but I guess that's a battle we're going to be faced with in the next couple of budgets."

With Georgia's economy still struggling and state revenues lagging, Dodson said there could also be discussion in the legislature next year about taxes.

"Sooner or later you're going to have to see income coming from some place," he said. "We would just want it to be as fair as possible."

Rep. Gail Buckner, D-Jonesboro, has been in the House for 14 years, and she said the effect of the tough economy will be a big issue in November.

"I think the citizens are going to want to know how we're going to address education, health care, and transportation," she said.

Buckner said she has achieved a lot since taking office, and she thinks her long tenure makes her a more effective legislator.

"With the high turnover in the legislature, I will continue to move up the ladder of seniority," she said.

No one has qualified yet to challenge the incumbents except Libertarian Ken Parmalee, who is trying to get on the ballot to challenge Buckner.

"(The Libertarian Party) has been looking to reduce the size and scope of state government and give some money back to the taxpayers," Parmalee said.

With Republicans now in control of the governor's office and the Senate, party leaders now have set their sights on winning a majority in the House.

Whether or not the balance of power changes next year, the Legislature will have a sea of fresh faces. Many of the longest-serving lawmakers are retiring. Among them is 85-year-old Sen. Hugh Gillis, D-Soperton, who spent 56 years in the body.

First in line Monday for Democrats was House Speaker Terry Coleman, D-Eastman, who predicted Democrats will retain control of the chamber.

With the news last week that Commissioner Gerald Matthews will not seek reelection, Jonesboro businessman Wole Ralph and Riverdale resident Charles Davis filed Monday to qualify to run for Matthews' seat.

We've got a pretty good county already," Davis said. "I've watched Clayton County grow, and I want to make sure it continues to grow in a positive direction."

Probate Judge Pam Ferguson filed to defend her seat, and Magistrate Court Judge Gloria Reed filed to run for Chief Magistrate, a position that will be open since Judge Michael Baird announced last week that he will not seek reelection.

Solicitor, opponents file

County Solicitor Keith Martin filed to run for reelection, and local attorney Leslie Miller-Terry qualified to challenge Martin.

District Attorney Bob Keller qualified to defend his seat, and local attorney Jewel Scott, who ran for state Senate in 2002, filed to run against Keller.

Jonesboro Attorney Michael King has also qualified to run for District Attorney.

Clerk of Superior Court running again

Linda Miller, Clayton County Clerk of Superior Court, filed on Wednesday to run for her fourth term.

"I believe my experience will be a huge issue in the election," she said.

With all the budget cuts the county has experienced in recent years, Miller said she has cut costs in her office and created new revenue sources.

Miller said that if she wins in November, she plans to retire after her next term.

Party switching continues

In the run up to qualifying, Gov. Sonny Perdue put on a full court press to persuade more than a dozen House Democrats to switch parties.

Republicans picked up another party-switcher Tuesday, further eroding the Democratic majority in the state House of Representatives.

State Rep. Tom McCall of Elberton, formerly a Democrat, qualified to seek re-election as a Republican. The switch had been expected.

McCall is the fifth Democrat to change party allegiances this month, and leaves Democrats with just 103 seats in the 180-member House. Republicans hold 76 seats and there is one independent who usually votes with the Republicans. A majority is 91.

(The Associated Press contributed to this report).

The Associated Press contributed the news of statewide races to this story.