By Joel Hall
Ron Dodson claimed victory in Tuesday's special election to fill the unexpired term of former State House District 75 Representative Celeste Johnson. Dodson, who held the position for four consecutive terms prior to Johnson, defeated political newcomer, Henry "Shawn" James, with 60 percent of the vote.
According to the Clayton County Board of Elections and Registration's web site, voter turnout in the District 75 race was particularly low. Out of 21,824 registered voters in the 11 precincts in the district, only 1,034 people voted in the election. Of the total, 620 people voted for Dodson, 412 voted for James, and two people voted for write-in candidates.
"I feel good about it [winning the election], but I'm really disappointed in the turnout, seeing how many people we have registered in the district," said Dodson, Tuesday night. However, "it wasn't really advertised [by the county]. The only things [publicity] we had going on were the things we had going on ourselves. I would have loved to see more people there to vote," he said. "I'm a little disappointed in it, but a victory is a victory."
Dodson, a former Lake City councilman, as well as a former Clayton County commissioner, served as District 75's representative between 1998 and 2006. While in the position, he served on the House's Health and Human Services, Insurance, and Energy, Utilities, and Telecommunications committees, he said.
While Tuesday's special election was non-partisan, both candidates chose to claim a party, Dodson claiming the Democratic party and James claiming the Republican party. Some voters on Tuesday voted along party lines, as opposed to the platforms of the candidates. "I don't like my president," said Joan Sill, a Morrow voter. "If there had been a lot more [candidates] on there, I would have voted for anybody who considered themselves a Republican. I believe we need conservatives badly."
"I don't know their platforms," said Precious Goodson, a Riverdale resident and local elementary school teacher. "We need to vote. I just voted for my regular party."
James, who was able to garner 40 percent of the vote in a first-time run for political office, believes the election demonstrates Republicans have a chance in Clayton County politics. "I definitely think we did a really good job in terms of putting a quick and fast campaign together," James said. "I was definitely trying to brand myself more on the Republican side. I think we still had a decent turnout. I wasn't expecting 412 [votes] myself. Some people think that this county is purely Democratic, but this shows that there is an open door for change."
Dodson, who serves as chairman of the board of directors for Southern Regional Medical Center, said he would likely begin work at the Capitol in January, at the start of the General Assembly's first regular session of the year. "I would like to serve where I can be most useful," he said, and noted that he would seek reinstatement to the House committees he held while previously serving in the post.
"We'll have a learning curve to go through," he said. However, "I'm familiar with most of the folks down there. The utmost things on peoples' minds is health care, unemployment [and] crime. Those are things that I think we should be working on."
James, a Riverdale resident, said he plans to get more involved with county and city politics, in preparation for running for the office again in 2010. "I would like to continue to speak to certain issues, like transportation and crime," he said. "It definitely means getting more involved with the county commission and the City of Riverdale. We'll definitely continue to move forward and campaign for 2010."