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Two will vie for vacant House seat

By Joel Hall

jhall@news-daily.com

In the wake of former state Rep. Celeste Johnson's resignation from the House, two candidates will vie to complete her unexpired term. Ron Dodson, who previously served four terms in the House District 75 seat, will seek to reclaim the office against political newcomer, Henry Shawn James.

Dodson and James were the only candidates to qualify to run in the Nov. 3 election for the post. The qualifying session ended on Thursday at 12 p.m., according to the Georgia Secretary of State's office.

Dodson, a general contractor from Lake City, will run as a Democrat. James, a real estate investor from College Park, will run as a Republican.

James, 37, originally from Chicago, Ill., said he has lived in Clayton County for seven years. An Army veteran who served in Operation Dessert Storm, James said he helped organize several local T.E.A. (Taxed Enough Already) Parties.

James, who is black, said he would like to be a voice for minorities within the GOP. He said this race will be his first time running for any political office.

"I am African American," he said. "In Clayton County, most people expect you to be a Democrat. I definitely think it is an up-hill battle. I like to have the option of representing both sides."

James said he believes Johnson, whose resignation was effective Aug. 31, "wasn't seen very much in the county." He said he wants "to be more involved with the people." He said that if elected, he would focus on transportation issues, crime and economic development.

"I would like to make our district more attractive to attract better jobs here," he said. "By working with that, we are also working on the crime issues. By lessening the crime, that will make more people want to stay and want to invest in our community."

James said he is involved with Conscious Movement Entertainment, an Atlanta-based nonprofit organization focused on youth development and work within the homeless- and disabled-veterans communities. He said he is also a member of the Atlanta-based nonprofit Veterans' Support Services Organization, Inc., and the Plymouth Rock Masonic Lodge No. 86 in Atlanta.

Dodson, 65, a Clayton County resident for more than 40 years, served eight years in the House District 75 seat. A veteran of the Army, he was in the House of Representatives from 1998 to 2006, choosing not to run for re-election in 2006.

Dodson, who currently serves as chairman of the Southern Regional Medical Center Board of Directors, said he chose not to run for re-election in 2006 so he could dedicate more time to his family and his business, Ron Dodson Builders, in Lake City. He said he was inspired to run because he believes an experienced person is needed to serve in the seat.

"Because this is only half of a term, I feel like it is important for somebody with experience to go back down there," Dodson said. "It really takes about three years to understand the inner workings of the General Assembly. I feel like going in there with some experience, I can hit the ground running."

Dodson has been a face in Clayton County politics since the early 1990s, when he was elected to two terms as a Lake City councilman, prematurely ending his second term on the council to run for Clayton County commissioner, he said. Dodson served one term on the Clayton County Board of Commissioners prior to being elected to the state House, he said.

According to Dodson, he has been a member of the Southern Regional Medical Center Board of Directors for 14 years and has served as its chairman for the past three years. For the past six years, he has served on the board of the Spivey Station Surgery Center (formerly the Surgery Center at Mt. Zion), and continues to serve on the Arts Clayton Board of Directors, having done so "since its inception" more than 20 years ago, he said.

A self-described "health-care advocate," Dodson worked in the House on a major tort reform bill that passed during his last year in the Legislature, he said. For eight years, he served as a member of the House Insurance Committee. He served as vice chairman of the committee for four years, he said.

"I believe we were able to get a $350,000 cap on malpractice lawsuits," Dodson said. "Before, there was no cap at all. Juries don't always understand that doctors don't have pockets that won't empty. If their liability insurance isn't so high, they don't have to pass that [cost] on to the patients."

Dodson said that while he will continue to advocate for hospitals, he wants to "work with our delegation in providing good services to the county.

"There are opportunities to help the community and I've always been a person to do that," Dodson said.