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Candidates vie for votes in District 110

By Michael Davis

mdavis@myjpa.com

In the race for the State House seat being vacated by Republican John Lunsford, the four candidates looking to take his place all come from the Henry County part of the three-county district.

Republicans Tom R. Nicholson, Lee M. Spahos and Andrew "Andy" J. Welch, III, will face off in the July 20 primary for House District 110, which includes parts of Butts, Henry and Newton counties. Nicholson and Spahos hail from McDonough, while Welch is a Locust Grove resident. The winner will face Democratic candidate, Rudy Cox, in November. Cox is listed with a McDonough address, in information posted online by the secretary of state.

Nicholson, 63, is the semi-retired owner of a warehousing and trucking company based in East Point. He said he ran for the same seat in the House a decade ago. "I have had my eye on it for several years," he said.

Nicholson said he stands for lowering taxes to spur the economy, and getting more "money back into the hands of the consumer." He also cites his age in claiming that he's not looking to become a career politician.

His GOP opponents are years younger, and taking their first shots at public office. Spahos, who until recently worked in community banking, is 35. Welch, a partner in the lawfirm Smith, Welch & Brittain, is 38.

Nicholson and his wife have three grown children. He said the family moved to Henry in 1975, about two years after he started his business.

He said he would like to see a citizen's review panel created to study the state budget, and that he would go to the Capitol with an eye toward cutting government waste. He said he believes he's the right man for the post in the House because of his maturity, and experience in business.

"I would be in favor of six-year term limits," he said. "I don't think we need career politicians running our government."

Spahos said he graduated from Griffin High School and that he's lived in Henry for 10 years. He said he's always watched the political process from the outside, and that he decided to enter the race after Lunsford chose not to run for re-election.

Lunsford had announced his candidacy for a State Senate seat, but withdrew his name on the last day of qualifying, according to published reports.

Spahos said he works for a payroll and merchant-payment services company. He said he has an eight-year background in banking, but he gave it up last year, he said, as the community banking industry has struggled.

He is running on a platform of lowering taxes and shrinking government. "I will never vote for a tax increase," he said. "I believe that not only do we need meaningful tax reform, but we need to reduce taxes."

He said he supports public school funding, however, which has taken a hit as state revenues have dropped. "My preference would be that we stop cutting it from education, and start cutting it from social welfare programs," he said.

Spahos said he has three children in public schools.

While he may be a first-time candidate himself, his brother, Charles Spahos, has served as Henry County's solicitor general for several years.

Welch is also a first-time candidate, but he's moved in political circles for several years as an attorney with a firm that represents a number of local government entities. He said he's also been tapped by GOP politicos for positions involving transportation planning and public health.

He defends a vote in the 2008 Democratic presidential preference primary as a vote against Hillary Clinton.

"I'm the only candidate that has been appointed by Republicans to three positions," he said.

Welch has been criticized by opponents over he and his firm's representation of local governments and government agencies, but points out that "our representation is of the people whom those governments represent."

He said working with local governments gives him an appreciation for the effect of unfunded mandates from the state and federal levels, and that his background as an attorney will be useful in crafting effective legislation. "Who better to have protecting the local taxpayer ... than someone who fully understands the implications of unfunded mandates," he said.

Welch, in political appearances in Butts County recently, has noted his family's roots in the Cork area and has also promoted a plan to do away with the income tax and replace it with a retail sales tax, a plan known as the Fair Tax.

Cox, the lone Democrat in the race, is listed as 58 years old in information posted online by the secretary of state. His occupation is listed as educator. He could not be reached for comment for this article and a photo of him could not be obtained.