Former Clayton County sheriff Victor Hill
JONESBORO The Clayton County Democratic Party is asking voters to re-elect Victor Hill as sheriff on Nov. 6 while simultaneously accusing his write-in opponent of betraying the party.
Democratic Party Chairman Albert Barker called Chief Deputy Garland Watkins’ write-in candidacy against Hill — who is awaiting trial on a 37-count felony indictment — an attempt to “split” the Democratic vote. The chairman accused Watkins of being backed by “another political party,” but did not outright accuse county Republicans were backing the write-in candidate’s campaign.
“This is unacceptable,” said Barker, in a written statement. “I am disappointed because I still believe in the process. The process, whether we like it or not, chose a candidate to support us in every race for the general election. Now, we have someone who ran as a Democrat in the past jump to another party in attempt to undermine what Democrats have already voted for.”
Barker’s statement is essentially an endorsement of a candidate who may end up in a jail — instead of running one — by attaching Hill’s name to efforts to get President Barack Obama re-elected. Voters will decide Nov. 6 whether to keep Obama in the White House for another four years, or to go with his Republican challenger, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney.
“I want to be clear about our support,” said Barker. “The Democrat Party of Clayton County will support all Democratic candidates in the General Election. That means, we will support our Democratic candidate for sheriff, Victor Hill, and our Democratic Party presidential candidate, President Barack Obama.”
But, Watkins, who once sat on the county Democratic Party’s board of directors, repeatedly stressed Monday his write-in candidacy does not mean he has left the Democratic Party. He called Barker’s comments “incredulous” and said the party chairman has never contacted him to find out why he was running as a write-in candidate.
“I’m a Democrat, I’ve always been a Democrat and I’ll die a Democrat,” said Watkins. “This is the people’s decision to make on their own. It’s not the Democratic Party’s decision to make for them.”
Instead, Watkins — who was one of several deputies Hill fired on the first day of his previous four-year term as sheriff — said he ran because several county residents asked him to run after Hill defeated Sheriff Kem Kimbrough in the Aug. 21 Democratic Primary Run-off election. As chief deputy, Watkins — who previously ran unsuccessfully for sheriff in 2008 — was essentially Kimbrough’s second-in-command.
Watkins said he felt he could not “sit idly by” on the sidelines while Hill gets back into office with a small turnout. Hill was a controversial and polarizing figure in his first term as sheriff from 2005 until 2008, and several of the felony counts he is facing stem from actions he took during that tenure.
The county also had to pay millions of dollars in court-ordered judgments to the deputies Hill fired on his first day in office.
Hill won the run-off by getting 12,931 votes, but there were 150,733 voters registered for that election. There is no Republican candidate for the office, so Watkins’ run-off challenge is the last hurdle the ex-sheriff must clear to get back into office.
“It would be shameless as a Democrat to sit idly by, and not give voters another option,” said Watkins.