"The grand ideas of Ronald Reagan live…in young Americans like Jason Shepherd…"

Marietta Daily Journal: Cobb House, Senate races heat up

by Jon Gillooly
jgillooly@mdjonline.com
04.24.10 – 11:00 pm

MARIETTA – Qualifying begins Monday for candidates intending to challenge Cobb’s five state senators and 14 state representatives.

Candidates must qualify in person at the state Capitol between 9 a.m. Monday and noon Friday, paying a qualifying fee of $400. Both state representatives and state senators earn a base salary of $17,342 in addition to $173 per day for the 40 day legislative session, said state Rep. Pat Dooley (D-Marietta).

Two of the five state senate seats are hotly contested. One is playing out in west Cobb between state Sen. John Wiles (R-Kennesaw) and business owner Lindsey Tippins, a former chairman of the Cobb Board of Education.

The other is unfolding in east Cobb between Republican state Sen. Judson Hill and Republican Lynda Coker, chief deputy sheriff for the Cobb Sheriff’s Office.

Kennesaw State University’s Dr. Kerwin Swint, a political scientist specializing in elections, said those will be two very interesting primary races to watch.

“Ordinarily the incumbent does have the advantage in races like these, but both Wiles and Hill are facing two very able, experienced and popular challengers. Lynda Coker served several terms in the House and was known as a moderate. But she has strength among Cobb’s public employees and has remained active in the community and in the GOP. John Wiles has a real fight on his hands. Tippins is well liked, well funded, and very savvy,” Swint said.

Tippins, 60, owns Tippins Contracting, an underground-utility business specializing in water and sewer lines, which he started in 1969. He and his wife, Ann, have two children and three grandchildren. Tippins served on the school board from 1997 to 2008.

Wiles, 52, is an attorney who was first elected to the Georgia Senate in 2004, and previously served in the Georgia House from 1995 to 2003. Wiles and his wife, Janet, have five children.

Coker said her approach to serving as state senator would be to bring all the elected officials in the region together for the good of the people.

“I don’t think there’s all that much communication going on. It seems like everybody’s kind of fighting with each other. We need to bring everybody to the table and look at the big picture of how do we prioritize our services, how do we look at what the public requires and needs, and then go from there and let’s all be playing off the same page,” Coker said.

Coker, 63, served three terms in the Georgia House from 1991 to 1996 in a seat now held by state Rep. Sharon Cooper (R-east Cobb). She and her husband, Gene, have two children and three grandchildren.

Hill, 50, an attorney, was first elected to the Georgia Senate in 2004. He and his wife, Shelly, have three children.

Georgia House races

Another fiercely contested race unfolding in the southern part of the county is between state Rep. Don Wix (D-Mableton), and accountant David Wilkerson, a former chairman of the Cobb Democratic Party.

Some politicos predict the increase in South Cobb’s minority population could play a big role in that race.

“Don Wix could be in real trouble as well. That district seems poised to elect a minority and Wilkerson, as former party chair, is a very strong candidate. Wix may simply fall victim to change,” Swint said.

A native of Fort Dix, New Jersey, Wilkerson, 41, is a CPA. He and his wife, Penny, have two children and live in Austell.

Wix, 63, the father of two and grandfather of three, took over Roy Barnes seat in 1998. A Vietnam veteran with a marketing degree from the University of Georgia, he is the owner of a commercial real estate company, Don Wix Realty.

“I’ve been a representative for 12 years. Never seen David in the community, never seen him in any meetings. I don’t know how serious a candidate he is,” Wix said.

Wix said he plans to work harder than ever to defend the seat.

“I don’t take it lightly. I intend to do all I can to keep the seat because Roy Barnes is going to need all the help he can get down here if he’s elected governor,” Wix said.

For his part, Wilkerson said he’s been knocking on doors to find that residents don’t know who Wix is. One of their big concerns, Wilkerson said, is that he is not running against state Rep. Alisha Thomas Morgan (D-Austell).

In the general election, Republican Jason Shepherd, 34, a public relations and technology consultant, intends to challenge state Rep. Terry Johnson (D-Marietta).

Johnson, 60, a broker, and his wife, Nancy, have two sons. He was first elected to the Georgia House in 2000.

Born in Hollywood, Fla., with a bachelor’s degree from the University of Georgia and currently at work on his law degree at Atlanta’s John Marshall Law School, Shepherd is married to Manuela Koenig Shepherd. The couple lives in the Westbrook subdivision.

Shepherd said it’s a misconception to say Johnson’s district is a highly Democratic one, citing how Gov. Sonny Perdue won the district by about 2,000 votes.

“In fact, if you look at the history of the district in the past, it’s favored Republican for open seats, and it’s favored incumbents. Now there’s two differences between this year and the other years. One is there seems to be a very big anti-incumbent feeling out there. Secondly, the district does tend to lean moderate to conservative,” Shepherd said.

It wasn’t that long ago that state Rep. Pat Dooley (D-Marietta) ousted now Marietta Mayor Steve Tumlin for the District 38 seat in the 2008 election. Dooley is facing another Republican this time around, Realtor Sam Teasley, 34.

“For the Pat Dooley race, with the razor thin margins of the winner of that district in the last several elections, you have to give the Republican a good chance,” Swint said. “…She and Tumlin have fought several very close campaigns. And with the prospect of this being a strong Republican year, you have to like their odds of retaking that seat.”

Teasley, who was born in Acworth, and his wife, Michelle, have three children. They live in East Worthington. A graduate of Bryan College, Teasley has never run for elected office before.

Dooley, 62, a Democrat, served in the House in 2003 and 2004, and was ousted by Tumlin, returning to the House in 2009. Dooley is married to John Dooley, and has two children and seven grand children.

Over in east Cobb, Republican state Rep. Matt Dollar, 32, a commercial real estate broker, is being challenged by Democrat RuthE Levy, 57, who runs a bookstore out of her home. A native of Orange County, Calif., Levy is married to David Lombrozo, with five children and three grandchildren. She challenged Hill in 2006 and Dollar in 2008.

Levy recognizes it’s difficult for a Democrat to win in heavily Republican east Cobb.

However, “It’s important to have Democrats running if for no other reason than to remind Republicans that we are here. There needs to be another viewpoint. People need to have another choice. That’s what democracy is all about,” Levy said.

With state Rep. Rob Teilhet (D-Smyrna) running for attorney general, his is the only seat on Cobb’s legislative delegation that is expected to be open. Intending to fill it is Democrat Stacey Evans. A native of Ringgold, Evans holds a law degree from the University of Georgia. She is the former statewide president of the Young Democrats of Georgia and a state committee member of the Democratic Party of Georgia

She and her husband, Andrew, live in Smyrna.

State Sen. Doug Stoner (D-Smyrna), who is unaware of any opposition, says he’s endorsed Evans, as has Teilhet.

“I think she’ll make a good representative for Smyrna,” Stoner said