Incumbents don’t feel voter discontent

by Marcus E. Howard

07.20.10 – 11:00 pm

MARIETTA – Cobb’s delegation in the Georgia House of Representatives may look nearly the same as this year.

As of late Tuesday, it appeared that the anti-incumbency voices being heard throughout the nation did not reach Cobb’s legislative delegation.

All but one House incumbent defeated their challengers in each of the six contested primary General Assembly races, according to unofficial election results reported by the Georgia Secretary of State office. Democratic incumbent Don Wix in southwest Cobb lost to David Wilkerson, former Cobb Democratic Party chairman.

The southwest Cobb district that includes unincorporated Mableton and the city of Powder Springs has change in demographics over the years. In 2004, the district was 61 percent white. But now, according to data from the Secretary of State’s office, the district is more diverse, about 48 percent white and 45 percent black.

Nonetheless, Wilkerson said hard work on the campaign trail and listening to voters; and not race was the deciding factor in his win. Education, jobs and foreclosures are what concerned voters in the district, he said.

“We knocked on thousands of doors,” Wilkerson said.

“We had a consistent message whether we were talking to white, Latino, African-American voters. All our mail pieces were the same. We sent the same exact information to everybody.”

Wix did not return a call requesting comment by press time.

Republican incumbent Sharon Cooper, who defeated her challenger Calvin Rhodes, said she believed the key for incumbents winning their primaries was getting their message out to voters.

“I think that the people look at the candidates – open and honest – and they made their decision,” she said. “I trust the citizens. They’re a lot smarter than some people give them credit for.”

Republican incumbent Judy Manning won 4,302 votes or 70.1 percent compared to Buddy Simpson’s 1,832 votes or 29.9 percent, with 22 of 22 precincts reporting, according to the state Secretary of State’s website.

Manning, 67, survived the primary challenge by stressing her conservative values. Simpson, 43, a landscaper, called those values into question when he criticized her “progressive” voting record in the House. Manning has represented the Marietta-north Cobb district since 1997.

She did not return a call asking for comment by press time.

Simpson said he learned a lot from his first political race. If he had to do it over, he said he would have focused more on raising money and reached out to more voters.

Manning will face Democrat Kevin Hagler of Kennesaw, a 23-year-old student, in the Nov. 2 general election.

Georgia House District 33, southwest Cobb

David Wilkerson

Democratic incumbent Don Wix

David Wilkerson received 1,588 votes, or 53 percent with 14 of 14 precincts reporting. Wix earned 1,410 votes or 47 percent

Wilkerson, 41, former chairman of the Cobb Democratic Party, jumped into the race months after his term as party leader ended in 2008. He did not hold back his disapproval of the job Wix has done at the state Capitol since he was elected in 1998. The southwest Cobb district seat was formerly held by former Gov. Roy Barnes.

However, Wix, 64, raised more money and during the last three-months of the campaign outspent Wilkerson by $2,475.

Georgia House District 37, central Cobb

Democratic incumbent Terry Johnson received 1,258 votes, or 73.4 percent with 11 of 11precincts reporting. Mark Koch received 457 or 26.6 percent.

Johnson, 60, a Gold Dome veteran, had no problem defeating his politically inexperienced challenger, Mark Koch, 53, a Cobb School District bus driver. Johnson raised considerably more campaign money than his opponent. He last reported $22,700 on hand in disclosure reports compared to Koch’s $50.64.

Republican Jason Shepherd, 34, a public relations and technology consultant, intends to challenge Johnson in November.

“I can’t thank the supporters enough for their encouragement and enthusiasm about the race,” said Johnson.

Georgia House District 39, south Cobb

Democratic incumbent Alisha Thomas Morgan received 2,266 votes, or 73.9 percent with 13 of 13 precincts reporting. Her challenger, Betty Gray, received 800 votes or 26.1 percent.

It is Gray’s second defeat to the wife-and-husband duo Alisha and David Morgan. Gray served 16 years on the Cobb Board of Education until losing re-election in 2008 to David Morgan. Alisha Morgan, Cobb’s first black representative, has held the south Cobb district seat since 2003.

“I have great respect for Betty and the legacy that she leaves behind in Cobb County. I appreciate the fact that she ran a clean race and I respect her work,” said Morgan, 31, who celebrated from home. “We ran a hard fought campaign and brought a lot of new people into the process.”

Gray, 77, said she is unsure if it was her last election. But she added that she hopes Alisha Morgan will be as vocal for improving public education funding as she has been for school vouchers.

“Where ever I am, make no mistake about that it that I will be focused on education,” said Gray, who viewed election results from home.

Georgia House District 41, east Cobb

Republican incumbent Sharon Cooper received 2,736 votes, or 61.7 percent with 12 of 12 precincts reporting. Calvin Rhodes received 1,701 votes or 38.3 percent.

Cooper, 67, is a nurse who has represented east Cobb since 1996. Rhodes, 46, is founder of Paladin Investments, a real estate and business consulting firm. He challenged Cooper’s conservative credentials during the Republican primary, touting his endorsements from Georgia Right to Life and a tea party group.

Cooper will face Democrat Diane Lore, president of Deep South Digital, on Nov. 2.

Cooper said the voters chose her because they knew where she stood on the issues.

“They knew my record of accomplishment, that I’m very straight forward, and tell them like it is,” said Cooper. “I think this victory…just reaffirms the fact that people in my district know how hard I’ve worked for them.”

Georgia House District 44, southeast Cobb

Democratic incumbent Sheila Jones received 2,303 votes, or 82.3 percent with 17 of 17 precincts reporting. Her opponent, Steven Lee, garnered 494 votes or 17.7 percent.

Jones, 54, was challenged by Atlanta resident Steven Lee, 46, a nonprofit executive, for the third time in the past three Democratic primary elections, since she was first elected in 2004. The southeast Cobb House district straddles Cobb and Fulton counties.

She said her work in the legislature proved to be winning factor in the race.

“We got our message out to remind them of what we’ve done,” said Jones after leaving her campaign office Tuesday night to view the returns.