By Matthew S.L. Cate Staff Writer
LaFAYETTE, Ga. Citing a need for more responsive representation, a Walker County sheriffs deputy plans to seek the Democratic nomination and oppose incumbent GOP state Sen. Jeff Mullis in his re-election bid.
Bruce Coker, a 46-year-old LaFayette resident, said Wednesday the people of the 53rd Senate District arent any better off today for having continually elected Sen. Mullis since 2000.
I dont know that we didnt take a step backwards, he said.
A political novice facing a well-funded, high-ranking Republican in what has become a GOP-friendly district, Mr. Coker said he knows his campaign has long odds.
But he said Sen. Mullis has grown out of touch with the district and appears more beholden to lobbyists and interests outside Northwest Georgia.
If he goes uncontested, people dont get to see the truth, Mr. Coker said.
Sen. Mullis, of Chickamauga, is chairman of the Senate Economic Development and Tourism Committee and heads a budget-writing panel. He also serves as the Senate Republican Caucus vice chairman and had more than $93,000 in campaign cash as of April 1.
Im looking forward to opposition, said Sen. Mullis, who has not faced a challenge in his last two election cycles. Were proud of the progress of Georgia and Northwest Georgia. There have been bumps in the road, and were overcoming them.
The qualifying period to run for elected office begins Monday and ends at noon Friday.
Walker County Democratic Party Chairman Ed Helton said Mr. Coker would work hard to focus on the real needs of Northwest Georgia.
We feel like Sen. Mullis has probably lost touch with whats going on, Mr. Helton said. We feel like were going to get a senator back thats interested in us.
Ticking off a list of business closings, Mr. Coker said he wants to work to bring back manufacturing jobs the region has lost.
He said he wants to offer more financial help to law enforcement agencies that have equipment 15 years behind the times.
But much of his campaign, it seems, will focus on Sen. Mullis job as a Walker County employee charged with fostering economic development and grant opportunities. He said thats one sign Sen. Mullis is working more for himself than for the 53rd District, which also includes Chattooga and Dade counties and part of Catoosa County.
We see Sen. Mullis on the payroll doing a job he should be doing (anyway) as a state senator, the Democratic challenger said.
Sen. Mullis said his employment with Walker County isnt an issue, and noted, Last I looked he was a county employee, as well.
Mr. Coker pointed also to lobbyist gift disclosures that showed Sen. Mullis among the leaders in lobbyist-provided meals and other freebies as evidence hes no longer representing the people.
But when asked if he would promise never to accept such items himself, he said he wouldnt rule them out. Echoing what Sen. Mullis and other legislators routinely say, he instead just promised he would never trade a vote for a gift.
Im going to stand up for the people in this area, he said.
E-mail Matthew S.L. Cate at firstname.lastname@example.org