By Matthew S.L. Cate
Without a single ballot cast in the 2006 elections, Georgia already has nearly two-thirds of its General Assembly seats practically decided.
Friday marked the last day to qualify for all but a few legislative districts, and 143 of the 236 state House and Senate seats up for grabs this year have only one candidate qualified, usually the incumbent.
The shoo-ins include several Northwest Georgia lawmakers, including GOP Reps. Jay Neal, of LaFayette; Roger Williams, of Dalton; John Meadows, of Calhoun; and Dalton Republican Sen. Don Thomas.
Rep. Barbara Massey Reece, D-Menlo, also is poised for an uncontested return to the Gold Dome in Atlanta.
A lack of opposition means automatic retention also for Congressmen Lynn Westmoreland, a Republican, and Democrat John Lewis.
Independent candidates still can get on the ballot later this year, but of all 236 incumbent state lawmakers, only one wasn’t a member of either major political party, and he isn’t seeking re-election.
Dr. Charles Bullock, a University of Georgia political science professor, said the large number of unopposed races is unusual.
“It’s somewhat surprising they’re not getting more competition,” he said, adding that a potential consequence is “the risk they become unresponsive.”
A federal court order issued Friday extended the qualifying period until May 5 for three Senate and 13 House races, according to the Secretary of State’s office. The extension was related to a GOP-led redistricting effort in Northeast Georgia and whether that plan can go forward for this year’s elections.
Ten of the 13 races with extended qualifying deadlines were uncontested as of Friday afternoon.
Though most Northwest Georgia incumbent legislators are likely safe bets to retain their seats, there are five contested officeholders, two of whom will see GOP primary opposition, in the region.
Rep. Ron Forster, a three-term GOP incumbent, faces a Republican challenge by ex-Catoosa County Commission Chairman L.C. Cripps. The winner of that race, to be determined July 18, will fight Democratic Ringgold businesswoman Jeannie Babb Taylor in the Nov. 7 general election for the chance to represent the state House’s 3rd District.
For the 12th House District, Jasper lawyer Bill Pickett will challenge two-term incumbent Rep. Tom Graves, R-Ranger, in the GOP primary.
In one of the other contested races, the House 2nd District will see a re-match of the 2004 race. Rep. Martin Scott, R-Rossville, will square off against Rossville Democrat Sadie Morgan, who lost in 2004 with about 30 percent of the vote.
Two other Walker County residents will vie for the Senate’s 53rd District seat. Three-term incumbent GOP Sen. Jeff Mullis, of Chickamauga, is challenged by LaFayette resident and sheriff’s deputy Bruce Coker, a Democrat.
Walker County Democratic Party Chairman Ed Helton said Democrats would’ve opposed Rep. Neal, but the only interested candidates were just outside the district lines. But he said Democrats are likely to make a strong showing in the races they’ve fielded in the GOP-stronghold of Northwest Georgia.
“I think anything’s wide open,” he said. “I think the Democrats have an excellent chance all across the state.”
Dr. Bullock said he doubts Republicans will lose their majorities in the House and Senate, and it’s unlikely there’ll be much turnover in Northwest Georgia.
“I don’t think that’s going to happen,” he said. “But it’s certainly a positive thing for (Democrats) to get someone to come forward.”
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Contested area legislative races
* 2nd District: Rep. Martin Scott (R); Sadie Morgan (D)
* 3rd District: Rep. Ron Forster (R), L.C. Cripps (R); Jeannie Babb Taylor (D)
* 12th District: Rep. Tom Graves (R), Bill Pickett (R)
* 52nd District Sen. Preston Smith (R); Jerry Wood (D)
* 53rd District: Sen. Jeff Mullis (R); Bruce Coker (D)