published Thursday, August 2nd, 2012

North Georgia incumbents in key races squeeze by

Walker County Commissioner Bebe Heiskell
Walker County Commissioner Bebe Heiskell
Kelly Wegel

Forty-three voters decided the outcome of North Georgia's Lookout Mountain district attorney's race.

Across four counties with nearly 22,000 votes, the race between longtime Lookout Mountain District Attorney Herbert "Buzz" Franklin and public defender Doug Woodruff came down to the last precinct's results at the end of Tuesday night.

Franklin took the win with 10,973 votes. He got the most votes in his home county of Dade and in Chattooga County. With 10,930 votes, Woodruff won more votes in the higher-populated areas of Walker and Catoosa counties.

Woodruff said he won't decide whether to petition the state for a recount until the final tally, including provisional votes, is certified by the Georgia secretary of state. Because it's a state position, the order would have to come from the state rather than local government, election officials said.

Woodruff said challenging an incumbent was difficult but he knew the race would be close based on all of his local support.

"It doesn't get much closer than that," Woodruff said Wednesday. "We're obviously looking at everything. I'm waiting on the certification."

Franklin, who has completed four terms, didn't return calls seeking comment.

Across North Georgia, several races saw incumbents nearly upset. These close calls present a new challenge to some local election officials who haven't had to face a recount in years.

In Walker County, Paul Shaw ran for sole commissioner against longtime Commissioner Bebe Heiskell and said he plans to file a petition to ask for a recount. His reason is to "set the record straight." Most of Tuesday night, Heiskell trailed Shaw until the final votes were tallied. She won by 211 votes.

Walker County election officials said a candidate may request a recount when there is a 1 percent or less difference with the votes. In Shaw's case, the spread is nearly 2 percent.

Danielle Montgomery, with the Walker County Board of Elections, said this is the first time the issue has come up. She said the election board will meet and decide whether there should be a recount.

Within the 11 precincts, Shaw led in LaFayette and Rock Spring, Heiskell in Chickamauga and Rossville. But Shaw considers it a small victory that he was able to secure nearly 40 percent of the votes in Chickamauga, where Heiskell's strongest supporters live.

Heiskell said she doesn't take the close call as a message that voters are dissatisfied with her leadership.

"I went through a severe character assassination for the first time in my life," she said. "[But] I've probably done more than any commissioner in office."

Most North Georgia election offices say they have only a handful of provisional ballets and voters have until the end of the week to present documentation so their vote will be counted. The secretary of state's office will certify the ballots by early next week, officials said.

about Joy Lukachick...

Joy Lukachick is the city government reporter for the Chattanooga Times Free Press Since 2009, she's covered breaking news, high-profile trials, stories of lost lives and of regained hope and done investigative work. Raised near the Bayou, Joy’s hometown is along the outskirts of Baton Rouge, La. She has a bachelor’s degree in mass communication from Louisiana State University. While at LSU, Joy was a staff writer for the Daily Reveille. When Joy isn't chasing ...

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