By Timothy Bradfield
DALTON, Ga. - It was a day of revolving doors in Dalton-based state politics.
On Monday, state Sen. Don Thomas, R-Dalton, said he will retire at the end of the year.
At the same time, state Rep. Roger Williams, R-Dalton, who had announced he would retire at the end of the year, now says he will run for re-election.
Dalton City Councilman Charlie Bethel, who had said he would run for Rep. Williams' seat, changed his mind, too, and now says he'll run for Sen. Thomas' seat.
Sen. Thomas, who will return to his full-time medical practice, said he only recently made the decision to leave the Legislature.
Part of his decision, he said during his announcement at WDNN-TV in Dalton, was that his wife, Emma Jean, was diagnosed with lung cancer two years ago.
"I'm much more needed now at home, in my medical practice, and first of all, in helping take care of my wife in her illness," he said.
Calling Sen. Thomas "a real person of integrity," House Speaker David Ralston, R-Blue Ridge, said Monday he was "more than a little sad" at the senator's announcement.
Sen. Thomas was elected to the Georgia Senate in 1996 and has served on several committees, including as chairman of the Health and Human Services Committee. The Georgia Republican was instrumental in the state's public smoking ban five years ago.
Rep. Williams said his change of mind was primarily because Rep. Ralston wanted his experience back at the Capitol for the next session, beginning in January.
"He had that much confidence in me, and I certainly hated to turn him down," Rep. Williams said.
During his announcement Monday, Sen. Thomas endorsed Mr. Bethel, who said he switched gears at the urging of Sen. Thomas.
Mr. Bethel said he hasn't calculated whether he'll have a better chance at getting elected to the Senate post than to Rep. Williams' seat.
"My goal was to be useful to my community," he said.
Rep. Williams' decision to stay in the Legislature came as welcome news to Rep. Ralston, who said it's vital for the House to have someone with Rep. Williams' "common sense" ability.
Timothy Bradfield lives in Walker County and can be reached at email@example.com.