19 months after college, Dade County man runs for Georgia State House

Colton Moore, 24, qualified to run for Georgia House District 1 on Friday. He said he was born and raised in Dade County and graduated from the University of Georgia in 2016.
Colton Moore, 24, qualified to run for Georgia House District 1 on Friday. He said he was born and raised in Dade County and graduated from the University of Georgia in 2016.

Contested North Georgia races, May 22 primary

State Races› Senate District 54: Chuck Payne* vs. Scott Tidwell› House District 1: Colton Moore vs. John Deffenbaugh*Catoosa County› Commissioner District 2: Chuck Harris vs. Bobby Winters*› Commissioner District 4: Charlie Stephens vs. Ray Johnson*› Board of Education District 4: Brad Haven vs. David Moeller*Dade County› Commissioner District 1: Jane Dixon vs. Lamar Lowery› Commissioner District 2: Michael Scott vs. Phillip Hartline vs. Scottie Pittman* vs. Warren Johnson› Board of Education, District 1: Cindy Shaw* vs. Daniel Case› Board of Education, District 2: Jennifer Hartline* vs. Larry WilliamsMurray County› Board of Education, District 6: Celeste Bargeron vs. Heath Jones*Gordon County› County Board of Education, Post 5: Kacee Smith vs. Nancy “Nan” Barnette*› County Board of Education, Post 7: Eddie Hall vs Larry Massey Jr.*Whitfield County› County Commissioner, District 1: Barry Robbins* vs. Mike Cowan*The incumbent

Colton Moore sat in the balcony of the Georgia House of Representatives on Friday morning. Not much was going on, besides some lawmakers recognizing visitors to the state capitol. Still, he felt excited. He looked at the floor of the chamber and envisioned himself, standing there in 10 months.

Moore had just qualified to run against State Rep. John Deffenbaugh, R-Lookout Mountain, in the Republican Primary for the House District 1 seat. Almost immediately, someone back home noticed his name on the secretary of state's website, as a new candidate. His phone rang.

Among the callers? Some of his old Dade County High School teachers. It was hard to believe Moore was a political candidate. It seemed like just yesterday he was graduating.

To be more precise, it was six years ago that he was graduating. Moore is only 24. But he believes he can unseat Deffenbaugh and make a quick impact in the legislature.

"The pace that Mr. Deffenbaugh operates in at the state capitol is just too slow," Moore said. "To be a loud voice in Dade and Walker county, we need someone who can take a fast pace and fight in the legislature."

He said Deffenbaugh's record - or rather, his lack of a record - shows that voters should usher in a change. Since taking office in 2013, Deffenbaugh has been the lead sponsor of six bills. Of those, three were local acts for the city and county governments he represents, which just about always pass in the legislature without questions from fellow lawmakers.

Of the other three bills, the House did not vote on two of them. The third passed the House this year, 150-1. It is a bill to add a 16th member to the Georgia Board of Public Safety.

Asked about Moore's challenge, about the need for a representative who moves faster and talks louder and fights, Deffenbaugh said Friday, "We'll see. I don't know. If he can do it faster, he ought to be the one doing it."

He doesn't know Moore. But when he learned of his new challenger, Deffenbaugh said he emailed him, inviting Moore to shadow him at the Capitol for a day later this month. If Moore beats him in the election in May, Deffenbaugh figures, the new guy will be more prepared to take office. And if Deffenbaugh wins? At least they get to spend some time together.

"We're going to be friends," Deffenbaugh said. "There's no reason why we shouldn't."

He added: "If you have never tried anything before, you're not sure what it takes to do something. But I don't know. He may be a firecracker. Maybe he'll light the whole session on fire. I don't care about that. If he can, he ought to be the one doing it."

Moore was born in Dade County and as a child lived in the Edgewood Townhouses in Trenton, which he said were income-based apartments at the time. He idolized Teddy Roosevelt, seeing him as a figure who acted quickly and boldly. In August 2016, he graduated from the University of Georgia, where he studied international affairs and political science.

He now works as an auctioneer in the Philippines, where he hawks cranes and bulldozers and other heavy equipment. ("I've got a lot to say and a little bit of time to say it," he told the Times Free Press.)

Asked what he wants to do in office, Moore says lawmakers should allow pharmacists to carry medical marijuana, giving people with qualifying conditions a source. Right now, he believes the state's policies don't make sense on this issue. Certain people can get the drug, but they have no good way to obtain it legally.

He also believes transportation should improve in the northwest corner of the state, though his ideas on the subject are not quite fleshed out yet.

Moore does not think his age will disqualify him with voters, even the older ones who are the most reliable at the polls.

"I see older folks like me: Very passionate about their community," he said. "And they want to get things done. They're some of the most involved people in our community. I think I would be a better candidate for them than Mr. Deffenbaugh."

Catoosa Commission races contested

Two incumbents on the Catoosa County Commission will face challengers this year. In District 2, Chuck Harris is challenging Bobby Winters. Harris, 62, owns a company that provides power wheelchairs to people with illnesses such as ALS or multiple sclerosis.

He said he has lived near the westside community his whole life and graduated from Lakeview-Fort Oglethorpe High School. He believes the county needs to improve infrastructure. He is interested in introducing a referendum to create a Transportation Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax. If approved by voters, it would add a 1 percent sales tax, with the revenue designated for road paving and other transportation projects.

"We're gonna have to do something," he said. "It's either going to come on the backs of homeowners, or it's going to have to come some other place."

Winters, who has been in office since 2002, did not return a call seeking comment Friday.

In District 4, Charlie Stephens will challenge Ray Johnson. Stephens is a former co-manager of some American Consumers stores in North Georgia, as well as a former maintenance supervisor at a Shaw Industries plant in Dalton. He owns a couple of garbage businesses: Stephens Garbage Service and Heroes Disposal.

He said he's running because the commissioners increase taxes too much. Since 2013, the commissioners have boosted property taxes twice: 4.8 percent in 2014, and 10.6 percent in 2016. Last August, the commissioners decreased property taxes by 4.7 percent.

"My taxes went up," he said. "So what does that tell you? I'm not a politician. I'm not a Trump by no means, you know? I'm not going to bash Ray Johnson or nothing."

Asked what he thought about his challenge, Johnson said, "I have no idea. I'd like to be re-elected or whatever, go from there. I have no problem with it, as far as I know."

Johnson has been in office since 2015.

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