Former Catoosa County Commissioner Dewayne Hill has a clear path to the Georgia State Capitol.
State Rep. Tom Weldon, R-Ringgold, announced Thursday he will withdraw from the race for his District 3 seat in the May 24 primary election. The announcement came six days after the deadline to qualify for the election, leaving Hill with no competition as the challenger to Weldon's post.
Weldon filled out the necessary paperwork to run for re-election on March 7. He said he had considered leaving politics for several months, though he did not make a decision until days after he qualified for the race. He said his work in Atlanta took away from time at his Ringgold law practice and with his family.
"I'm going to let Dewayne Hill have it," Weldon said. "I'm withdrawing from the race. I expect to do that in the next couple of weeks."
Hill qualified to run against Weldon on March 11 — the last day to register for the election.
On Thursday morning, as rumors about Weldon's decision to withdraw swirled in Catoosa County political circles, Hill told the Times Free Press he did not know if his opponent would abandon the campaign.
"I haven't heard anything like that," he said. "Some people, when I was shaking hands, had mentioned something. But I'm not sure if I heard that from even them."
Thirty minutes later, Weldon confirmed he was withdrawing from the race. He also said Hill knew about his decision. When Hill filled out his paperwork in Atlanta on March 11, Weldon said, the two men met. Weldon told him he wasn't running.
"We just talked about the things it takes [to do the job]," Weldon said. "Different things. It's challenging work. There's a lot of reading, a lot of things to do. It's a great job. But it's tough, and it doesn't pay a whole lot of money."
After Weldon's comments, Hill maintained he was surprised by the announcement. He said he and Weldon talked last week, but the incumbent didn't mention anything about withdrawing.
"He talked to me, but just in general," Hill said. "I didn't have a clue that he was going to do that."
He added: "I appreciate the good news for me. I think we would have had a pretty good run there against each other."
Hill is a cousin of state Rep. David Ralston, R-Blue Ridge, the speaker of the House. Hill said the two of them are distant cousins, that his grandmother was a Ralston. But Hill said he had never met the speaker before becoming a Catoosa County commissioner and visiting the state legislators in Atlanta.
Weldon said nobody asked him to leave his seat. And he qualified to run despite his apprehensions because dropping out is always an option throughout the race. The opposite — deciding not to run, then changing his mind — is not possible after the deadline to qualify.
"Several things came together at one time," Weldon said of his decision last week. "It came up at a time that coincided with the qualifications [deadline]."
A source in the Catoosa County GOP leadership said Thursday that multiple potential candidates are considering running as independents in the November general election to challenge Hill.
Hill was a Catoosa County commissioner from 2007-14 but lost a re-election campaign two years ago to Ray Johnson by 27 votes. He said he had long considered running for state representative and plans to advocate for a fiscally conservative budget that supports small businesses and job creation.
He didn't want to wait too long to run after his absence from local politics last year.
"I thought, 'Well, if I'm going to do it, this is the year,'" he said. "Name recognition is a big part of it."
Weldon, meanwhile, has been in office since 2009. He said one of his proudest accomplishments was writing the Georgia Pain Management Clinic Act in 2012. The law requires such clinics to register for licenses with the Georgia Composite Medical Board in an effort to cut down on "pill mills" that distribute illegal substances.
"I appreciate the people of Catoosa County giving me the opportunity to serve them," he said.
Contact staff writer Tyler Jett at email@example.com or at 423-757-6476.