DALTON, Ga. — Four men are running for an unexpectedly open state House seat in North Georgia.
Republicans Eddie Caldwell, Kasey Carpenter and Beau Patton submitted qualifying paperwork by 1 p.m. Wednesday, the deadline to run. Democrat Peter Pociask also qualified.
The four candidates will compete in the Nov. 7 election for the Georgia House District 4 seat now held by state Rep. Bruce Broadrick, R-Dalton. Though his term wasn't set to expire until the end of next year, Broadrick retired two weeks ago after a doctor gave him a bad prognosis for the lingering effects of a stroke he suffered years ago. The winner of November's race will take his seat under the Gold Dome at the beginning of next year.
Patton and Carpenter are running campaigns to encourage small business growth in the area. Carpenter, the owner of Oakwood Cafe and Cherokee Pizza and Brewing in Dalton, said he wants to cut the personal income tax rate from 6 percent to 2-3 percent.
Patton, meanwhile, said he wants to pass a Religious Freedom Restoration Act in the state. He believes the law is necessary because it protects business owners who refuse service to people on religious grounds — for example, a wedding venue manager who doesn't want to rent his or her space to a gay couple.
A similar bill passed the Legislature in 2016. But large companies such as Disney and Apple lobbied against it, and Gov. Nathan Deal vetoed the measure.
A former recreation director at an assisted living center, Patton became active in Whitfield County Republican Party politics about seven years ago. He said he was motivated by the rise of the Tea Party, which itself became a movement on the right when former President Barack Obama took office in 2009.
"I'm definitely a big, big, taxed-enough-already kind of guy," Patton said. "That was a big deal: How much of a tax burden was already here for our people in Georgia."
Patton became the local Republican party's first vice chairman earlier this year, but he resigned to run for office. (He actually told his friends he was going to run against Broadrick three weeks before the representative retired.) Patton has campaigned in the past for state school superintendent candidates Nancy Jester and Richard Woods; more recently, he campaigned for now-U.S. Rep. Karen Handel.
Caldwell, the vice president of American Carpet Wholesalers, was born in Whitfield County and graduated from Dalton High School in 1984. He said he is running to support constitutional carry and pro-life causes. He also wants to repeal the state's optional hotel/motel tax, saying the extra burden hurts the local economy and "stifles job creation."
"I want to make sure our values and principles continue to be represented under the Gold Dome," he told the Times Free Press in an email. "My family, friends & neighbors know that's how I feel and they encouraged me to run. After thinking and praying about it, [I] came to the conclusion that it's my duty to run."
North Georgia is a deeply red region, both in state and federal elections. During the 2016 presidential election, 70 percent of 30,400 voters in Whitfield County chose Donald Trump. In a special election run-off for a state Senate race this January, Republican Chuck Payne won with 65 percent of the vote.
Still, Pociask is optimistic he can break through as a local Democrat. A computer programmer for an advertising agency, Pociask said liberals need to work hard in Dalton to register as many voters as possible. He believes more voters would even the playing field.
"The people of Whitfield County deserve a choice," Pociask said. " We've not really had a discussion on the issues. We've had conservative vs. more conservative candidates."
If elected, he said, he would push to accept Medicaid expansion funds from the federal government, as available under the Affordable Care Act. He said bringing more health care funding to the state is "the fastest way" to help the county.
Pociask also wants to advocate for funding for a high-speed rail line from Atlanta to Chattanooga, putting a stop in Dalton that would allow locals to live at home and take jobs in the state's capitol.
"I don't think making the government small for smallness' sake is a goal," he said. "That's a talking point. No company just lays off 500 people without a good reason. If you want to run government like a business, a business has metrics. A business has targets. A business has goals. None of that has ever been proposed."
The deadline to register to vote in the election is Oct. 10.
Contact staff writer Tyler Jett at 423-757-6476 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @LetsJett.