The real ‘storylines’ shaping Foyd County’s 2020 primary ballot: Sheriff’s race, U.S. House, County Commission and Court Clerk.

The real ‘storylines’ shaping Foyd County’s 2020 primary ballot: Sheriff’s race, U.S. House, County Commission and Court Clerk.

With a little over four months until the May 19 primary (sooner with advance voting), we’re quickly seeing the ballot come together. You’ll find a snapshot below as well as key dates in this election year.

What’s interesting: At least three races on the Republcan primary ballot in May will be huge with two likely headed to a runoff. There are a few more dominos that could fall between now and when candidates actually qualify. While the top of the ballot will feature the presidency and two U.S. Senate races, the so-called “down ballot” races before Rome/Floyd County voters are red meat politics on their own. Let’s go over some of the key races

Floyd County sheriff: 

  • This one has been going on since early 2018 as Tim Burkhalter announced he would retire on Dec. 31, 2020. Even during the 2018 vote and last November’s Rome City Commission races, the dominant conversations were about the 2020 sheriff’s primary. Tom Caldwell, Ronnie Kilgo and Dave Roberson have made all the stops and will do so again — most likely this weekend at some of the Martin Luther King Jr. events.
  • What’s new: Campaign ads are up or are on deck. Also, Roberson — a major with the sheriff’s office — is now on leave for the duration of the campaign.
  • To date, we have not heard about any Democratic challengers but qualifying is still two months out.

Floyd County Commission:

  • Two seats, Post 2 held by Wright Bagby and Post 3 held by Allison Watters, are on the ballot. Both Republicans say they’re running for second four-year terms.
  • 2014 flashback: Both were said to be part of a group formed as a backlash to then-County Commissioner Irwin Bagwell. Watters defeated him in the GOP primary that year.
  • Key issue in the 2020 campaign:  Bagby is considered one of the architects of the plan to remove economic development from the Rome Floyd Chamber. Both Bagby and Watters were part of a 5-0 vote by the commission to start the process. The commission vote came with virtually no notice to the public as it was added last-minute to the meeting agenda. A similar push before the City Commission stalled as several members demanded specific details on costs, who pays what, etc. Those details didn’t exist. Since then, both city and county goverments as well as the Rome Floyd Development Authority have pledged $450,000 per year — each agency — to seed a new economic development office. That’s $1.35 million in taxpayer funds over three years plus there’s an agreement to cover any cost overruns after those three years expire. The secrecy, poor planning and extra tax expenditures are the main issues.

Clerk of Court:

  • Keep an eye on this one. Incumbent Barbara Penson is being challenged by retired Rome Police Lt. Joe Costolnick, now the director of Harbor House. Both are Republicans. A few issues are brewing here that will come up before the primary vote.

Legislative delegation:

  • The biggest issue is whether Katie Dempsey opts to run for the U.S. House. Several people have been approached to serve as GOP candidates for the state post representing Greater Rome should Dempsey aim for Washington. We expect the other incumbents to seek new terms. There are no announced challengers as yet.

U.S. House:

  • This race will give the sheriff’s primary a run for its money but remember the boundaries for the 14th Congressional District flow far beyond Rome/Floyd County, its geographical center. Declared candidates include Marjorie Taylor Greene of Alpharetta who apparently is keeping real estates busy in Rome as she scouts a rental or purchase; Clayton Fuller, a former assistant prosecutor and White House Fellow from Lookout Mountain; and Rome neurosurgeon Dr. John Cowan. Dempsey has not decided on whether she’ll run.
  • About this race: It aparently has split the Floyd County Republican Party, with one faction already behind Cowan and the other awaiting word from Dempsey while keeping an eye on Greene. Cowan has started an arms race with his “staff” appointments already including Andy Garner — former Floyd GOP chair — serving as his campaign manager; former Rome City Commissioner and mayor Evie McNiece as his campaign treasurer; and his affiliation with Brian Robinson, one-time spokesman for former Congressman Phil Gingrey and later then-Gov. Nathan Deal. Geography could play a key part in this with a runoff in July virtually a guarantee.
  • Show me the money: Any candidate who can’t produce a campaign bank account of $500,000 to $850,000 might as well give up now. TV will be critical and there are two markets in this race — Atlanta and Chattanooga.

In Floyd County, local and state offices that will be ballot include:

  • County Commission: Post 2 Commissioner Wright Bagby and Post 3 Commissioner Allison Watters  to seek new terms. Both Republicans.
  • County Board of Education: Districts 2 (Melinda Strickland) 3 (Jay Shell) and 5 (Melinda Jeffers).
  • Clerk of Superior Court: Incumbent Barbara Penson will be challenged by retired police Lt. Joe Costolnick; both Republicans.
  • Sheriff: Incumbent Tim Burkhalter is retiring. GOP challengers include Tom Caldwell, Ronnie Kilgo and Dave Roberson.
  • Probate Judge: Stephen Burkhalter.
  • Coroner: Incumbent Gene Proctor.
  • Tax Commissioner: Incumbent Kevin Payne.
  • Chief Magistrate: Incumbent Gene Richardson.
  • State Senate District 52: Incumbent Sen. Chuck Hufstetler.
  • State House District 12: Incumbent Eddie Lumsden.
  • State House District 13: Incumbent Katie Dempsey
  • State House District 14: Incumbent Mitchell Scoggins.
  • U.S. House, District 14: Incumbent Tom Graves is not seeking a new term. Announced candidates are Dr. John Cowan, Clayton Fuller and Marjorie Taylor Greene.

DATES TO KNOW:

  • Candidate qualifying is March 2-6.
  • Presidential primary: March 24.
  • State, local primary: May 19.
  • Primary runoff, if needed: July 21.
  • General election: Nov. 3.
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