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Senator resigns to run for governor
Two say they want to replace senator
Eric Johnson Office 2
Sen. Eric Johnson - photo by Courier file photo
Former State Sen. Eric Johnson resigned his District 1 seat Monday to jump into a gubernatorial race crowded with both Republican and Democratic candidates.
“I decided to run after watching the Republicans in Washington forget their conservative principles and bring about the mess we have today,” Johnson said. “I didn’t want that to happen in Georgia. I believe my conservative record and vision makes me qualified to be the 82nd governor of Georgia.”
Johnson, who represented Chatham, Bryan and Liberty counties in the state Senate since 1994, faces stiff Republican opposition in the July primary. He is running against Nathan Deal, John Oxendine, Karen Handel, Austin Scott, Ray McBerry and Jeff Chapman.
Democrats who have announced their candidacies for governor include former Georgia Gov. Roy Barnes, Thurbert Baker, Carl Camon, David Poythress and DuBose Porter.
“I’m a lifelong Republican,” Johnson continued. “I have not changed parties; I have not changed philosophy, so people know who I am and what I stand for.”
The former state senator said the economy and putting people back to work is the number one issue facing the nation, and the state, today.
“What I’m trying to focus on is the intersection between the economy and education,” he said. “There’s retraining, skill sets we can teach. And, we can help people come out of the corporate environment to start new businesses. We want to capture the intellectual capitol in our state.”
Johnson said his resignation from the Senate has been criticized mostly by his opponents.
He says the timing of his decision to resign is a good one, and that the special election to fill his vacated Senate seat can be held “with virtually no cost” because it will coincide with local municipal elections on Nov. 3.
“It gives me a chance to return to the grassroots I came from and listen to everyday Georgians and not to the chatter that drowns out everyday people at the Capitol,” he said.
Johnson, a latecomer to the Republican primary, seems to have already gained some staunch supporters here in Liberty County.
“Eric Johnson’s resignation from the Senate is so characteristic of the way this man has always approached his public service, that is, always putting the needs of his constituents above his own and that of leading by example,” said Roger Wells, Liberty County Republican Party chairman. “Sen. Johnson knows the rigors of a state-wide campaign and is not willing to leave his district unrepresented while he campaigns for governor. We need more of this type leadership across the state. While we hate to lose his voice here for the first district, the state will benefit from the selfless leadership this man will provide as the next governor of Georgia.
“Sen. Johnson has always been a man of the people, regardless of their political affiliations,” Wells continued. “It is time that coastal Georgia had one of their own leading this great state and Sen. Johnson should be that man. He is a thoughtful, proven leader that loves this area and loves this state.”
Once Johnson announced his candidacy for governor, several candidates well known in the Coastal Empire stepped forward to run for the vacant state Senate seat.
State Rep. Buddy Carter, who has served as representative for District 159 since 2005, will run against Dr. Billy Hair in a special election to be held Nov. 3, 2009.
Carter announced his intention to run for Johnson’s seat earlier this year, and resigned his seat in the state House an hour after Johnson resigned.
“This is simply moving from one side of the state Capitol to the other side,” Carter said. “We can have a seamless transition and the district will be well served by that.”
Carter served as the Mayor of Pooler for five terms and was chairman of the Savannah-Chatham Metropolitan Planning Commission and the Coastal Georgia Regional Development Center. A pharmacist, he owns several pharmacies throughout the Savannah area.
Carter said he met many people in Liberty and Bryan counties through his work with the regional development center.
Regional planning is important having a positive “ripple effect” from one county to another within a region, he said.
Carter also explained what he calls the four “Ts”; issues he has prioritized which include taxes (the state budget), transportation, a trauma system and thirst (water).
Carter said regional transportation is what will help bring economic development to Georgia by attracting businesses that will bring jobs.
“One out of 10 Georgians are out of work,” he said.
Carter continued to say that an extensive trauma system is needed in Georgia for treating large scale emergencies such as the tragic accident that occurred in February 2008 at the Imperial Sugar Company in Port Wentworth which claimed 14 lives.
The issue of water also impacts coastal Georgia, Carter said.
The former mayor of Pooler said water is an issue he has had experience with.
“We (Pooler) had to (determine) how to provide water to areas we annexed and areas that were developing,” he said.
Carter’s opponent for the District 1 Senate seat, is Dr. Billy Hair, former Chatham County Commission Chair and a former Savannah Technical College president.
“If you look at all the major issues in the state over the next five years, and you look at my experience you can see I’m the most qualified running,” Hair said. “Education, budgeting, transportation — these are the kinds of things a senator needs to be well versed in.”
Hair said state legislators need to get a hold on the budget which he described as “a mess.”
“We’ve never had any kind of allocation formula for revenue,” he said.
Hair proposes a funding formula that would spend 85 percent on recurrent items, 10 percent on new items and 5 percent on reserves.
“The system in the legislature is just to cut everybody across the board,” he said. “That is not a good way to manage a budget.”
Hair said necessary functions such as police protection and education need to be weighed against other lesser essentials, such as parks and boat ramps.
“They do the political thing instead of the right thing,” he said.”The budget affects everybody.”
The special election for Johnson’s vacant seat set for Nov. 3 will involve 10 Liberty County precincts, said Ella Golden, Liberty County interim supervisor of elections.
Those precincts include the first, second, third, fifth, sixth, part of the ninth, the 11th, part of the 12th, part of the 13th and a “tiny bit” of the 14th, Golden said.
“Qualifying will begin Monday, Sept. 21 and end Sept. 23,” she added.
Golden said Midway will be the only municipality in Liberty County to hold its municipal elections Nov. 3.
“The cost of the special election could run more than $20,000 due to the number of precincts,” she said. “This is like any other election, the cost is there.”
Voters must be registered by Oct. 5 to be eligible to vote in the special election.
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