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Gooch candidacy may leave hole on DOT board

Board member seeks state Senate seat

POSTED: May 1, 2010 11:55 p.m.

Georgia’s 9th District soon may seek a new representative on the state’s Department of Transportation board.

The current representative, Steve Gooch of Lumpkin County, has other political aspirations.

After barely seven months on the DOT board, Gooch qualified Friday to run as a Republican in the election for the state Senate District 51 seat.

The only other Republican seeking the seat, incumbent Chip Pearson, bowed out of the race Friday, meaning Gooch will automatically have the Republican nomination.

But what that will mean for the 15-county district’s representation on the DOT board is still an unknown. The members of the state’s 6th District are in a similar situation as their representative, Brandon Beach, qualified Monday to run for the state Senate District 56 seat.

Beach is still serving on the DOT board, Gooch said.

A spokesperson for the secretary of state said the issue would fall under the jurisdiction of the governor’s office. A spokesman for the governor had no immediate answer Friday.

DOT board members are elected by state legislators from each of Georgia’s congressional districts. There are 24 lawmakers in the 9th District.

The attorney general’s office may make the final decision on when Gooch and Beach would have to resign from their appointed positions on the DOT board. If it is determined that their posts are elected positions, they would have had to resign from the DOT board upon qualifying, according to state law.

But Gooch and state Rep. Amos Amerson say they considered the DOT position an appointed one, and as such, Gooch would not need to resign from the board unless he was elected in November.

If that’s the case, it could be February before the 9th District gets a new representative.

Gooch said he did not plan to resign from the board “until the time comes that requires it.”

When Gooch was elected to the board last October, he told The Times he planned to complete the five-year term. Gooch’s election was to fill an unexpired term that had already been vacated twice since February 2008.

“I did say that,” Gooch said Friday. “I had no plans whatsoever to run at the time. There were no vacant seats open in the House or the Senate, and I had no idea there would be.”

Other state representatives said they thought Gooch would eventually replace Amerson, R-Dahlonega, after he completed the DOT board term. Two years ago, Gooch sought that seat in the state House but lost to Amerson, who has served 10 years in the post.

The plan was for Amerson to serve one more term, retire in 2012 and let Gooch run for the seat.

“That’s what I thought,” Amerson said Friday. “I mean, that was the plans that we’ve made all along.”

Gooch said his change of heart came after he learned Pearson would withdraw his candidacy Friday morning.

Earlier in the week, Pearson qualified to seek re-election in the Republican primary. But the Dawsonville senator, who did not return calls seeking comment Friday, decided not to campaign for the post, citing personal reasons in a statement he sent through the Senate press office Friday afternoon.

Pearson was first elected to the state Senate in 2004.

“For the last six years, my wife has taken on the responsibilities of a single mom, and my children have not had their dad around during the most important time in their lives,” the statement read. “Ecclesiastes 3:1 says, ‘To everything there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the Heaven.’ At this time, my time needs to be spent with my family.”

Once Gooch got the news, he said he left work and drove to the Capitol to qualify.

“I made sure that the rumor was true before I entered the race,” Gooch said. “... I would not have chosen to run against him, that’s for sure.”

In the statement announcing that he would not seek re-election, Pearson endorsed Gooch.

And while Amerson, who supported Gooch in the DOT election, said he hated to lose Gooch on the board, he said Gooch was the best replacement for Pearson in the Senate.

“I think Sen. Pearson wanted to retire and he wanted to make sure we got a good man,” Amerson said. “And so I agree with him. As far as I’m concerned, Steve Gooch is the best man for the job.”

But state Rep. Carl Rogers, R-Gainesville, said Gooch’s decision won’t be good for the 9th District. Learning the transportation needs and funding issues of the cities and counties across the 15-county district takes time, he said.

Rogers had supported another candidate in this year’s DOT board election. Rogers’ preferred candidate, former state Rep. Stacey Reece, lost to Gooch in the final round of voting.

“You have to serve at length to know all the cities and counties and elected officials and chambers and the needs of the 9th congressional,” Rogers said. “... I guess Steve wanted to be a senator or representative worse than he wanted to be a DOT board member.”



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