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Candidates play politics for seat on transportation board

POSTED: June 7, 2008 5:00 a.m.
For those who don’t follow politics, this is the ultimate game of inside baseball.

The members of the State Transportation Board are the only state regulatory panel elected solely by members of the General Assembly. Average voters couldn’t name their district board member, but the phones of 24 members of the House and Senate have been busy this week with candidates for the vacant transportation board seat in the 9th District.

When the week began, there were five candidates. On Memorial Day, state Rep. Ben Bridges, R-Cleveland, got out of the race.

That leaves Larry Dent, a former deputy commissioner of the Georgia Department of Transportation, along with three candidates from Northwest Georgia: Steve Farrow, a former Democratic state senator from Dalton, who is now a Republican, is actively campaigning for the spot along with Phil Neff, a Republican activist who owns a plastics business in Dalton; and Ray Seipp, a Lookout Mountain City Council member who is in the concrete business.

"I have spoken to just about everybody in the district," said Neff, who will be nominated by state Sen. Don Thomas, R-Dalton, a popular physician who serves in the senate.

Rep. Carl Rogers, R-Gainesville, said his phone has been busy with talk about the transportation board. At least one candidate is said to be making visits in the district.

Dent, a latecomer to the field, will find out whether his role as a former DOT administrator was to his benefit.

Last week, he picked up the endorsement of the Greater Hall Chamber of Commerce.

In Dalton, where Farrow and Neff are active in the community, the chamber did not get involved in the race.

Seipp is from the Senate district of state Sen. Jeff Mullis, R-Chickamauga, who is chairman of the Senate Transportation Committee.

With four candidates, the lawmakers also have the ability to set their own rules. One candidate will have to get 13 of the 25 votes in order to win. However, the lawmakers involved in the caucus can decide how candidates are eliminated. Most capitol observers predict that the voting will go two or three rounds. The process is open to the public; however, the vote is traditionally taken by secret ballot on paper. The votes are counted by a designated person, and the results are announced after each round.

Also missing this time is the heavy influence of the legislature’s top leaders, House Speaker Glenn Richardson, R-Hiram, and Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle, R-Chestnut Mountain.

Cagle and Richardson engaged in a high stakes political battle in February when the caucus re-elected Chairman Mike Evans of Cumming, who fended off a challenge from former state Rep. Stacey Reece, R-Gainesville.

Richardson later punished House members who voted for Evans. He evicted one of them, Rep. Tom Graves, R-Ranger, from his office in the capitol building.

The others, Doug Collins of Gainesville, John Meadows of Calhoun, Martin Scott of Rossville and Mark Hamilton of Cumming, were stripped of offices held on committees and subcommittees.

Richardson, who was in Gainesville two weeks ago for a bill signing by Gov. Sonny Perdue, said he hoped a consensus candidate would be agreed upon by the caucus, but that does not appear likely.

The vote is scheduled to take place at 3 p.m. Thursday in the Senate chamber of the capitol.



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