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Cooper, Cochran vie for South Hall seat

Taxes, growth are key issues for GOP candidates seeking Lutz’s post

POSTED: April 30, 2014 11:57 p.m.

When Hall County Commissioner Craig Lutz decided not to seek re-election to his District 1 seat representing South Hall, he reached out to a few potential candidates and urged them to enter the race.

“Even had I decided to run, I wanted somebody to run against me because that was the only way new ideas would be able to come out in a race,” said Lutz, who decided instead to seek the Republican nomination for the District 4 seat on the state Public Service Commission.

Two of the people Lutz said he reached out to were Kathy Cooper and Ken Cochran, though both insist they made decisions to run on their own.

Because they face no Democratic or independent challenger in the general election this fall, the May 20 Republican primary, for which early voting is underway, will determine the next commissioner.

But getting there is the hard part, particularly in a non-presidential election year when voter turnout typically drops off. Both candidates said they have had difficulty reaching and engaging potential voters.

“It’s just that there’s not as much interest right now,” Cooper said.

Moreover, Cochran said, the shortened campaign season — the Georgia General Assembly moved up the primary date this year to match the federal election calendar — has left less time to knock on doors, shake hands, kiss babies and meet with community groups.

“That’s been the hardest challenge,” Cochran said.

Though both candidates have been involved in local politics for many years — Cooper ran unsuccessfully for the county commission in 2006 and Cochran has been a leader in the Hall County Republican Party for more than a decade — elected office presents challenges neither has faced.

Cooper, 51, is a lifelong farmer. As president of Cooper Family Enterprises, she runs a diversified family farm in Chestnut Mountain.

Cooper is hoping to bring some diversity to the Board of Commissioners. She said adding a woman’s voice, experience and perspective to a board filled by white men is badly needed.

But Cooper also said she wasn’t running exclusively on gender politics. Her bona fides for office, she said, extend to her service in community organizations, her familiarity with the issues facing South Hall and her commitment to conservative ideals.

Cochran, 64, is the owner of Cochran’s Marine Service. He has served on the executive board of the local GOP for 13 years and also is a member of the Gainesville-Hall County Metropolitan Planning Organization.

Cochran is a familiar face at county commission meetings and local political events. He is hoping to piggyback on his reputation while jumping on the populist tendencies of tea party-fueled conservative politics.

“I feel like I’m more of a people candidate,” Cochran said.

Cochran said the pillars of his campaign include government transparency, improving workplace conditions for county personnel and implementing a long-term transportation plan to deal with growth in the county.

Cooper, meanwhile, said she is committed to not increasing taxes.

“It’s something you hope you can fulfill as a Republican,” she said.

Cochran also intends to keep his pledge to avoid tax increases.

Both Cooper and Cochran acknowledged that their stance on issues regarding growth and development in South Hall are likely to turn the election in their favor.

Cooper said her background in farming and real estate gives her a perspective unique from Cochran’s.

“Our life experiences are different,” she said.

Cochran is betting that his service to the community and long-time residency in South Hall will move voters to his corner. He said managing South Hall growth requires schools and governments to work together, and he intends to ensure that services remain efficient for residents as growth emerges.

The candidates said they would be running hard in the final weeks leading up to May 20, meeting with as many constituents as possible and attending speaking engagements.

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