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Bell says message of change helped in county commission win
0717Ashley Bell
Ashley Bell

Freshly elected Hall County Commissioner Ashley Bell said he believes he won the District 4 seat because he took a cue from the national political zeitgeist, running with a message of reform and energizing young voters.

"This election I was running on a message that was not my own," Bell said. "Let it be known, this is the year for change in the Democratic Party, and I think that showed up at the polls."

Though his age could lead some to believe he is new to the political process, Bell already has been involved in politics in his 27 years.

Bell was the national president of the College Democrats for three years. And at the tender age of 23, he ran his first campaign for state representative against Carl Rogers. Just two years later, he challenged Danny Dunagan for a Gainesville City Council seat.

And though he lost both races, Bell said this commission race was not about victory.

"I had no intention on running for running’s sake," Bell said. "It was clear to me before I announced I was going to run that there was a large segment of our population in the city and in the county area that wanted change at this post. ... I had issues myself as a constituent."

Bell was able to get in touch with his voter base through a dedicated bunch of supporters.

Bell recruited volunteers from Gainesville State College and Brenau University and rooted his campaign headquarters on the square in downtown Gainesville.

Having a place for his large number of volunteers to get together and work was "critically important," Bell said.

He had to aggressively reach out to voters to attract them to the Democratic ballot in Tuesday’s partisan election because of the other contested races on the Republican ticket. But he said his race was important to voters because the commission affects tax rates.

Voters were concerned about their tax dollars after recent situations in which money was poorly managed with the Gainesville school board and the Hall County Clerk of Court, Bell said.

"Fiscal responsibility was the number one issue of the electorate this year," Bell said. "I’m fiscally conservative. I know that you can’t raise taxes and think it’s not going to affect people’s families."

Bell said he reached out not only to young voters but to Latino voters, who he said are a "big part of the Democratic base." He also thinks he got some votes from "crossovers," or people who typically align themselves with the Republican Party.

Bell said the president of the Latino Student Association at Gainesville State college organized voter outreach in the Latino community and the secretary of the College Democrats at Brenau University organized volunteering and door to door canvassing for the campaign.

"We wanted to show people we had energy. You know, I’m a young candidate and I wanted to let people know I can not only pull the older vote but also can energize my own peer group from the 18 to 35 young voter range and get them active and involved and excited about this process."

When Bell takes office in January, he said his priorities will be improving communication between Hall County and Gainesville governments and reforming county government to make it more open and accessible to the public.

Bell’s wife Lauren is also involved in politics. She is currently a delegate for Barack Obama and was a College Democrat while Ashley was president.

"We’re a very political family," he said.

And with so much under his belt already, some speculate that Bell has a career in politics ahead of him.

Bell said he is planning to run for re-election in four years. He may consider running for other positions, but he is not sure what the future will hold for him.

"I’m 27 years old. I’m not in a hurry," Bell said.

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