0710VassTommy Sandoval, a political consultant for Jennifer Gibbs, one of Bob Vass’ opponents, defends his investigation of Bob Vass for the Hall County GOP.
"The party welcomes Bob Vass to our number," wrote Paul Stanley in his online blog. "I’m sure that a law-and-order former sheriff will feel at home with us."
Tuesday night, Stanley and the county party’s executive committee sent a strong message that Vass was not welcome.
The executive committee of the Hall County Republican Party denounced Vass’ candidacy, saying he "does not qualify as a Republican candidate for office."
The move throws the local party into the middle of a three-way Republican race for clerk, a race that normally is not a headline grabber.
Stanley said the executive committee, which met and voted unanimously Tuesday night, conducted an investigation that included Vass’ voting history.
"We couldn’t keep him (Vass) from qualifying legally under the current code," Stanley said. "Anybody who pays the money can qualify as a candidate."
The Times, after learning of the party’s action, obtained a copy of Vass’ voter history from the Hall County Elections Office. The report showed Vass most recently voted in the Feb. 5 Democratic presidential preference primary.
Vass, reached at home, said he was shocked by the action coming less than a week before the primary.
"I just can’t believe they’re doing this," Vass said, adding that he had not been contacted by anyone from the party.
"They didn’t swear me to any oath against what I did in the past," he said.
Tommy Sandoval, a political consultant who is a member of the Hall County GOP executive committee, told The Times he conducted the investigation into Vass’ record. Sandoval is also a paid consultant to the campaign of Jennifer Gibbs, one of Vass’ opponents.
Sandoval said Vass’ status had been discussed in previous board meetings and defended the timing of the party’s vote, just one week before the primary.
"It sounds fishy," Sandoval said. "But I swear to you the time line was strictly based on the executive board meetings."
The political consultant said he made the motion against Vass.
"It was begged to be made by other members, but I said ‘Let me take the heat,’" Sandoval said.
Sandoval also has been a consultant to state Sen. Lee Hawkins, R-Gainesville, who was accused in 2006 of being a Democrat by his opponent, Mark Musselwhite.
A mass mailing by Musselwhite highlighted a contribution by Hawkins to Greg Hecht, a Democrat running in 2006 for lieutenant governor. Records showed the contribution was made when Hecht was running for Congress in the 13th District. The mailer left the impression that Hawkins gave money to Hecht in opposition to Casey Cagle of Chestnut Mountain, who was later elected lieutenant governor.
Jim Walters, a Gainesville businessman who is a Vass supporter, called the party’s action "a cheap political shot."
Walters, a major contributor to political campaigns, laid the blame on Sandoval.
"I think it is ridiculous for an officer of the party to promote and represent one of the candidates and, at the same time, denounce another for political gain," Walters said.
Vass, who was elected to two consecutive terms as sheriff as a Democrat in 1992 and 1996, has a voting record that goes across party lines. In 1996, when Vass was running for a second term as sheriff, he voted in the Republican presidential primary. He also voted in Republican general primaries in 2002 and 2004, but voted in the Democratic primary in 2006.
Vass, who joined the Hall County Republican Party on the day he qualified, also faces Charles Baker in the three person race for the open post.
But Sandoval said it was more than Vass’ voting record. He said Vass, who ran unsuccessfully against then-Sen. Casey Cagle in 2000, took the maximum contribution from the Democratic Party of Georgia.
"He was the last person to oppose Casey Cagle for the senate," Sandoval said. But, in fact, two years later, Cagle was opposed by Susie Simmons in a race he carried with 80 percent of the vote.
Alex Taylor, Vass’ campaign chairman, called the move "repugnant."
"If they’re going to do this to Bob, then they should do the same to Nathan Deal and Carl Rogers," Taylor said.
Deal, a U.S. representative, and Rogers, a state representative, are both former Democrats.
Stanley, who accepted Vass’ candidate and party membership application, said Vass told him on the day he qualified that he "was embarrassed to be a Democrat."
While the action may have political implications for Vass, it does not remove him from the July 15 ballot, and his votes will count along with those for Baker and Gibbs.