CORNELIA — Midway through the 2008 session of the General Assembly, state Sen. Nancy Schaefer, R-Turnerville, stunned political observers with the news that she was running for Congress in the 10th District.
Only weeks later, the news of the illness of her husband, Bruce, prompted Schaefer, 74, to pull out of the Congressional race and issue a news release that gave no indication that she would seek re-election.
However, when qualifying week arrived, Schaefer qualified to run for a third term in the Senate from the 50th District.
Her action has set up a contentious race for a seat which includes Banks, Franklin, Hart, Habersham, Rabun, Stephens and Towns counties and a portion of White County.
Jim Butterworth, 42, chairman of the Habersham County Commission, said he only entered the race after Schaefer originally announced her intentions and decided to stay in once she changed her mind.
Terry Rogers, 54, said he had begun thinking about his campaign last year before any talk of Schaefer’s political future.
"I’ve been in the race from the start," Rogers said.
Schaefer, who has been active in conservative Christian causes for many years, was elected four years ago after federally redrawn legislative districts created an open seat in the 50th District. She defeated two Republican challengers and a Democrat to win the seat.
Two years ago, former state Sen. Carol Jackson, D-Cleveland, moved to the district and challenged Schaefer, who won with 53 percent of the vote.But Schaefer’s initial decision to run for Congress, while surprising, was not shocking. Schaefer had unsuccessful bids for governor, lieutenant governor and mayor of Atlanta before moving to Turnerville, where she and her husband now reside.
The surprise was her return to the Senate race. Butterworth said that Schaefer called him and asked him to leave the race and return his campaign contributions. He said he called her the next day and told her no.
Schaefer denies his account of the conversation.
"I’d rather talk about the issues," said Butterworth, "but I have a different recollection of her call to me."
Schaefer is convinced that her decision to get out of the race and then back in has not hurt her with voters.
"I think most people really understood," she said.
Schaefer, who heads Family Concerns, a nonprofit organization, said that legislation strengthening child protective services would be her highest priority if she is re-elected.
"I’d like to better that agency and that situation," Schaefer said.
Butterworth, a former U.S. Air Force and Georgia National Guard bomber pilot, was elected to the Habersham County Commission in 2004 and currently serves as chairman. He said the major issue in the race is leadership.
"Our district is thirsty for leadership and I think I have the credentials to fill that void," said Butterworth.
Rogers is a former Cornelia city councilman who touts his conservative credentials, including past work with former U.S. House Speaker Newt Gingrich. He said he entered the race because not enough was being done on important issues.
"There were things we could do in the Senate that I wasn’t seeing us concentrate on," said Rogers. "I went across the district and found people who are concerned about education, water, property rights and health care. First and foremost is concern about job opportunities and economic opportunities, because we need to do more to bring our kids and grandkids back to this area."
Schaefer said that her opponents have run a clean race. Both Butterworth and Rogers are careful in their comments regarding Schaefer. "I think she’s a nice lady, we just have a difference in priorities," Rogers said.