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Candidates focus on opponents at South Hall GOP forum
Club honored former president Russell
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Hall County primary runoff

When: Aug. 21; early voting runs 8 a.m.-5 p.m. through Aug. 17

Where to vote: Hall County Elections Office, 2875 Browns Bridge Road, Gainesville

The tension at the South Hall Republican Club on Tuesday night was slightly manufactured.

As the candidates still left in the running for the Republican nomination in five local races made their final pitches to club members one week before the election, they talked a lot about their opponents.

Gerald Couch, a candidate for Hall County sheriff, said he would “raise the bar” and implement a physical fitness program for sheriff’s deputies.

“We need to bring our standards up, not keep them low where they have been,” Couch said.

The statement was a direct dig at his opponent, Jeff Strickland, who as the agency’s former chief deputy ran the day-to-day operations of the department until his retirement last fall.

Strickland had ammunition of his own, comparing Couch’s former leadership positions to his own position as chief deputy.

“In contrast,” Strickland said, “Gerald was just a supervisor, a sergeant and a lieutenant.”

Strickland also alleged that Couch would scale back the 287(g) partnership the agency has with Immigration and Customs Enforcement, citing a statement Couch made earlier in the campaign that “he felt like people that were fishing without a license didn’t need to be deported.”

“I hope he understands you don’t get deported for fishing without a license,” Strickland said. “You’re deported for being in this country illegally.”

Couch, in a short closing statement, fired back at Strickland, noting the number of officers who have been fired or arrested in the period Strickland led the department.

Couch preached a message of change, saying “the idea of management through fear and intimidation, that’s what I’m against.”

The setup of Tuesday night’s forum was different than in the past. Candidates were not asked questions; instead, they were allowed to speak for a set amount of time and follow up with a shorter statement after their opponents had their say.

Candidates said their invitation to the forum had specifically requested that they point out differences between them and their opponents.

It invited similar exchanges between candidates for the chairman of the Hall County Board of Commissioners and candidates for Hall County probate judge.

Brook Davidson said she had more experience than her opponent, Patty Walters Laine, saying she had tried more than 200 cases as a probate attorney.

Davidson also mentioned an advertisement Laine published in The Times that said Davidson had no previous “acts of service.”

“She’s not asked someone that knows me what my acts of service are,” Davidson said. “We don’t want a judge in Hall County who can’t even do that simple research.”

Laine said she believed what she published was true, saying Davidson had “not told us about any service she’s done” or any work she had done in Hall County’s courts.

With or without the format, signs the campaign season is beginning to wear on the candidates’ composure were visible early in the meeting.

The first surfaced when Martha Zoller, candidate for the U.S. House 9th District seat, addressing the video- and audio-recorded statements opponent Doug Collins’ campaign has used against her, said she felt “sorry for the poor little intern” who Zoller said had to sit and watch her talk for “hours and hours.”

Then, Zoller said that the intern only found “two minutes” of ammunition for the campaign. The statement prompted Collins’ campaign spokeswoman Loree Anne Thompson to interrupt Zoller’s speech.

“It was a lot more than two minutes, Martha, I can promise you,” Thompson said.

Thompson’s interjection was immediately followed by a shout from a woman in the front of the room, “Why don’t you shut up?”

As Zoller made her closing statements, Collins’ himself interrupted, saying statements Zoller was making about a vote of his were “not true.”

Hall County Board of Commissioners Chairman Tom Oliver, whose performance in the July 31 election for another four-year term landed him in a runoff with former Hall sheriff Dick Mecum, told those at the forum that Mecum’s employment history depicted an image of “I’m a bureaucrat” and of a person who for decades “took a check from government.”

Oliver urged voters to consider his experience as a small businessman.

When it was his turn, Mecum said the country’s second president, John Adams, “loved being a bureaucrat.”

“If you are God-led, it’s not about you, it’s about the people,” Mecum said of government work.

Candidates for tax commissioner also were part of the forum and attacked each other on their credentials.

Tuesday’s meeting was the first the South Hall Republican Club had held since former president Ken Russell died.

Club members held a brief moment of silence for Russell, who lost a Republican primary election for a new state House district in Hall and Gwinnett counties.

The club’s new president, Ed Asbridge, said he went to lunch with Russell the day after the July 31 primary.

Asbridge said Russell told him "I know I lost, but man, I love this stuff."