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Seven vie to replace longtime lawmaker in changing House district
Most candidates are newcomes, shy away from 'politician' label
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Meet the candidates: See how the candidates for the District 25 State House seat responded on the issues, only in Sunday's print edition of The Times, available at retail outlets and news racks throughout Northeast Georgia. Subscribe online to have The Times delivered to your home, or call 770-532-2222.

Election 2011 Voters Guide

What does South Hall look like?

For the first time since the area's population explosion, voters will decide that question this week.

Tuesday's special election to choose a candidate — or at least narrow the field — to represent South Hall in Georgia's General Assembly will represent the first such regime change in nearly two decades.

That much should be obvious, if only by the sheer number of candidates seeking to get their feet in the door of the state House for at least one legislative session.

Seven men face off Tuesday to fill the seat left vacant by James Mills, who held a firm grip on South Hall's state District 25 representation since he was first elected in 1993. He left the post last month for a post on the state Pardons and Paroles Board.

In some way, all the men represent the district and its transformation over the last 20 years. Yet they have had fewer than eight weeks to introduce themselves to voters in a district that may look quite different by next year if the state's new legislative maps are approved.

Since Mills took office, South Hall, once a two-city district with wide open spaces, has become the center of growth in Hall County, the home to mega-housing developments and the hub of Hall road expansion projects.

"South Hall is actually a lot of people that have moved into the area. I'm one of those people," said Dominic Ottaviano, the owner of a home health care company and newcomer to politics in the District 25 race. "With people that come into a new area also comes a lot of new ideas."

Ottaviano moved to Hall County to be closer to his kids 15 years ago after retiring from the U.S. Air Force.

Like Ottaviano, neither of the men seeking to succeed Mills is native to South Hall, though a few are county natives.

All are conservative, though one is a Democrat. Only two have held political office.

The lack of experience among the candidates has been a point of pride for most, nearly all establishing a distance from the title of "politician" at a recent candidate forum.

It's the reason Emory West Dunahoo Jr., owner of a logistics company and a poultry salesman, decided to run, he said.

"Until we have people that are going to go down there ... now's the time, if I'm going to make an effort to run, try to make an effort to see what I can do different than what's been done before," Dunahoo said.

Dunahoo is Mills' brother-in-law. But he and other candidates in the race are seeking to put a businessman in the Capitol.

"As a business person, we don't like politicians, because most of them go there (to the Capitol) and they don't have the practical experience of actually being out in the real world," said Todd W. Reed, a builder entering politics for the first time in the special election. "And you go, ‘we've got lawmakers who have never worked out here in the real world,' and they don't understand it."

Reed came to Hall County 15 years ago. He made his home in Oakwood, and says he's running to ensure it remains a good place to live.

But, if elected, Reed doesn't expect to be liked by most of what he calls the "embedded politicians" of the General Assembly.

Though William "Sonny" Sykes, a local attorney who ran unsuccessfully for state court judge in 2008, avoids calling himself a politician, he often talks about his ability to work with the state's leaders and drops the names of Gov. Nathan Deal and Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle.

Sykes is different from the other candidates in that he won't commit to a pledge never to vote for a tax increase. He said "people who get elected have to make tough decisions sometimes for the betterment of all."

"We can't push the government aside," Sykes said. "We have to get together and work together for the best interests of the people. I think it's important to understand that I work cooperatively every single day in solving conflict and problems ... you have to work with people to get things done."

Of the candidates, Bobby Banks is the only one who has served a full term in any elected position. Banks, who moved to South Hall from Jackson County in the 1970s, was defeated in a re-election bid to the Hall County Board of Commissioners last year.

Banks, in mailings to voters, has apologized for his past actions. And he, too, has said his one term in office does not make him a "politician."

But there is nothing in his past that Banks would necessarily call a liability. His time in office helped him learn more about the district, he said.

"I know the people. I've helped the people. I've talked to them," Banks said.

Kris Yardley resigned from the Flowery Branch City Council two years into his first term to seek Mills' seat. He isn't afraid to call himself, or anyone else in the race, a politician.

At 38, Yardley is the youngest of the candidates, but not by far. He says he's the person who can shrink state government down to its "right size."

Yardley has been eyeing a state run for months. He spent nearly every day of an August session of the state legislature lobbying for changes to the district lines.

"A politician is somebody who's elected to represent the people. There are good ones and there are bad ones," said Yardley. "... We all want to be public servants, I think, and that was my desire."

In name, it is Paul Wayne Godfrey who is the most different. An academic, Godfrey has some five degrees. He is also a registered Democrat who thinks that House Bill 87 cracking down in illegal immigrants was an economic mistake with unintended consequences. He also talks a lot about fiscal conservatism.

Godfrey told residents at a recent candidate forum that the "D" behind his name stands for "different."

"It takes some actual fiscal conservatism — true conservatism, not the wave-the-banner conservatism - to do the right thing," Godfrey said.