A forum between the two candidates left in the House District 25 race Saturday became a question-and-answer session for political newcomer Emory Dunahoo Jr. when his runoff opponent, Bobby Banks, abruptly left the room.
Banks and Dunahoo seek to replace James Mills in the Georgia House of Representatives. The runoff is Tuesday.
Mills represented South Hall in the House for 18 years. He resigned to take a job on the state's Board of Pardons and Paroles.
Banks, a former Hall County commissioner, left the Hall County Republican Party forum Saturday at the Spout Springs Library shortly after audience member Pam Norman asked him a question.
Both Banks and Dunahoo had answered several questions posed by moderator Michael Nosach. At one point during questioning, Banks alleged Dunahoo had been given the questions in advance.
Dunahoo denied he had seen them; Nosach said he wrote the questions on the way to the forum.
When Nosach sought questions from the audience, Norman was first to step forward. She asked Banks about a statement he made at an event Thursday, sponsored by the Lanier Tea Party Patriots, where Banks said he saw "friends and enemies" in the audience.
Norman told Banks she thought it was an "odd choice" of words for someone seeking votes. Then she claimed Banks was the reason Hall County Commissioner Craig Lutz, who beat Banks in a race for the South Hall commission post last year, no longer works at AT&T.
Lutz said Saturday he believes Banks "had an influence" on his separation from AT&T, but the ultimate decision was "between my employer and me."
"Given that, along with the well-known pieces that you bragged about getting your opponent fired from his job after you lost (the election) last year, then how is it that you're going to represent all of the candidates in my district and my views if you have an enemies list and a friends list?" Norman asked.
"And how do I know that you won't be punishing your enemies and helping your friends in all this instead of representing our best interests?"
Banks rose and said, "I told you the personal attacks would start."
In his response to Norman, Banks said he did "not get Mr. Lutz fired."
"According to his website, it (Lutz's separation from AT&T) had been two years in the making, but then I find out I got him fired, so which lie is it?" Banks responded.
Banks then addressed Lutz's wife, Shanon, who sat shaking her head near the back of the room.
"You can quit shaking your head ‘no' back there," he said.
Less than a minute later, Banks left the room.
Before he did, he addressed a member of the Hall GOP, saying that he knew "this would happen."
Norman supported Lutz in last year's commission race. Her husband, Jimmy Norman, was one of the Lutz's nominees for a post on the Hall County Hospital Authority.
Pam Norman, who said neither Banks nor Dunahoo was her first choice for Mills' seat, said neither her support of Lutz nor her husband's appointment had any bearing on the question she asked Banks.
In a later interview, Banks said he had attended the Hall GOP forum under the pretense that "the Lutz crowd" would not be allowed to ask him questions.
He left, he said, because he did not feel that promise was kept.
"We have a problem with the Hall County Republican Party and their values," Banks said. "I feel like I was misled in being invited to this forum today."
Leaders of the Hall Republican chapter denied Banks' request for renewed membership earlier this year. A letter from former chairman Paul Stanley cited Banks' refusal to participate in debates in last year's re-election bid.
"I should have known better," Banks later said of his decision to attend the forum.
Before he left, Banks made one last request for support in Tuesday's runoff.
"Please, if you like me, vote for me, but if you don't, vote for Mr. Dunahoo," Banks said, before putting the microphone down. "But I'm leaving."
"I'm not going to be ill at Bobby," Dunahoo said at the end of the forum. "I've known him for 30 years. We can agree to disagree on stuff. ... I wish he had stayed here, but that was his choice."