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House race put bulls-eye on Yardley
Candidates trade barbs, discuss dirty tactics after Tuesday election
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Kris Yardley lost a lot of political capital Tuesday.

The former Flowery Branch city councilman left his post two years early to gamble on a special election to Georgia's General Assembly.

Today, Yardley is out of politics altogether.

In a race that lasted about two months, Yardley seemed to have all the advantages in the campaign to complete James Mills' term in the state House.

He had name recognition. He had funding. He had experience.

But on Election Day, Yardley finished behind three men who had never held political office — including a couple who had never tried — and one, Bobby Banks, who in an election last year lost his seat on the Hall County commission.

The results took Yardley and his supporters by surprise.

Yardley doesn't claim any error in his campaign, his message or his political connections.

"Obviously, we just didn't turn out enough of our voters," Yardley said.

Of the nearly 5,000 people who voted, just 13.4 percent chose Yardley. Emory Dunahoo Jr., the top vote-getter, received 21.3 percent, but not the majority needed to be declared a winner.

Mills' successor will be determined in a Dec. 6 runoff between Dunahoo and Banks.

Yardley initially appeared as a threat to the other candidates, evidenced by their focus on his perceived faults.

In the final days of the campaign, at least three candidates considered working together to buy a negative advertisement targeting Yardley.

One, Dominic Ottaviano, was willing to sacrifice his campaign to keep Yardley out of the runoff.

"My guess is that he perceived me as the front-runner and was just trying to win, or that he's an angry person," Yardley said.

When Tuesday's election results were clear, Ottaviano came in last. Yet Ottaviano said he was "tickled to death" by the outcome, because in a way, he had won.

Ottaviano admits he really doesn't like Yardley.

"He is the playground bully, and I don't like bullies," Ottaviano said.

Ottaviano made a number of YouTube videos attacking Yardley's involvement in a move to censure fellow council member Tara Richards last summer over an open records request made by Yardley's friend, Commissioner Craig Lutz.

Another focused on Yardley's financial backing from personal injury lawyers.

And off camera, Ottaviano attacked Yardley on his decision to leave the Flowery Branch council while in his first term.

Yardley says he left the council because he intended to continue to represent the people of Flowery Branch on a higher level.

"He gets his little first chance at City Council and doesn't even finish his first term to jump for another position," Ottaviano said. "That is the kind of person that is in politics to be a politician, not the kind of person to be in politics and to make things better."

Ottaviano and other candidates in the race tried to stay far away from the "politician" label while Yardley focused on his political savvy.

While members of the General Assembly were debating future district lines for Georgia legislators in August, Yardley was at the Capitol almost daily, lobbying for a different set of House districts than Hall County ended up with.

"Am I a typical politician? No," Yardley said. "I think that I'm the good kind, the kind that goes down there with the only ambition to represent people and do the best I can for them."

Yardley, while the recipient of the most concentrated amount of last-minute campaign vitriol, wasn't the only candidate targeted.

Dunahoo said he received a phone call one week before the election from a woman who asked him who he would vote for in the District 25 race. When Dunahoo responded that he would vote for "Emory Dunahoo," the woman asked if he would still vote for Dunahoo if he "knew he had hired illegal aliens ... in his business. Would you still vote for him?"

"My reply was ‘Why, yes, I know him very well. I know his character, and I know he would never and did never do that. So yes, I would vote for him,'" Dunahoo recalled.

Dunahoo's neighbors and family members, including his mother, also received the call.

Similar calls were made about Banks and builder Todd Reed, who finished third Tuesday.

In Banks' case, the caller focused on his suspension from membership in the Hall County Republican Party. The caller said Reed supported open borders.

Attorney William "Sonny" Sykes, who never received or heard of such a call about his campaign, said he, too, was the victim of dirty politics.

"We've put signs on roads two and three times, and everyone of them will be gone in just a few days and we don't understand that at all, Sykes said. "We think it's wrong."

Sykes said he put other candidates' signs back up, even crossing heavily traveled roads to do so.

"I just don't understand the negative aspect of campaigning, but I believe that I understand now why people won't run for office," he said. "They're vilified, they're accused of things they don't do and it's so hurtful in some ways."

Sykes said he and his wife, Nancy, prayed daily that they wouldn't take offense to what happened that day.

Sykes came in fourth at the polls, earning 35 votes more than Yardley.

The men who placed ahead of him represent the rising tide of politicians with a business background instead of a legal one.

Dunahoo, in citing his reasons for getting involved in the race, said he ran because "we don't need two politicians and an attorney." He felt like the race needed "a businessman with common sense."

Some part of that message resounded with enough voters to get Dunahoo, a previous political unknown, into the second round of the House race with Banks.

For the rest of the candidates, life will return to normal. Sykes will return to his law practice. Reed and Ottaviano will return to their businesses. Paul Wayne Godfrey will continue as chapter counselor of the University of Georgia's Christian fraternity Sigma Theta Epsilon.

Yardley, who is a financial adviser, is the only one whose life looks significantly different following Tuesday's election.

The 38-year-old is, for the moment, out of politics. But Hall County's district lines will change soon. And Yardley promises not to disappear completely.

"There will be some other opportunities that come along, and I'll just keep going on and being Kris Yardley."

 

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