Steve Gooch, the former chairman of the Lumpkin County Commission, was elected as the third person to serve out the rest of a five-year term representing the state’s 9th Congressional District on the state Department of Transportation board.
Gooch, 42, says he is ready to reach out to other officials in the district to find answers to the state’s transportation issues. And, unlike the two board representatives who came before him, Gooch said he plans to serve out the rest of the five-year term on the board.
"I don’t pretend to know all the answers to all the problems," he said. "But I have a desire, a strong desire, to work toward the betterment of the citizens."
Before his election Wednesday, Gooch spent eight years as commissioner in Lumpkin County; he was chairman of the commission for four. He didn’t seek re-election to the commission in 2008. Instead, he ran, unsuccessfully, for the state House seat held by fellow Republican Amos Amerson.
On Wednesday, Amerson nominated Gooch to serve on the DOT board among two other nominees.
Lawmakers didn’t immediately announce the actual vote count. To win, Gooch had to get 13 of the representatives and senators from the state’s 9th District to vote for him. There are 24 state lawmakers from the 9th District; 23 were present Wednesday.
It took two rounds of voting for Gooch to get enough votes.
Former state Rep. Stacey Reece of Gainesville finished second in the voting. Reece was nominated by Rep. Doug Collins, R-Gainesville.
Reece and Gooch received the most votes on the first ballot. A third candidate, Chatsworth mayor and former DOT employee Tyson Haynes, finished third on the first ballot and was eliminated from the race.
Gooch will fill the unexpired term of Dalton attorney Steve Farrow. Farrow resigned from the 9th District post on the board in August, citing personal issues. Three years remain on Farrow’s term.
Reece was making his second bid to win the 9th District seat on the DOT board. Reece opposed Mike Evans in February 2008, losing the race to Evans by three votes.
Reece was an announced candidate in 2006 for the state Senate seat currently held by Sen. Lee Hawkins, R-Gainesville, but he abandoned his campaign after news accounts of a lobbyist-sponsored wedding shower at a private club in Atlanta.
Reece, a former Republican state representative and Gainesville businessman, made known his intention to run for the transportation board again shortly after Farrow resigned in August.
Rep. Carl Rogers, R-Gainesville, has made no secret of his support for Reece. For the past few months, Rogers has traveled across the district with Reece, taking him to meet with other representatives and senators and ask for their support.
"You never know in these things," Rogers said following the vote. "You know, secret ballots — deals were cut. So that’s all I can say."
Of all the candidates, Rogers said Reece had the most experience. He said Gooch will need to be brought up to speed on transportation issues quickly.
"He’s got a large learning curve," Rogers said. "... He promised and he’ll have to deliver."
Prior to the vote, Hawkins and Collins also said they supported Reece. Rep. James Mills was present for the vote, but left the chamber after the vote and was not immediately available for comment.
Though Collins nominated Reece, he said Gooch was "capable and willing."
"He will make a fine DOT board member," Collins said.
During his tenure on the Lumpkin board of commissioners, Gooch also served as a board member of the Association County Commissioners of Georgia, a post he said will help him on the transportation board because it allowed him to meet most of the local government officials in the 9th District.
Since February 2008, two board members representing the 9th District have resigned from the post, which has a five-year term.
When Farrow was elected to the board in May 2008, he was filling the unexpired term of Mike Evans. Evans resigned shortly after he was elected to a second term on the board, citing a budding romantic relationship with then-DOT Commissioner Gena Abraham.
Evans, who is now married to Abraham, is currently campaigning to represent the 9th District in the U.S. House of Representatives.