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Who’s running for state Senate seat District 49? Get to know these two candidates

The Times is presenting candidates’ positions on local issues in print editions ahead of the Nov. 8 election. Early voting begins Oct. 17. For more coverage, visit

What to know about this race: This seat was left open when Butch Miller, who has served in the Senate since 2010, decided to run instead for lieutenant governor. Candidate Shelly Echols won a three-way race in the May 24 primary to become the Republican nominee. Democrat Jody Cooley was uncontested in the primary.

How to vote: District 49 covers almost all of Hall County, except a small portion in East Hall. Only those in the district vote, and the district shifted some following the 2020 census. Check your districts at

Meet the candidates

Jody Cooley


Jody Cooley.jpg

Residence: Gainesville

Occupation: lawyer in a mediation practice

Political experience: Ran unsuccessfully against U.S. Rep. Doug Collins in 2012. He also has served one four-year term on the Gainesville City Board of Education.

Family: married with two adult children

Shelly Echols


Residence: North Hall, near Lula

Occupation: business owner

SENATE49 Shelly Echols
Shelly Echols

Political experience: Hall County District 3 Commissioner since 2019 

Family: Married with two children


Candidates on education legislation

The state legislature focused efforts last year toward giving parents more control over their children’s education. What do you see as pressing education issues moving forward?

Cooley: He believes legislators need to address teacher pay and burnout. “Wages in the private sector have increased and the burdens we have placed on teachers have also increased, and pay has not kept up with what’s happened in the private market. Teachers are feeling underappreciated and, to some extent, under attack by some of the culture wars they’ve been drawn into.”

Echols: She believes state funding of schools “will be looked at, just to see if there’s any need for changes with that.” Also, as for pay or “anything we can do to help our teachers out, I’m always in favor of doing that.” She added, “I was in the classroom for five years, and it’s tough. That was 15 years ago. I can’t imagine the pressures the teachers are under now.” 

Candidates on firearms laws

With mass shootings in the news this year, what legislation, if any, do you favor concerning purchasing, owning and using guns? Explain your answer.

Cooley: He believes the state’s getting rid of the concealed weapons permitting process was wrong. “I believe in the Second Amendment and I know what it says, but I don’t think reasonable permits were an undue burden.” He added, “I also don’t see any need for assault weapons. I don’t see they serve any purpose other than to kill and maim, and I would severely restrict, if not ban, the sale of those.”

Echols: “I don’t know of anything coming up as far as firearms goes. I think with the constitutional carry (issue) last year that was passed, I don’t think that there’s much left to do. I do believe the state has made a big focus on mental health and that’s the biggest key to all these mass shootings. I’m glad to see that the legislature has really started (those efforts), and we need to continue those efforts to make sure people have access to mental health care, removing the stigma of having to need mental health care.”

Candidates on the state budget

In the last General Assembly, legislators cut state income tax this legislative session and gave out more than $1 billion in tax rebates. How do you think future budget surpluses should be handled?

Cooley: He believes that a “good chunk of” COVID-19 relief money flowing to Georgia and partially fueling budget surpluses “should be shared with taxpayers.” “To the extent that our budget is growing more healthy because of growth in Georgia, I think we need to look at the state’s needs, and those needs are teacher and public servant pay. Beyond that … booming economies like we’ve had in Georgia do justify tax rebates.”

Echols: “Surplus money should go back to the taxpayers. That’s the basic answer for that. I don’t think we really need to expand our spending because the surplus won’t always be there. I think we need to be mindful of that.” Tax rebates are “the simplest way” to return money to taxpayers.

Candidates on abortion legislation

Georgia’s HB 481, or the “Heartbeat Bill,” which bans abortions once a fetal heartbeat can be detected, typically around six weeks, took effect July 22 in the wake of the U.S. Supreme Court overturning Roe v. Wade, the 1973 decision that had provided a constitutional right to abortion. What other actions do you believe legislators should take, if any, on this issue?

Cooley: He believes the Heartbeat Bill “is a terrible restriction on women’s health rights.”

With Roe v. Wade’s overturning, “I think we ought to seek compromise that recognizes women’s health issues early on in the pregnancy prior to viability, and I think we ought to protect the fetus after viability. I think there are all sorts of ways to do that, that aren’t as hard and fast and drastic as the 6-week aborion ban.”

Echols: “I think the Heartbeat bill is a solid bill. I’m certainly pro-life.” She also believes it’s not much of a topic for average Georgians, who are more concerned with economic issues. She believes Democrats are harping on the subject “to remove focus from the economy and how much everything costs right now.”