Former State Senate Majority Leader Bill Stephens has several Hall County movers and shakers on board for his campaign to succeed Nathan Deal as U.S. congressman for Georgia’s 9th Congressional District.
Stephens, a Republican and Fannin County native, announced his bid on Wednesday, joining a race that now has three announced candidates and two others expressing interest. The congressional seat will be open with Deal, a nine-term incumbent, running for governor of Georgia.
"I think these are challenging times, and I understand the people of North Georgia better than anyone else in the race, and my heart is in serving them," Stephens said in a brief phone interview with The Times on Wednesday.
Stephens lives in Cherokee County, which is outside the 9th Congressional District, but said he is moving to Forsyth County as soon as his children finish up the school year in the next few weeks.
While Stephens represented Cherokee County in the statehouse, his 51st State Senate District also included at various times Fannin, Gilmer, Gordon, Pickens, Union and Forsyth counties, which are part of the 15-county 9th District.
In 2006, Stephens made an unsuccessful run for Georgia secretary of state and now works as a vice president for Southern Highlands Mortgage in Blairsville.
Stephens’ family roots are in Blue Ridge but he has Gainesville connections. As a college student, he played basketball for what was then Gainesville Junior College. Later, he lived for 10 years in Hall County, working for Home Federal, now SunTrust Bank. His two oldest sons graduated from North Hall High School.
Stephens has lined up support from several prominent businessmen with Hall County connections, including campaign chairman Virgil R. Williams, whose Williams Companies owns the leasehold interests in Lake Lanier Islands Resort.
Campaign member Jimmy Adams is founder of the Adams Companies, vice president of Adams Transfer and Storage Co., and a former chairman of the Gainesville-Hall County Economic Development Council.
Stephens’ campaign treasurer, Frank Henry, is managing partner of Gainesville’s Henry and Co. certified public accountants and a past president of the Rotary Club of Gainesville. America’s Home Place founder and president Barry Conner of Gainesville is on board for Stephens’ campaign.
Stephens said he was pleased with the early support he’s gotten in Hall County.
"I think we’ll end up carrying Hall County," Stephens said, adding, "The people on that list are folks I’ve worked with or been friends with long before I was a state senator."
The biggest name on Stephens’ campaign committee is former Georgia Gov. and U.S. Sen. Zell Miller. Miller, a stated member of the Democratic party, has supported several Republican politicians in past campaigns, including President George W. Bush in 2004, Gov. Sonny Perdue in 2006 and U.S. Sen. Saxby Chambliss in 2008.
"I’m proud to have it," Stephens said of Miller’s endorsement. "I think he probably knows more about North Georgia than anyone else, and the fact that he’s with me I hope tells people something."
Stephens first won a state senate seat in 1998 and was elected majority leader in 2003.
"I know what it’s like to take on the power structure and actually win," Stephens said. "When I came into the senate, (Republicans) were actually the minority and with a lot of hard work by myself and lot of others we became the majority party. I know what it’s like to get things done when the tides are against you."
Other announced candidates for the 9th District seat are former state representative and state transportation board chairman Mike Evans of Cumming and state Rep. Tom Graves of Ranger. Ringgold’s Jeremy Jones and Whitfield County Commissioner Mike Cowan have also publicly announced their interest in the seat but had not formally filed with the Federal Election Commission as of Wednesday.
"I look forward to a discussion of the issues that are important to the people of North Georgia," Stephens said. "I think they deserve to see and hear the candidates, and they’ll have ample opportunity."