State House and Senate leaders appeared to beat back primary challenges Tuesday, despite what one lawmaker called an anti-incumbent mood among voters.
Most incumbents faced only token opposition, but among those in tight re-election races, state Sen. Brandon Beach of North Fulton edged out anti-MARTA millionaire Aaron Barlow, who self-financed his campaign. And Dunwoody state Rep. Tom Taylor, who was recently arrested for drunk driving with four teens in his car and a gun on his hip, easily overcame Vietnam War veteran Tom Owens.
For most of the legislative winners, Tuesday’s party primaries determined whether they would get another term because they face no general election opposition this fall. A few, however, could face runoffs July 26 because they did not clear a requirement to get more than 50 percent of the vote. Among them appeared to be 94-year-old state Rep. John P. Yates, R-Griffin, the last World War II veteran serving in the Georgia Legislature, who after a tight vote could face a runoff against chiropractor Karen Mathiak.
Also Tuesday, state Public Service Commissioner Tim Echols easily beat back challenges from two GOP opponents, Michelle Miller and Kellie Pollard Austin. With no Democrats challenging for the seat in November, the win means Echols will retain his seat on the commission, which regulates utilities in Georgia.
Among notable results:
- In Blue Ridge, House Speaker David Ralston again dispatched retired wrestling coach Sam Snider. Ralston beat Snider handily in 2014. This year, however, Snider has tried to hang Ralston’s support for a 2015 law that increased motor fuel taxes to help raise $900 million annually for roads and bridges - as well as Gov. Nathan Deal’s veto of a “religious liberty” bill - around the Speaker’s neck. It didn’t work.
- House Appropriations Chairman Terry England, R-Auburn, easily bested financial manager Lucretia Hughes of Winder.
- House Majority Leader Jon Burns, R-Newington, had little trouble with a challenge from corrections officer and Marine Corps veteran Daniel Almond.
- In Sandy Springs, local attorney and community activist Deborah Silcox had a lead over former Sandy Springs City Councilman Graham McDonald. The seat’s incumbent, 16-year state Rep. Joe Wilkinson, withdrew earlier this year after facing unexpected opposition from McDonald, who was encouraged to run by state Rep. Wendell Willard, R-Sandy Springs, and Sandy Springs Mayor Rusty Paul. Wilkinson endorsed Silcox. With no Democrats in the race, the winner is all but assured of a seat in the state House.
- House Banking Chairman Greg Morris, R-Vidalia, had an easier time in his rematch against former Navy SEAL Lee Burton, whom Morris beat in 2014 by just 71 votes. The win came despite an announcement last week that Morris is negotiating a settlement with federal regulators over a lawsuit that followed the 2012 failure of a small South Georgia bank where he was a director.
- State Rep. Scot Turner, R-Holly Springs, who voted against the transportation tax hike in 2015, overcame an effort by the Georgia Chamber and its allies to punish him for it. A business coalition sent out mailings for Canton business owner Kevin Moore, who was challenging Turner in the GOP primary race.
- No clear winners emerged early in GOP primaries for two legislative House districts in and around Brookhaven, Chamblee and Doraville. In House District 81, 33-year-old pilot and business owner Lane Flynn and longtime real estate broker Jim Duffie appeared to be the top two vote-getters in what is likely a runoff. In House District 80, businessman Alan Cole and attorney Meagan Hanson led early the tight, three-person race that is also likely headed to a runoff.
- Powerful Senate Rules Chairman Jeff Mullis, R-Chickamauga, saw little problem against teacher and former Trion Mayor Lanny Thomas.
- Senate Majority Leader Bill Cowsert, R-Athens, who faced a Republican primary challenge for the first time in years, easily defeated retired university administrator Patricia Daugherty.
- In Dalton, Senate Insurance and Labor Chairman Charlie Bethel — who voted for the transportation bill—overcame community volunteer and first-time candidate Conda Goodson. Goodson had tried to win over voters by stressing the effect of taxes on a community still hurting from the recession.