COVINGTON -- Now that state Sen. John Douglas has decided not to seek re-election and instead run for a seat on the Georgia Public Service Commission, two Republicans have stepped in to vie for the open Senate seat.
Former Newton County Commissioner Ester Fleming of Covington and state Rep. John Lunsford of McDonough both qualified for the 17th District seat Wednesday morning.
Douglas surprised many when he qualified Tuesday afternoon for the PSC District 2 seat being vacated by retiring Commissioner Bobby Baker. Lunsford said he wasn't aware Douglas would not seek re-election until fellow Senate and House members started asking him whether he planned to run for the now-vacated seat.
But even though Lunsford had not originally planned to run for the Senate this year, it was not the first time he thought about it. He said he considered running for the seat 10 years ago when former state Sen. Mike Crotts opted not to seek re-election.
Instead, he ran for the 110th House District, a seat he has held since that time, even through reapportionment and shifting district lines. The 110th House District represents portions of Butts, Henry and Newton counties. The 17th Senate District includes portions of Henry, Newton, Rockdale, Spalding and Walton counties.
"I have represented the majority of the (17th) Senate District most of the time I've been in the House," Lunsford said. "About 54 percent of the Senate district is in my current or former House district. It just seemed to be the obvious thing."
Lunsford said the decision wasn't easy. After 10 years in the House, he has garnered the respect of many fellow legislators and is chairman of the Special Committee on Small Business Development and Job Creation.
Lunsford also serves on the Appropriations, Health and Human Services, Rules and Science and Technology committees, and is the senior hawk, which has additional committee responsibilities. Lunsford said the decision was made easier when Senate Majority Leader Chip Rogers (R-Woodstock) offered his endorsement for Lunsford's campaign, along with all the representatives within the 17th Senate District and the senators in the adjoining districts. Lunsford said Rogers has offered him a chairmanship in the Senate, if he wins election.
As of Wednesday, Fleming was Lunsford's only competition for the seat.
Lunsford said he looks forward to an open and respectful campaign with Fleming, but is confident the voters will choose him.
"I think the voters are looking for someone who has actually made promises and kept them, and I think they will find I've done that for 10 years in a row," Lunsford said.
He said he has consistently voted for tax cuts, reductions in the capital gains tax, served on the hospital review study committee and helped rewrite the state telecommunications law, which he said resulted in a savings of millions of dollars.
"I think my constituents have gotten their money's worth," Lunsford said.
He said he believes the Senate will provide him a stronger platform to continue pushing for jobs creation and tax cuts. He said he promises to continue to be a good steward of taxpayers' money.
"I think the public expects their legislators to do the best they can for them and represent their values as if they were their own," he said. "I think they would like us to spend their money like they spend their own -- I think that's pretty darn conservative."
Lunsford said he has noticed the public becoming more engaged and aware of the actions of elected officials over the past year -- something he believes is a good sign.
"I hope the public's engagement continues and strengthens," he said. "Just like I wouldn't put kids in a house filled with junk food and TV and videos and then walk out and leave them alone, why would you do that with your elected officials?"
Lunsford is a real estate appraiser. He and his wife Tina live in McDonough and have seven children.