COVINGTON -- The battle between Republican incumbent Steve Davis and opponent Dale Rutledge to win the General Primary for the newly drawn Georgia House District 109 seat has been fraught with accusations of ethical misconduct, with one of the candidates calling it "the nastiest election I've ever seen."
Rutledge has come out swinging against Davis since he first announced his bid for election, alleging that Davis made $25,000 off federal bailout money with "special real estate deals" and that he collected "thousands of dollars in campaign contributions from lobbyists, deposited those contributions into his campaign fund and then paid family members thousands of dollars in salaries from it. As your new representative, I will sponsor legislation making that behavior illegal."
Davis called those allegations "flatly false," saying those are attacks that have been regurgitated from an opponent two years ago.
"It's a shame this person, with this do and say anything attitude he has is making false and libelous statements. He knows that my firm nor I received any stimulus money," Davis said.
The Atlanta-Journal Constitution reported last week that after it questioned Davis about campaign funds being used to pay for his children's memberships in private athletic clubs, including Crush Athletic Club in Conyers, Davis reimbursed his campaign by $2,650.
Davis said the reimbursement was made prior to the newspaper's inquiries. He did not address the issue of whether the campaign funds were improperly used to pay for the memberships, but said it's a shame that his opponent is attacking his family. Davis said Rutledge has not attended any debates "but he takes all these false allegations and shops them around to the media outlets to district voters from the issues, when he won't go out and talk to them about the things that matter to them."
The four-term incumbent said the race is the "nastiest" he's ever witnessed.
Meanwhile, Davis has alleged and Rutledge has admitted to violating ethics laws by taking out loans and spending more than $7,000 in campaign funds before he registered to run for office. Rutledge filed an ethics complaint against himself after he became aware of the violation.
Davis was first elected in 2004. He currently serves as chairman of the Information and Audits Committee and secretary of the State Planning and Community Affairs Committee and is a member of Appropriations, Insurance, State Institutions and Property and Transportation Committees.
Davis was the coauthor of legislation that changed graduation requirements for high school students, adding more vocational and technical training, something that he says goes hand in hand with the Newton County School System's College and Career Academy "to give students more options for graduation that are more focused on their goals and needs rather than one size fits all" curriculum.
Davis said he has helped secure more than $400 million in transportation funds for Henry County, including the widening of I-75 and improvements at major interchanges. He is opposed to T-SPLOST, saying, "I do support regional cooperation, but I don't support regional governance."
He is most proud of his Insurance Delivery Enhancement Act, which allows groups of small businesses to pull together to offer their own insurance to employees at a more affordable cost without government subsidies. Davis said he has been endorsed by Gov. Nathan Deal, Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle and every constitutional officer in the state.
Davis and his wife Melissa have three children and live in Henry County.
Rutledge, who lives in McDonough, grew up on his family's farm in Henry County and attended Henry public schools along with Georgia Southwestern University. He is the former owner of Rover. Inc, a recycling and sanitation firm, and currently runs Expo-Link Cargo, specializing in trade show exhibits for the logistics industry.
Rutledge is a long-time member of the Henry County Chamber of Commerce. He and his wife Kathy have two daughters and are members of McDonough Presbyterian Church.
Rutledge has signed an ethics pledge to put a $100 cap on gifts legislators can receive from lobbyists. "Our current laws lack enforcement capabilities. We need teeth in ethics legislation that will result in real consequences and deter this type of behavior, ultimately holding elected officials accountable for their actions," he said.
If elected, Rutledge said he'll have an open door policy for everyone in his district, which due to redistricting has been shifted into Newton, and includes Barksdale and the southern half of Magnet in Rockdale.
"It is all about communication and accomplishment for the people I will represent in this position. Due to a close working relationship with local city and county officials and with the business community I will have the opportunity to hear from those who are at the forefront for what our state and communities need. Those concerns will not only be heard but also acted upon," he said.
District 109 covers parts of Newton, Rockdale and Henry counties.
The winner of the General Primary determines the winner of the District 109 race, as there are no Democratic candidates.