Sen. Josh McKoon’s announcement last week that he will not seek re-election for his District 29 seat has triggered interest from LaGrange to Columbus.
Qualifying, set for March 5-9, 2018, is still more than a year away. The primary is scheduled for May 22, 2018, and the General Election is in November 2018.
But that has not stopped the speculation. Names of a number of potential candidates have surfaced as the Ledger-Enquirer reached out to people familiar with the West Georgia district that stretches out from north Columbus to LaGrange.
Harris County Sheriff Mike Jolley, LaGrange Mayor Jim Thornton, state Rep. John Pezold, Columbus attorney Mark Post, Columbus attorney Ted Morgan and former congressional aide Theresa Garcia Robertson were the names most mentioned. All of them are Republicans.
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Thornton, a first-term LaGrange mayor and local attorney, is up for re-election in November.
“This wasn’t on my radar,” Thornton said Monday of the Senate race. “But now I am thinking about it. I would call this an unexpected wrinkle.”
Thornton is 43 and has been practicing law in LaGrange for 19 years.
One of the factors that could work in his favor is the weight LaGrange now carries in the district.
McKoon, a Columbus attorney who has held the seat since 2010, easily won the November General Election over Democratic challenger Ben Anderson, with more than 64 percent of the vote. There were more than 73,000 ballots cast, the overwhelming majority coming out of Muscogee County.
But the more telling numbers are in the Republican primary where the next state senator will likely be decided in the heavily right-leaning district.
In the May 2016 Republican primary, the vote totals showed that Troup County holds a lot of influence in the four-county district that includes southern Troup, northern Muscogee, Harris and Meriwether counties.
McKoon was unopposed in the primary, but 10,429 votes were still cast for the incumbent state senator. Of that total, 3,624 came from Troup County, 3,241 from Muscogee, 2,371 from Harris and 1,193 from Meriwether.
Post, a Harris County resident, and Morgan, who lives in north Columbus, both said they were also considering entering the race.
“I am going to consider it,” said Morgan, 53. “I can’t say that I am going to do it, but I am certainly leaning that way.”
Post, who ran unsuccessfully for the district attorney’s post in the Chattahoochee Judicial Circuit in 2012, said he must discuss the decision with his family.
“I have thought about it,” said Post, who spent 20 years as a state prosecutor before entering private practice. “But it is still pretty early.”
Jolley could not be reached for comment, but he would be considered a factor if he entered. He has name recognition throughout the district and drew national attention in 2015 when he placed a “politically incorrect” sign on county property. The sign, paid for by the sheriff, read: “WARNING: Harris County is politically incorrect. We say: Merry Christmas, God Bless America and In God We Trust. We salute our troops and our flag. If this offends you… LEAVE!”
“I am sure that Sheriff Jolley would be a tough candidate if he chose to jump in,” Morgan said. “I know that he is very well respected.”
Pezold and Robertson said they were not considering a bid for the seat in 2018.
“I have no plans to run for Senate District 29,” said Pezold, a north Columbus McDonald’s franchise owner who currently represents a House District that sits in the heart of the soon-to-be vacant Senate district.
Robertson, who is married to state Fraternal Order of Police President Randy Robertson and resides in southern Harris County, was McKoon’s campaign manger in his first run and has not been active in his three previous races.
“It is incredibly humbling to have your name associated with a state Senate race,” she said. “While I have strongly considered running, my husband and I believe the timing is not right for our family.”
McKoon said a number of people considering the seat have reached out to him.
“I have had quite a few people contact me about running for the state Senate,” he said. “Out of respect for the private nature of those conversations, I am not going to identify any of those individuals. I am encouraged that a number of qualified individuals are contemplating running.”