Senator helped would-be replacement Garvin file before cutoff

The only person to attempt to run for Sen. J.B. Powell's Senate seat as a Democrat acknowledged Thursday that he rode to the Capitol with Powell but insisted he made the decision to run on his own.

Leon Garvin, a former sheriff's public relations lieutenant who retired with 40-plus years on the force, said he was surfing the Web last week when he noticed that no one had qualified for Powell's seat.

"I was actually looking on Craigslist for a pontoon boat," he said. Then he clicked over to the Georgia secretary of state's Web site.

"I didn't even think about qualifying until I saw that on the computer," he said.

The secretary of state's list of potential qualifiers showed no names for Senate District 23 through the week of qualifying until Friday. That day, 15 minutes before qualifying closed, Powell surprised the Democratic Party, many in his district and his fellow legislators by signing up to run for commissioner of agriculture.

Two men attempted Friday to qualify for Powell's post: Garvin, whose address turned out to be in the 22nd District, and Waynesboro Republican Jesse Stone.

Garvin drove to Atlanta, but said he realized he didn't know how to get from the Capitol Drive Holiday Inn to the Capitol. He could see the Gold Dome but was unsure how to get there, he said.

So Garvin called Powell, "the only one down there I knew," he said. He and Powell ate breakfast together Friday morning. The senator dropped him off at his room, then picked him up again to take him to the Democratic Party office for qualifying, he said.

Garvin faxed a letter withdrawing from the primary earlier this week, he said. But it was rejected by the secretary of state's office because it was not notarized.

Garvin, who called himself a "conservative Democrat," said he wasn't sure what the dates of qualifying were, nor did he know what counties make up the 23rd, the district he tried to represent.

"No, no, no, not Washington (County)," he insisted during an interview Thursday.

The 23rd encompasses all of Washington, Burke, Screven, Jenkins, Jefferson and parts of Wilkinson, Emanuel and Richmond counties.

Garvin was the only Republican candidate in the 2000 sheriff's race that won Democratic candidate Ronnie Strength his first term.

Once Garvin's withdrawal is official, state Democrats have said they'll attempt to run Blythe attorney Chuck Pardue as a substitute candidate.

But Michael Jablonski, Georgia Democratic party general counsel, said the chance of that effort being successful is "extremely small."

Georgia election code allows a substitute if a candidate withdraws after the primary, but not before, Jablonski said.

"I'm not too optimistic, and there is an alternate way to get him on the ballot," he said.

Pardue can qualify as an independent, he said.

The party scrutinizes candidates' qualifications when they come in to qualify, Jablonski said.

But Garvin showed up with only 10 minutes to spare, five minutes after Powell qualified for the agriculture post "without telling anyone" in the party, he said.

More