Originally created 07/19/00

Voters unseat Williams



In her first foray into the world of politics, Sue Burmeister pulled off one of the bigger upsets in years, unseating veteran lawmaker Robin Williams in the Republican primary race for state representative for District 114.

Mrs. Burmeister said she never had any doubt she would win."I did expect to win," she said. "My gosh, I expected to win. I am very competitive. Anybody that knows me knows I am a hard worker. I never had any doubt."

Mr. Williams, who had spent the past 10 years in the state Legislature, said he never really felt like he was in the race. "That's not to take anything away from Sue - she did a great job. But maybe I shouldn't have run this time. I never really felt like I did in the past - this is my sixth election. This might just have been the race I shouldn't have run."

The voters seemed to share that sentiment. Mrs. Burmeister collected 62.1 percent, or 2,202 of the 3,564 ballots cast Tuesday. Mr. Williams took 37.9 percent, or 1,344 votes.

Mrs. Burmeister said her grass-roots campaign - "I brought my message to the people"- was the biggest factor in the win.Her opponent agreed. "I think she had a good message," Mr. Williams said. "I think she worked hard, and she beat us."

The race had more significance than most primaries because there is no Democratic Party candidate on November's general election ballot.

That fact also helped make this primary race more heated and at times more negative than many races. At a news conference last month, Mrs. Burmeister alleged Mr. Williams had threatened to destroy her, her family and her marriage if she ran against him.

Mr. Williams denied he said such things, then produced a television ad portraying Mrs. Burmeister as a puppet on a string, being played by state school Superintendent Linda Schrenko, the Georgia Association of Educators and the Georgia Equality Project.

Mrs. Burmeister responded by calling Mr. Williams a Democrat in Republican's clothing. She said she would try to keep her campaign positive and focused on the issues.

When the two weren't trading barbs, one of the issues they debated was Gov. Roy Barnes education-reform bill.

Mrs. Burmeister, a harsh critic of the bill, said too much was cut from crucial educational programs. The bill should not have been passed without key amendments, she said.

Mr. Williams voted for the Democrat-sponsored legislation. With Georgia's national educational rank perilously close to last, Mr. Williams said doing something was better than doing nothing.Both Mrs. Burmeister and Mr. Williams said Tuesday night they regretted the negativity that shaped their campaign. "I'm going to work with her - she's my representative." Mr. Williams said. "I don't dislike anybody," Mrs. Burmeister said.

Just 18 percent, or 14,894, of Augusta-Richmond County's 81,952 registered voters took time out of their day Tuesday to cast a ballot in either the Democrat or Republican primary.

Ronnie Strength disposed of Elmer Singley in the Democratic primary contest for Augusta-Richmond County sheriff. Mr. Strength took 85.5 percent, or 7,034, of the 8,227 ballots cast. Mr. Strength will face Republican Leon Garvin in November's general election.

"I'm real pleased," Mr. Strength said. "I just think this demonstrates the voters of Richmond County want continued professionalism within the sheriff's department, and they came out and spoke today."Besides being a former chief deputy for Richmond County, Mr. Strength had the advantage of an immense war chest of campaign contributions he used to flood the streets with signs and the airwaves with ads.

Mr. Singley, who portrayed himself as the outsider during the campaign, did not have the financial strength of his opponent, but he made up for it by meeting with as many voters as possible and laying out his platform to change the status quo in the sheriff's department.

Both candidates had promised to study the idea of a citizens review board for the department and search for ways to lower the juvenile crime rate.

Mr. Strength's victory sets up a November showdown with Republican candidate Mr. Garvin. Mr. Strength said he has not thought too much about the upcoming challenge; he's just happy he got past the first test.

In the race for Georgia's 24th Senate seat, incumbent Joey Brush defeated Mike Popplewell in the race that covered parts of five counties with 7,949 votes to 4,724.

"It's been a lot of work, and I feel very fortunate that the voters saw my record and let it speak for itself," Mr. Brush said. "The voters looked past the unfair characterizations made about me, and they were able to wade through that clutter."

Mr. Popplewell said he was disappointed in voter turnout, especially in McDuffie County - where his business is located.

"You never get into something like this without the expectation of winning," he said. "In the big picture, I'm very pleased with the showing I made. I'm very comfortable with the race I ran."

Education reform was the key issue in deciding the race between incumbent Georgia House 113 Rep. Ben Harbin and Ron Beul. Mr. Beul, 41, is an engineer with the Savannah River Site.

But the incumbent prevailed, winning with 70 percent of the vote. Mr. Harbin had 4,024 votes to Mr. Beul's 1,674.

"It feels good," said Mr. Harbin, riding in his car on the way to the Columbia County Government Center. "We had a lot of folks helping us - family, friends. I feel like we did everything right. We ran a good positive race, and I'm proud of the people on this campaign, and I look forward to serving Columbia County for two more years and doing what we've done in the past."

Mr. Beul said he did everything he could to win the race.

"I gave it 100 percent of my effort to take on the incumbent," he said. "Of course, when you take on the incumbent, you're looking at a tall mountain, no matter who it is. I'm disappointed in the returns. I thought my door-to-door work would provide better results. However, Mr. Harbin worked very hard doing the same."

Both men are Republicans, but Mr. Beul said Mr. Harbin jumped ship when he sided with Mr. Barnes' education-reform initiative last year. It's a bill Mr. Beul said he believes will cost the taxpayers millions in its implementation during the next several years.

But Mr. Harbin, 36, a land surveyor and business owner, stands firmly behind his decision to vote on education reform. Legislators, he said, will have the ability to fine-tune the bill as it is implemented.The candidates also differed on the move to create a countywide elected commission chairman position. Mr. Harbin was for the change, while Mr. Beul opposed it.

Mr. Harbin now is serving his sixth year in the state House."The election went well, but I'm just sorry that Columbia County voters did not turn out to vote," said Deborah Marshall, director of the board of elections. She had predicted a 28 percent turnout, but only 24 percent did.

Staff Writers Jason Smith, Sylvia Cooper and Clarissa Walker contributed to this article.

Reach Justin Martin at (706) 823-3552.