Originally created 08/19/00

GOP decision divides county



WATKINSVILLE, Ga. - The Oconee County Republican Party Executive Committee will meet this weekend to discuss its future after the commission chairman candidate it nominated was rejected by state Republican leaders Tuesday.

There have been three Republican chairman prospects within the past two weeks: current Chairman Wendell Dawson, who announced last week he would withdraw his candidacy and leave office when his term ends Dec. 31; Charles Hoag, who was recommended by the Oconee County GOP; and Melvin Davis, who was approved by the state Republican Party Executive Committee as the official candidate.

The nomination of Mr. Davis - whose candidacy was the subject of lobbying by some area residents - established a clear split between the Oconee County Republican Party executive committee and some active Republicans in the county.

At this weekend's meeting, topics of discussion likely will include consideration of whether the committee members will step down, according to Sarah Bell, committee chairwoman.

"I don't have an answer yet (to whether that will happen)," Ms. Bell said. "We'll discuss the possibility, but the scope of the discussion will be much broader than that. My officers were very hurt by the state's decision. They spent hours on this."

Ms. Bell said the state committee's rejection of the Oconee County committee recommendation has created a lack of trust between the two panels.

"We have to respond to that for the sake of all parties in the state," she said. "I can imagine chairmen all over the state are going, `What happened?' I can imagine it's pretty rare when the state doesn't go along with what the local party recommends."

Members of the Oconee County GOP executive committee are Ms. Bell, Jane Sultan, Sherrie Campbell, Jerry Studdard and John Daniell.

When Mr. Studdard was asked about stepping down, he said, "As of right now, we've got other candidates in the race. We can't abandon them."

After the Oconee County committee announced its nomination of Mr. Hoag, dissatisfied residents promptly lobbied the state executive committee with telephone calls and a signed letter on behalf of Mr. Davis.

Mr. Davis is a retired district director for the University of Georgia Extension Service, where he oversaw operations in 40 counties. He was chairman of the Oconee County Board of Elections, a county commission-appointed position, until his candidacy became official Tuesday. He then resigned from that post to avoid a conflict of interest.

He will face independent candidate Steve Bolin in the Nov. 7 general election.