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Posted: July 23, 2010 12:00 a.m.

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Douglas claims spot in Aug. runoff

Prominent locals Fleming, Cooper lose state legislature races

Sen. John Douglas was one of only two Newton County candidates to fair well in Tuesday’s state elections, qualifying for the Aug. 10 runoff by finishing second in his Public Service Commission race.

Ester Fleming Jr. and Andrea "Andre" Cooper both finished out of contention, placing third in their respective State Senate District 17 and State Representative District 95 races. Covington resident Todd Hilton was the other local winner, securing second place and a spot in the runoff for the State Senate 17 seat.

Douglas had a strong showing capturing 27.6 percent of the statewide vote for the PSC District 2 seat, while grabbing a 56.2 percent majority of Newton County votes. He will face Tim Echols of Athens on Aug. 10.

Douglas was last among the four Republican candidates for the open seat, according to a May 18 poll by Rosetta Stone Communications; however, he managed to capture a significant chunk of the 75 percent of the polled Republican Primary voters who were undecided.

If elected, Douglas said previously he believes he would be the first Newton County resident to ever hold a statewide office. Although Douglas and Echols are running for their local District 2 seat on the PSC, the entire state votes in the race.

"We were very pleased. What was particularly gratifying is that we carried Newton County by almost three to one. It’s very humbling and gratifying to have the support of the home folks like that," Douglas said. "Statewide we did very well, finished a strong second. We think that’s because of the experience level I bring and the steady hand I would be at the Public Service Commission."

Douglas said he is working with his former PSC opponents Rep. Jeff May of Monroe, a friend of Douglas, and Sen. Joseph Brush of Appling, to garner their votes in order to push him above the 50 percent mark.

"We’re looking forward to the next three weeks. When we take our message across the state we’ll take the same message that carries here in Newton County, that same conservative, common sense approach."

Fleming and Cooper found Tuesday’s results to be less satisfying.

Fleming, former Newton County commissioner, ran on a platform of representing the concerns of local residents and governments at the state level, including trying to reduce the number of unfunded mandates passed down by the state. He also said if elected he would focus on creating jobs, running the state like a business and improving transportation planning.

However, his message didn’t seem to stick as Fleming barely carried his home county, garnering a plurality of 37.9 percent of the votes. District wide, he only managed to 25.2 percent of the vote, losing to former Henry County Commissioner Rick Jeffares, 42.7 percent, and Social Circle educator Todd Hilton, 32.2 percent. He did not return phone seeking comment.

Tuesday’s results were even more surprising for Cooper, a former Newton County public defender investigator, who failed to carry Newton County, finishing third in local voting, at 29.2 percent. Throughout the campaign he expressed the hope that he would be able to carry Newton and Gwinnett counties, while competing in Rockdale County. However, he only managed to receive 23.5 percent of the total vote, while incumbent Toney Collins received 43.1 percent and former Delta Airlines employee Pam Dickerson received 33.4 percent.

"I know the two had pushed more financially; they had more support than I had. Overall I thought I would be a little closer to the group and maybe even on top," Collins said Wednesday. "On Election Day, Toney (Collins) flooded the area with signs, and I think that helped him. I wish more people would have read the newspaper and visited my website; I think that would have swayed some people."

Cooper was also hurt financially after being included in Newton County’s June budget cuts. Prior to and after the Primary, Cooper expressed concern about the direction Newton County was headed.

"What I want to know is what do we have in place? Two years now we’ve cut the budget and positions, and right now I still don’t see anything in place to prevent a third year of cuts. You can only cut so much. Some of these county employees need to hold the leaders accountable," Cooper said.

More than being cut, Cooper said he was disappointed about the way he was treated after being cut.

"They told you one day go home and don’t come back. It was a rough feeling. Then the next day I went to personnel, and I was treated like I was a criminal. I couldn’t even sit down with the chairman or commissioners. I was being escorted everywhere. That was the worst feeling; the fact they treated me like that," he said.

Cooper promised to stay involved in the community and continue to attend Board of Commissioners meetings and push to bring a Boys and Girls Club to Newton County.

"They’ll see me more than ever in the community. They’ll see me so often they’ll get tired of seeing me," he said.

Cooper, who previously ran for the Newton County District 3 commission seat, said he is leaving, but he may return to the political realm. If he does, he said this experience leaves him more seasoned and prepared.

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