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

Hilton, Jeffares to square off in District 17 runoff

Incumbent Collins, Dickerson clash in State Rep. 95 runoff

Despite not asking for donations and placing very few political signs, Covington resident Todd Hilton still managed to secure second place in the State Senate 17 Republican Primary and a spot in the Aug. 10 runoff.

"I tried to run as a real person, not a politician. I had no consultants, no professional managers, I just ran on my message, passion and background. A lot of people told me I didn’t have a chance, because I wasn’t running a typical campaign. They said I would be an also-ran," Hilton said. "I’m humbled by the support. I have great friends. I’m really encouraged because of the amount of money spent on race. I had a plan to not ask for donations, and I didn’t pursue any donations."

Hilton said the 300 signs in the district carrying his name were placed by only three volunteers. However, he said they carried a powerful message because they were in people’s yards, not on public rights-of-way. In addition, he said the videos he posted on You Tube and on his website gave people access to his passionate message.

"I think people are tired of politics as usual. Here I am, I need to stand up and make a difference," he said. "I think the key was that I had a strong message people could identify with. I didn’t give political answers."

As technology director for Social Circle City Schools, Hilton ran a campaign focused on improving education by putting an educator into the political process.

Hilton will face Rick Jeffares, a former Henry County Commissioner and owner of J&T Environmental Services, a water quality preservation company. Jeffares was the leading vote getter Tuesday, grabbing 42.7 percent of the vote in the district. While Hilton used a non-traditional approach, Jeffares credited his dedicated team of volunteers for spreading the word.

"We had a bunch of people working hard. We really didn’t know how it would turn out, but we worked hard and had 1,000 volunteers knocking on doors. We did everything we thought we needed to do and I guess it showed," Jeffares said. He also thanked Hilton and fellow Republican contender Ester Fleming Jr. for running a clean race.

Jeffares said his focus during the next three weeks will be to continue to spread the word, because the runoff is just as important as the primary.

"The bad thing about the runoff is that it’s hard to get people out a second time. We’ll try to get some people who missed the vote yesterday and continue doing what we’ve been doing. We’re pretending we’re in last place," Jeffares said.

Jeffares was elected to the Henry County Board of Commission in 2008 and resigned that seat to run for State Senate District 17. He said didn’t plan to run for state office, but when current Sen. John Douglas (R-Social Circle) decided not to seek reelection, it caught everyone off guard and presented an opportunity. According to his website, Jeffares was previously city manager for Locust Grove, director of water and wastewater treatment for the city of Covington and director of water and water pollution control for the city of McDonough.

In order to help voters prepare for the Aug. 10 runoff, a local conservative advocate group, Patriots Table, is hosting a State Senate 17 forum from 7 p.m. to 9 p.m., Tuesday at the Little Red School House, next to the Covington Y on Newton Drive. Patriots Table Charter Member Ralph Brian said the event will be moderated by local resident Fred Wheeler, and audience members will be able to submit questions via note cards handed out at the forum. For more information visit patriotstable.org.

In the Democratic State Senate 17 Primary, Jim Nichols of Stockbridge defeated Covington resident Nichols Day by gathering 62.8 percent of the vote. Nichols is a UPS truck loader and ran on a platform of improving the state budget. Neither retired resident Day nor Nichols could be reached for comment.

State Representative

District 95

Democratic incumbent Rep. Toney Collins (D-Conyers) was the top vote getter at 43.1 percent, followed by challenger Pam Dickerson, who got 33.4 percent.

Collins said he thought the key to making the runoff was residents voting based on his record, not just promises.

"They know me from the past, know personally how I helped them as a state representative. I also have the advantage of being incumbent, so they see things I’ve done, compared to people who haven’t done anything," Collins said. "Experience is a great teacher. My integrity and my results will bring my lupus and kidney disease bill to forefront."

Among some people, Collins has a reputation for not showing up to events or being present; however, he said while he’s not always visible he believes he’s accessible.

"I’m not a person that’s always visible. I’m not trying to get pictures taken and not just trying to get my face seen. But anytime when someone would call or e-mail or come to office to talk about a bill, I’ve always been there," he said. He also said the death of his father a short time ago may have led to some missed e-mails and phone calls recently.

Despite making the runoff, Collins said he realizes a lot of his constituents still don’t know what he’s done during his term.

"I’m letting people know I now have experience in pushing out legislation. I’ve never been a guy to boast about anything, I’m just a quiet guy trying to help people out," he said.

Dickerson, a former Delta flight attendant, said she and her team tried to hit every neighborhood and send out mailers to spread her message.

"And we’re going to continue to work hard. I felt his being the incumbent had something to do with (his finishing first," she said. "I’m glad to be engaged and to return phone calls and be available, something I did not see the opposition do. But this is not about the opposition. It’s about the people. I’m looking forward to winning it."

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