Ca­toosa GOP: Some pick write-in over ‘in­de­pen­dent voice’ who won runoff

Chattanooga Times Free Press - - REGION - BY PA­TRICK FILBIN STAFF WRITER

Vanita Hul­lan­der, the Repub­li­can nom­i­nee for the District 3 seat on the Ca­toosa County Com­mis­sion, beat the in­cum­bent Jim Cut­ler in an Au­gust runoff.

Hul­lan­der was the un­der­dog, go­ing up against a well- es­tab­lished can­di­date who went into the runoff with top-level en­dorse­ments at the lo­cal and state level.

She has held dozens of po­si­tions on var­i­ous boards in Ca­toosa County and served as the county coro­ner for six terms. Cut­ler was en­dorsed by prom­i­nent lead­ers such as Repub­li­can Sen. Jeff Mullis of Chicka­mauga, Sher­iff Gary Sisk and Ca­toosa County Schools Superinten­dent De­nia Reese.

De­spite the po­lit­i­cal deck stacked against her, Hul­lan­der came out on top. She re­ceived 1,028 votes to Cut­ler’s 949.

The two other in­cum­bents in the June pri­mary — Chair­man Steven Henry and Jeff Long, both Repub­li­cans — won their races out­right and didn’t need to run again in the runoff.

A few days af­ter the runoff, Hul­lan­der showed her pub­lic sup­port for an old friend, Ernie Purs­ley, the Demo­crat nom­i­nee who is run­ning against Henry for the com­mis­sion chair.

“I have known Ernie Purs­ley

for 30 years. He is a good man, com­mu­nity-ori­ented, and wants to do what is right for this county,” Hul­lan­der wrote on Purs­ley’s cam­paign Face­book page. “He will serve you well … I sup­port him fully.”

Hul­lan­der later told the Times Free Press that she wasn’t en­dors­ing Purs­ley but show­ing pub­lic sup­port for her friend.

The pub­lic dis­play of sup­port from a Repub­li­can for a Demo­crat was all Sen. Mullis and other prom­i­nent Repub­li­cans needed to put their sup­port be­hind a write- in can­di­date with less than a month un­til Novem­ber’s elec­tion.

Terry Craw­ford, a for­mer mem­ber of the Ring­gold City Coun­cil, will be on the bal­lot as a writein can­di­date. Craw­ford told the Times Free Press Tues­day that af­ter Hul­lan­der beat Cut­ler, some peo­ple told him he should run. When asked which peo­ple, Craw­ford told a reporter, “You don’t need to know that.”

Craw­ford hosted a cam­paign event Mon­day that in­cluded guests such as Mullis, Henry, Long, Cut­ler and Rep. De­wayne Hill, R-Ring­gold.

Sen. Mullis told the Times Free Press that he is en­dors­ing Craw­ford be­cause he is a “real Repub­li­can can­di­date.”

“She is not a Repub­li­can, in my opinion,” Mullis said of Hul­lan­der.

Craw­ford said he didn’t run in the pri­mary be­cause he didn’t want to run against Cut­ler.

“I am sick of this,” Hul­lan­der said. “This is them try­ing to use the Demo­crat thing, and it’s old news. Ev­ery­body’s tired of it. The true con­cern for me is they’re tear­ing Ca­toosa County apart and try­ing to bring na­tional pol­i­tics into our county.”

When asked why he was get­ting in­volved in a lo­cal race af­ter vot­ers had al­ready de­cided which Repub­li­can can­di­date they wanted, Mullis said he wouldn’t have be­come in­volved if Hul­lan­der hadn’t shown sup­port for Purs­ley.

“That was that race,” Mullis said. “Then right af­ter she was elected as the Repub­li­can can­di­date, she en­dorsed a Demo­crat. It changes the whole per­spec­tive.”

In a state­ment sent to the Times Free Press Wed­nes­day, Ca­toosa County Repub­li­can Party Vice Chair­man Jeremy Jones said the party sup­ports Hul­lan­der.

“We sup­port all can­di­dates on our Repub­li­can ticket,” Jones said in a state­ment. “The Repub­li­can vot­ers of Ca­toosa County voted in the Repub­li­can Pri­mary, and our mis­sion is to sup­port the can­di­dates cho­sen by our vot­ers.”

Since Craw­ford has thrown his hat in the ring, three of his for­mer col­leagues on the Ring­gold

City Coun­cil have pub­licly come out against him, say­ing he used bul­ly­ing po­lit­i­cal tac­tics in the past, was not easy to work with and worked be­hind their backs to change the city’s char­ter sys­tem.

Craw­ford served 12 years on the Ring­gold coun­cil, start­ing in 2007. He an­nounced in 2019 he would not run for re-elec­tion for health rea­sons. His heart by­pass surgery caused him to de­cide against run­ning for an­other term.

Craw­ford told the Times Free Press his sur­geon told him to take a year off and that he wasn’t phys­i­cally fit to cam­paign.

“My year is be­hind me. I’ve had some check-ups. They checked me out. I’m good and ready to go,” he said.

In a lengthy post on his per­sonal web­site, Ring­gold Mayor Nick Mill­wood claimed Craw­ford un­der­mined the board. Mill­wood said Craw­ford ac­cused him and other coun­cil mem­bers of ethics vi­o­la­tions and said he was the drivng force be­hind chang­ing the city’s char­ter with Mullis to make it more dif­fi­cult to fire a city man­ager.

On his ex­pe­ri­ence gov­ern­ing with Craw­ford, Mill­wood wrote, “It. Was. Aw­ful.”

“In­stead of try­ing to win the ar­gu­ments of ideas, he makes harm­ful ac­cu­sa­tions when he dis­agrees with you on pol­icy,” Mill­wood wrote. “Dur­ing my first term as mayor, Terry per­sis­tently spread lies that I was try­ing to fire our city man­ager. Not one per­son will cor­rob­o­rate that story, and I told him per­son­ally that I had no in­ten­tion of mov­ing in that di­rec­tion. Still, the lies con­tin­ued.”

Mill­wood said Craw­ford’s can­di­dacy is a way for es­tab­lished politi­cians in North­west Ge­or­gia to get one of their own back in.

“Ul­ti­mately, that is what Terry’s run is all about,” Mill­wood wrote. “There is an in­de­pen­dent voice run­ning for this seat in Vanita Hul­lan­der, and chal­leng­ing the sta­tus quo, in any kind of way, will not do with this bunch.”

Ring­gold City Coun­cil­woman Rhonda Swaney was also crit­i­cal of the last- minute push to get Craw­ford in.

“When I see a woman who has worked as hard as Vanita Hul­lan­der has to win a race, only to have a group of men try to put one of their own peo­ple in place of what she has re­spect­fully earned, it truly both­ers me to my core,” Swaney wrote on Face­book.

Ring­gold City Coun­cil­man Kelly Bo­mar re­it­er­ated some of Mill­wood’s points in his own Face­book post, say­ing Craw­ford “tried more than once to snow­plow ideas, rail­road me per­son­ally, dis­credit and ac­cuse our mayor and my­self of il­le­gal ac­tiv­ity.”

Bo­mar wrote the choice is be­tween Hul­lan­der, who “won the pri­mary out­right, or fall vic­tim to sore egos that refuse to give up power to the duly elected win­ner … a woman they can’t con­trol.”

Craw­ford said Wed­nes­day morn­ing he en­joyed his time on the Ring­gold City Coun­cil and felt like he and the board made a dif­fer­ence.

“I’m not go­ing to get into all of that with them,” Craw­ford said.

“I’m an­gry,” Hul­lan­der said. “It’s not me they’re cam­paign­ing against, it’s the res­i­dents of District 3. [The peo­ple] have al­ready spo­ken. They’re bla­tantly de­cid­ing who they want to rep­re­sent the peo­ple.”

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