Late last week, the Murray County Senior Center hosted the five Republican candidates running for the Georgia House District 5 special election at a meet-and-greet style event.
The Murray County Republican Party served as the facilitators, with Chairman Kevin Jones as the leader of the introductory event. The five Republicans in the six-candidate race – Matt Barton, Steven Cochran, Larry Massey, Scott Tidwell and Jesse Vaughn – all attended, saying a few words to attendees regarding their campaign, platforms and goals if elected.
Jones, who was pleased with the turnout, was appreciative of those who came out to support candidates who were their family members and friends during the holiday season.
“None of you will be able to fill John Meadows’ shoes,” Jones said, speaking to the legacy of the late representative who chaired the powerful rules committee and was a leader for Northwest Georgia at the Capitol. “But you’ll be starting your next chapter for our district and our community. Thank you for your hard work and willingness to step up. It takes a special man to do that.”
The following is a brief outline of the candidates’ speeches that were presented at Thursday’s meeting — in alphabetical order.
A lifelong Gordon County resident, Matt Barton, 46, is an owner of a courier business that specializes in healthcare. He previously served on the Calhoun Board of Education as well as the Calhoun City Council. He was also elected the District 1 president of the Georgia Municipal Association.
With 25 years of experience in business and 10 years in the political sector, Barton knows he has what it takes to represent Gordon and Murray counties in the House, he said. Some of his main focuses include education, abortion, health care and efficient government spending. Barton is passionate about supporting the first and second amendments as well as lowering taxes, he said.
“I have a curve when it comes to business,” Barton said, explaining that he’s had experience with million-dollar budgets through his company. “I work to provide the needed services to the citizens in the most cost-effective way. I have an established record of voting to reduce waste and improve operational efficiency.”
One other important current event Barton wants to work towards changing is immigration policies.
“Our country is built on immigration, and the chances are, most people in this room had ancestors that immigrated here,” he said. “But it needs to be done the right way, the legal way. We need to make it harder to come here illegally.”
Barton is supported by his wife and two daughters during his campaign and pledges to continue to educate himself through training the state may offer or personal political research if elected to the House.
“I want to serve our community in this district,” the conservative Gordon Central graduate said.
Another Gordon County native, Steven Cochran, 63, is also in the race for the Georgia House. Not only was Cochran born and raised in the area, but so were his parents and grandparents. He spent his life as the owner of a moving company before retirement. His approach to this campaign is to help small business owners and lower taxes, he said.
“I want to figure out a way to try to reward people for making a hard, honest living,” Cochran said.
This candidate never graduated from college, but learning from his personal history of education, Cochran wants to encourage more young people to go to technical schools in order to learn vocational trades. Having skilled workers in the workforce is something Cochran wants to normalize should he be elected, as he believes all varying degrees of education are significant to a society.
Some of the other issues Cochran is interested in reforming include immigration, mental health for the public, immigration and disability programs.
“The state has closed down mental health facilities and it’s not good for us or (the patients) that were forced onto the streets,” he said. “Something needs to be done to help those people.”
Cochran is a regular attendee of a local church and works with food banks that feed the elderly, but is also aware that government handouts need to have boundaries.
“I don’t have all the answers, but I’m willing to listen,” Cochran said at Thursday’s meeting. “I’m looking to help you and I’m looking for you also to help me.”
A Marine pilot veteran who has lived in the Gordon County area with his family for 12 years, Larry Massey, 52, is another candidate who is in the competition.
His core values include “God, family, country and community,” and on Thursday night, he said his time in the Marine Corps showed him how to work hard and fight for what he believed in.
“I will fight for you and what we need here,” Massey said. “My priorities are to support and improve education and create more jobs to help our local community.”
Massey said he is a Christian conservative who is pro-life, pro-second amendment and pro-religious freedom. He served on the Gordon County Board of Education for more than a year, following his appointment in 2017. In the Republican primary in May he lost to Eddie Hall, and his term will come to a close at the end of the year.
The veteran took time to address the late John Meadows, honoring his reputation and history in the House.
“The unexpected passing of Mr. Meadows has left a void that truthfully none of us can fill,” Massey said. “However, we need to send someone to Atlanta who has the proven ability to serve. I know I’m the strongest and the most capable candidate to step up and make you proud.”
Though Massey was not born in Gordon County, he still grew up in the Northwest Georgia area, being born in Canton and graduating from Cherokee High School before serving in the military.
If elected, he promises to vote and act the way District 5 would always vote – with conservative, Christian values.
A life insurance salesman and pastor of Prayer Baptist Church in Chatsworth, Scott Tidwell, 46, is a native Georgian, and has moved around the state through his ministerial occupation. Yet, when his family finally moved to Gordon County, they adapted well to the area, he said. Following Meadows’ death, Tidwell decided to run in the special election to serve the community that has offered so much to him, he said.
“We need more Christians to step up and get involved in politics,” Tidwell said. “My heart is service and people.”
Tidwell is passionate about reforming technical college education and vocational teaching. He said he is pro-life and an advocate for the first and second amendments. He has political history through his volunteering on George W. Bush’s presidential campaign and Brian Kemp’s gubernatorial campaign. Tidwell is also the former central regional director for Georgia Republican Party’s 14th Congressional District. This will be the second campaign he has qualified to run in.
The pastor is also a major advocate for legal immigration.
“I’m not opposed to immigration. I just want it to be done the right way,” he said. “It isn’t right that we treat some people one way, make them obey all the rules, and then treat other people completely differently.”
Tidwell was supported by his wife and three of his four children Thursday night. He ran in the May Republican primary for the state Senate District 53 seat where he was defeated by incumbent Chuck Payne. He still wants to get more involved in politics in Georgia, he said.
Jesse Vaughn, 45, was a preacher’s son growing up in Calhoun, but when he started his career as a lawyer, he knew where he stood on certain issues. And when the late John Meadows died in November, opening up a seat in the Georgia House, Vaughn knew that he needed to run.
“Johnny Meadows was a good friend to me,” Vaughn said. “He was actually the one that encouraged me to be a trial lawyer and pursue that track. I hope to continue the good work that John did and protect our community.”
Abortion is one of the issues closest to his heart, and yet he also aims to protect life at the other end of the spectrum by respecting elders. During the Thursday meet and greet, Vaughn described his politics as pro-life, pro-Georgia and pro-America.
Vaughn explained how he wanted to reform education to reflect more technical vocations, alter perspectives on the second amendment and enforce legal immigration. He also explained his lengthy history in law and described how his years of experience are needed in the Georgia House.
“There are not enough lawyers in the House for the Judiciary Committee,” Vaughn said. “And we are 16 seats away from losing majority in the state house. This is a crucial time.”
In 2009, he was admitted to the U.S. Supreme Court Bar, and opened his own firm in 2006 after years of practicing law. Vaughn believes his career gives him an edge on the other candidates and qualifies him to be an excellent representative for the house.