Forsyth: Two Forsyth incumbents with opposing views forced to runoffs

Forsyth: Two Forsyth incumbents with opposing views forced to runoffs

DATE: July 23, 2006
PUBLICATION: Atlanta Journal-Constitution, The (GA)
EDITION: Main; The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
SECTION: NorthSide

When the dust settles after the Republican primary runoff, probably one of two Forsyth County Commission incumbents will be left standing.

The question is, which one?

District 3 Commissioner Jack Conway and District 1 Commissioner Charlie Laughinghouse represent different sides of a consistent 3-2 split on the commission.

Laughinghouse is considered more homeowner-friendly and less sympathetic to growth and development interests. He tends to be on the losing side of the split votes.

Conway is viewed as more friendly to growth and economic development. He tends to be on the winning side of the split votes.

“If someone is voting for Charlie Laughinghouse, then they’re probably going to vote against Jack Conway, and vice versa,” said Anna McManus, a member of the Republican executive committee. “It’s a slow growth platform vs. pro-growth.”

Although Forsyth’s five commissioners represent individual districts, they are elected countywide.
Both incumbents survived three-way contests but didn’t pull the simple majority to win the election outright.

The winners of the Aug. 8 runoff wins the race because there are no Democrats in the running.
Conway is facing challenger Jim Harrell, former county Republican chairman. Candidate Bill Hatley came in third in the Republican primary and was eliminated. Harrel was the top vote-getter.

Laughinghouse will face Ralph “Pete” Amos, a county planning commissioner. Candidate Pam Bowman came in third.

Laughinghouse and Harrell are essentially campaigning together. They share views and on election night, they watched returns at Laughinghouse’s daughter’s home at Winderemere.

Laughinghouse and his supporters would like very much to see Harrell win because that would put Laughinghouse in a new majority.

That strategy has its obvious strengths, but it carries some risk, said Mark Rountree, a political consultant based in Gwinnett County. A gaffe by one could hurt the other, he said.

Conway’s supporters fear a shift on the County Commission could slow the local economy and have been working for Amos, although the two campaigns haven’t been as close as Laughinghouse and Harrell.

“What’s at stake is the balance of the board,” McManus said. “If Charlie wins, then Jim Harrell probably wins and the board will shift to a more slow-growth position. If Jack wins and the development community turns out the most people, then Charlie isn’t going to win.”

It’s conventional wisdom that “anti-” voters are more motivated to go to the polls than “pro-” voters, he said. However, in this case, both Laughinghouse and Conway have a deep pool of anti-voters.

“People will vote as much against Conway as they will for Harrell, and as much against Laughinghouse as for Amos,” said Mike Humber of the South Forsyth Homeowners Coalition.

The runoffs will be decided by whichever candidate can get his voters to the polls. Typically, runoffs have a third to half the turnout of the original race, Rountree said.

McManus agreed, saying, “That’s what it’s all about. You can have the best platform in the world, but if you don’t get your people out then it doesn’t do you any good.”

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