But not Thursday’s, which (among other races) featured a pair of contests in which political newcomers — JoEllen Smith and Cynthia Rozzo of east Cobb — are trying to oust entrenched incumbents — Don Parsons and Matt Dollar, respectively.
FIRST UP were Smith and Parsons vying for the District 44 seat. Each candidate was allowed three minutes for opening statements, and Parsons used his to tout his background and accomplishments.
Not Smith, who has made her opponent’s alleged absenteeism and ties to the utility industry her main issues. Her very first words were, “I’m sure everyone appreciates Mr. Parsons being here tonight so we could finally put a face with his name. ... For 18 years, we really have not had any representation.”
Calling him “The Invisible Representative,” she held up what appeared to be a home-made copy of a well-known surrealist painting by Belgian artist Rene Magritte depicting a suited man wearing a bowler hat — but missing the face and the rest of his head.
“For 18 years, he has not once had a town-hall meeting,” Smith charged. “For 18 years he has not returned your phone calls or your emails. ... And he doesn’t show up for work. Public records show that up to 30 percent of the time, he does not show up for work. Not because of illness or family emergencies, which we would all understand, but because he’s playing hooky with lobbyists. On the same day he’s not showing up for work, the public records show he’s going out and playing hooky with lobbyists.”
She also said Parsons, the chairman of the House Utilities Committee, owns a consulting company. Do utilities pay him for his services? No one knows, she said, because there is no legal requirement for him to disclose such information.
“I say we fire him and hire me,” she added.
The rigid format unfortunately offered Parsons no chance for direct rebuttal.
Later, in response to a question from panelist Gail Downing, Cobb’s Tax Commissioner, Smith said she would agree to the proposed $100 cap on lobbyist gifts to lawmakers. Not Parsons.
“The state of Georgia actually has one of the strongest ethics laws in the whole country,” he said. “So I won’t sign that pledge. Signing these things is silly and shows immaturity and lack of experience.”
WHEN IT CAME TIME for closing statements, Smith shared that she was a breast cancer survivor, and that “it was the best thing that ever happened to me,” based on the lessons she had learned from it about strength of character.
“People ask me how I could go down there with all those bullies in the House, and after what I’ve been through, nothing scares me anymore,” she declared.
Parsons, in his closing, noted that, “If there’s anything the lady and I have in common it’s that we’re both cancer survivors.”
Parsons survived a bout with lymphoma a decade ago.
He denied that he was absent 30 percent of the time, and complained that a mailer sent out by Smith wrongly accused him of consistently missing the all-important final day of the legislative session each year.
“Not even when I had cancer, not even when I was being treated for it, have I ever missed the 40th day of the session,” he said. “Never have I not stayed there until the last minute before ‘sine die’” (the midnight close of the session’s final night).
Then Parsons, brandishing a sheet of paper and his voice tensing, declared he had a copy of a document from the State Ethics Commission fining Smith $125 for “an ethics violation.”
“You’re someone wanting to make ethics such a big deal? Why don’t you pay it?” he said as he handed it to the startled Smith.
The paper turned out to be a copy of a $125 fine against Smith from the state Transparency and Campaign Finance Commission for having filed her March campaign disclosure form by mail rather than email.
“It was a paperwork error on my part,” she said afterward. “But I felt like I got a citizens’ arrest from Barney Fife up there” (from Parsons).
Said Parsons afterward, “I brought it with me to the forum but did not plan to make an issue of it unless she got ugly, which she did. I have spent a lot of time with her over the last several years at her request. I have been completely accessible to her, and have tried to help her with issues.”
ALSO ON THE ATTACK Thursday evening was District 45 hopeful Cynthia Rozzo, publisher of the East Cobber magazine. She asked in her opening statement the public to measure 10-year incumbent Matt Dollar’s performance as they would that of an employee.
“What would you do if you owned a company, which I do, and one of your employees didn’t listen to you, didn’t attend meetings, didn’t let you know what was going on and didn’t do the job you gave him to do? I don’t think you’d keep him on and give him a raise,” she declared.
She pointed out he was elected at age 24, is not head of a family, has never attended a PTA meeting, has never scheduled a town hall meeting, and has a $70,000 war chest filled with contributions from lobbyists.
Dollar — who a couple of the event’s other participants noted afterward appeared to be wearing a smirk throughout his time at the dais — offered no words in his own defense. Earlier, he raised a few eyebrows during his opening statement when describing his background. He noted that he had attended the University of Georgia, then paused and gave the audience what one observer described as “a knowing look” and another as “a frat-boy leer.”
The event was presented live on Cobb TV 23 and will be re-aired today at noon. Candidates for commission chairman and Superior Court will get their turn at Tuesday’s 7 p.m. forum in the same location.
MORE POLITICS: Former Gov. Roy Barnes and wife, Marie, will host a fundraiser at their home at 5:30 p.m. Thursday for statehouse candidate Justin O’Dell, who’s running for the seat of retiring Rep. Terry Johnson (D-Fair Oaks). Speaking of Johnson, he and his wife, Nancy, are in Chicago this weekend to see their son, Brett, receive his Ph.D. in Bio-Medical Engineering from Northwestern University. … State Rep. Alisha Thomas Morgan (D-Austell) will open her campaign headquarters from 3 to 6 today in the Mableton Village Shopping Center. ... Suzé Surdyk Jones is hosting a wine and cheese reception for commission chair candidate Mike Boyce from 4 to 6 p.m. Sunday at her 4170 Paper Mill Road home. ...
Tickets to the annual GOP July Fourth Picnic are available online this year for the first time. The event is catered by Williamson Brothers barbecue and typically draws between 800 and 1,200 people, not all of whom are candidates. Adult tickets are $10 if purchased on line, $15 at the door, reports Chairman Joe Dendy. For more, go to cobbgop.org/barbecue.
POLK: The Lt. Gen. Leonidas Polk Camp of the Sons of Confederate Veterans will conduct its annual memorial service for the general atop Pine Mountain in west Cobb at 10:30 a.m. today at the spot where he was killed by an artillery shell on June 16, 1864. Speaker will be attorney Martin O’Toole of Marietta, with a service conducted by the Rev. John Roddy, rector of St. Hilda Anglican Catholic Church in Atlanta. Polk was the first Episcopal bishop of Louisiana and namesake of Polk Street in Marietta.