published Monday, May 28th, 2012

No Democrats on ballot in Catoosa County, Ga.

Ernest Pursley's father was a Republican in the 1950s when that was a lonely thing to be in Catoosa County, Ga.

"In those years, it was all Democratic and no Republicans," Pursley said.

Now things have come full circle. Pursley, chairman of the Catoosa County Democratic Party, can relate to his father's being a political outsider. For the first time he can remember, not a single Democrat is running at the county level in Catoosa in the July 31 primary election.

That's the most extreme example of a trend in Northwest Georgia. Most candidates in Dade, Walker and Whitfield counties are Republicans -- but at least two Democrats are on the ballot in each of those counties. Democrats have their best showing in Chattooga County, which has 15 Democrats seeking office.

Catoosa County Sheriff Phil Summers, who ran as a Democrat in the past, is retiring, and Superior Court Clerk Norman L. Stone, another Democrat, died of a heart attack a year ago.

Two Democratic incumbents, Tax Commissioner Sandra Self and Coroner Vanita Hullander, switched their party affiliation to Republican this election.

"I just could no longer support the [Democratic Party's] national policies," Self said Friday. But, she said, "We have some really good folks in the local Democratic Party."

Along with being off the ballot, some Catoosa Democrats said their party was excluded from the 1890s Days Jamboree held Memorial Day weekend in downtown Ringgold.

"Stiffed by 1890s Day Organizers" was the subject line of an email by a Catoosa Democrat that reached the Times Free Press.

The Catoosa Democrats had applied to set up a booth at the event, but they were turned down in April by its organizers. The email states that the Republican Party and tea party each were going to have booths at 1890s Days.

Ron Graham, the Ringgold dentist who's chairman of the 1890s Days Jamboree, said the decision was made Wednesday night to allow political candidates and parties to set up booths for the first time in the 22 years that he has been involved with the event, which features gospel music, beauty pageants, a classic car show and fireworks.

"We've never allowed political anything here before," Graham said, explaining that the event's organizers decided to open Tennessee Street to political booths because of demand from candidates. Organizers tried to get the word out to everyone, he said.

"There's no favoritism," Graham said. "Any candidate -- Republican, Democrat, Communist -- whatever it is [is welcome] first-come, first-serve in the designated area."

Graham said Friday that Democrats still could set up at the event and added that he didn't know if the tea party or the Republicans were going to have booths.

Pursley wasn't sure there'd be time to get a booth together, but the Catoosa County Democrats planned to be in their air-conditioned office at the OSA Building at 7638 Nashville St. over the weekend, where they planned to register voters and giveaway political buttons, he said.

"We're still alive," Pursley said.

about Tim Omarzu...

Tim Omarzu covers Catoosa and Walker counties for the Times Free Press. Omarzu is a longtime journalist who has worked as a reporter and editor at daily and weekly newspapers in Michigan, Nevada and California. Stories he's covered include crime in blighted parts of metro Detroit and Reno, Nev.; environmental activists tree-sitting in California's Sierra Nevada foothills; attempts by the Michigan Militia to take over a townshipÂąs government in northern Michigan. A native of Michigan, ...

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