published Thursday, October 25th, 2012

Walker County race goes national: Campaign makes front page of U.S.'s biggest paper

Ales Campbell, from left, Bebe_Heiskell
Ales Campbell, from left, Bebe_Heiskell

While the battle between Barack Obama and Mitt Romney dominate the national headlines, the race for Walker County sole commissioner made the front page of the nation's largest-circulation newspaper Wednesday.

The Wall Street Journal covered the contest between 12-year incumbent Bebe Heiskell, who's seeking her fourth term, and write-in candidate Ales Campbell, a newcomer whose platform includes the pledge to replace the sole commissioner system with a five-member commission.

"In Georgia, Contender Seeks To Cut Job She's Trying to Win," reads the headline of the story written by Cameron McWhirter, a reporter at the paper's Atlanta bureau.

The article calls the sole commissioner post "one of the rarest political jobs in the U.S." and states that Georgia is on the only state in the union that allows sole commissioners. Only nine of Georgia's 159 counties are governed by the system, it says.

Poll
Ales Campbell or Bebe Heiskell?

McWhirter formerly wrote for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution where he covered the sole commissioner system. Campbell's vow to replace it if elected caught McWhirter's interest.

The article contrasts the claim that the sole commissioner post isn't transparent with supporters saying it eliminates government gridlock and cuts costs.

The article also describes Walker County as 446 square miles of Appalachian foothills and valleys "where Confederate flags, hand-drawn signs for boiled peanuts and men in overalls aren't uncommon sights along winding roads with names like 'Straight Gut' and 'Hootie Hoo Holler.'"

Both Campbell and Heiskell were surprised to be on the paper's front page.

"It pokes a little fun at Walker County, but I was expecting that," Campbell said, adding, "I really didn't want Walker County to be set in a negative light."

A commenter on the Wall Street Journal's website bet $10,000 that Campbell would change her position about eliminating the sole commissioner system should she be elected.

She wanted to respond, "I see that bet, and I call you."

Heiskell disagreed with parts of the article, including its characterization of the sole commissioner system as an old way of doing things. Voters in Bartow County, Ga., a county of 100,000 residents northwest of Atlanta, reinstated the sole commissioner system in 2008, she said.

"There's very few Confederate flags" in Walker County, Heiskell said. "I have never seen Hootie Hoo Holler. We don't have a street of that name, to my knowledge."

Told by email of Heiskell's doubt of the street's existence, McWhirter wrote, "I drove by it while reporting" and supplied a link to a website with a map showing Hootie Hoo Holler off state Highway 136.

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 township┬╣s government in northern Michigan. A native of Michigan, ...

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