Early 2020 special election set to finish term of late Rep. Jay Powell

    Rep. Doug Collins, a Gainesville Republican who’s running for a Senate seat this fall, sparred online Wednesday against Stacey Abrams, who launched the voting rights advocacy group Fair Fight 2020 after she lost her bid to be Georgia’s governor in 2018. File/Georgia Recorder

    Three candidates have qualified to run in a special election early next year that will decide who will finish out the term of the late state Rep. Jay Powell.

    Tommy Akridge and Joe Campbell will run as Republicans, and Jewell Howard is the lone Democrat in the race. Qualifying ended Wednesday afternoon for the south Georgia district, which includes portions of Colquitt, Mitchell and Decatur counties.

    Powell, who chaired the powerful House Rules Committee, collapsed suddenly at a leadership meeting late last month. The long-time lawmaker influenced tax policy and pushed aggressively for rural initiatives under the Gold Dome.

    The special election to replace him will be held Jan. 28, nearly two weeks after the legislative session begins; a runoff, if necessary, would fall on Feb. 25. The winner will have to immediately seek reelection next year.

    Akridge, a 62-year-old agricultural businessman, said Wednesday afternoon that he would have never considered running for the statehouse – or backing a challenger – as long as Powell held the seat.

    “We prayed about it and then we prayed about it again that night when my wife got home,” he said. “And we decided that God opened a door for me to step into and unless God closes that door, I’m in this thing to win.

    “And I am the only candidate who has the experience to represent rural Georgia, the No. 1 industry in Georgia – agriculture – and represent not only just south Georgia, but all of rural Georgia and represent every person in the 171st,” he said.

    Campbell, who is a 67-year-old retired procurement manager in the peanut industry, also plans to run on an agricultural platform.

    “I saw a need and decided I would put my hat in the ring,” said Campbell, who is also head of the local GOP party and who lives in Camilla. “It’s all happening very quick.”

    Howard, a 64-year-old retired educator who lives in Baconton, said he would focus on increasing Georgians’ access to health care coverage.

    “I wanted to make the community a better place in which to live and to give children hope that they could make a difference in their lives no matter where they came from,” the Democrat said. “I wanted to carry it to the next level and also continue to serve the community and being a voice and advocating for them on the state level.”

    Howard ran unsuccessfully for the seat in 2012, with Powell clinching 59% of the vote. It would be the last time Powell would face a challenger.

    Jill Nolin
    Jill Nolin has spent nearly 15 years reporting on state and local government in four states, focusing on policy and political stories and tracking public spending. She has spent the last five years chasing stories in the halls of Georgia’s Gold Dome, earning recognition for her work showing the impact of rising opioid addiction on the state’s rural communities. She is a graduate of Troy University.