‘Deans’ of the state Senate fall in primaries

The two longest-serving members of the state Senate lost primary campaigns Tuesday night as just a handful of incumbents fell to challengers or face runoffs in July.

State Sens. Steve Thompson, D-Marietta, the chamber’s most senior member, and Don Balfour, R-Snellville, the longest-serving Republican, were both unseated Tuesday, according to unofficial election results.

Balfour on Wednesday blamed his loss on last-minute and unfair negative campaigning. The Waffle House executive was acquitted last year of charges that, as a lawmaker, he improperly billed the state for some travel expenses. But he said voters in his district were bombarded last weekend with fliers that included the mug shot from his arrest and headlines about it.

The fliers also brought up his ownership of a “luxury” condo in Atlanta, which he said, in reality is an 800-square-foot studio apartment that he stayed in when General Assembly business required him to be in Atlanta from early morning until late at night.

“My mama taught me a half truth is a lie,” he said. “The headlines were true at the time. But they are not the whole story. They are not half the story.”

Balfour was one of two GOP Senate veterans targeted by tea partyers in the primary. His opponents were former Gwinnett County Commissioner Mike Beaudreau and former Lawrenceville City Councilman P.K. Martin, who will face off in the July runoff.

Thompson, who waffled on whether to run again this year, lost to Michael Rhett, an Army reservist. Unofficial results show Rhett winning by about 150 votes.

Elsewhere in legislative races, two tea-party backed House incumbents also appear unlikely to return to the Gold Dome. Rep. Charles Gregory, R-Kennesaw, lost to attorney Bert Reeves, and Rep. Sam Moore, R-Ball Ground, finished third, outside the runoff.

Down state, Rep. Willie Talton, R-Warner Robins, the Legislature’s lone black Republican, lost to Heath Clark.

Senate Regulated Industries and Utilities Chairman Jack Murphy, R-Cumming, was forced into a runoff against former business owner Michael Williams.

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