Republicans compete for party nomination to represent East Cobb on BOC

Candidates running to represent East Cobb District 2 on the County Commission are courting voters on issues of cityhood, development and budgeting amid a changing political landscape and the ongoing pandemic.

Three Republicans are competing in the June 9 primary to succeed Commissioner Bob Ott, who is not running for reelection, as their party's nominee. They are Kevin Nicholas, a tech executive; Andy Smith, who owns a construction business and serves as the area's planning commissioner; and Fitz Johnson, a veteran and retired businessman. The winner will face Jerica Richardson, the only Democrat in the race.

Jason Shepherd, chairman of the Cobb Republican Party, said with largely similar rhetoric on fiscal responsibility, support for public safety and coolness if not outright opposition toward East Cobb cityhood, the Republican candidates will need to connect personally with voters.

“I think a lot will have to do with their personal backgrounds, where they’re coming from in terms of their professional experience and what makes them qualified to govern,” he said. “County commissioner races tend to be a little more about personality and background than the issues, particularly in a primary.”

But voter outreach has been challenged by the COVID-19 pandemic, which has severely restricted, if not eliminated, in-person campaigning. And looking ahead to the general election, the candidates of both parties will be appealing to a broad spectrum of voters, from the conservative, suburban northern part of the district to the denser, more diverse and liberal south.

Johnson knows better than most the impact of the coronavirus: He was sick for a month with COVID-19. Now that he is recovered, he is focusing his campaign on social media, mailers and online outreach. He said the financial impact of the virus is going to be big, and pointed to his experience in the military and the business world as qualifications.

“I understand finances,” he said. “I understand setting priorities and sticking to those budgets.”

Johnson is against cityhood, which he said he considers an unnecessary layer of government. He has raised more than $73,000, including a $10,000 loan from himself.

In addition to his business background, Smith said his experience as Ott’s appointee to the planning commission gives him valuable insight on the need to preserve the residential character of East Cobb and make sure new development is largely contained to higher density regional activity centers.

Smith is the only one of the candidates who has declined to take a position on cityhood, citing the lack of a finalized proposal for the city’s borders and services.

“Effectively there’s not a single bit of reliable information on which to make a decision,” he said.

He also spoke about the need for responsible budgeting, which means knowing when to cut but also when to spend, such as investing in public safety or addressing Cobb’s underfunded pension fund.

Smith has raised about $44,000, including a $31,000 loan from himself.

Nicholas touted his professional background and conservative credentials as the Republican party house district chair for East Cobb, calling himself “the only true Republican conservative in the race.”

“Cobb County and East Cobb is really at a crossroads right now as far as high density development, transportation issues, and how we maintain our quality of life,” he said. He spoke about the need to uphold the land use plan and address traffic, transit and congestion problems.

Nicholas is also against cityhood.

He has raised about $25,000, including a $20,000 loan from himself.