Candidates react to Habersham County primary results

Habersham County Commission candidates square off during Now Habersham's 2024 HABCO Primary Debate, front row from left, Bruce Palmer, Bruce Harkness, and Ty Akins. Back row from left, Eric Holbrooks, Kelly Woodall, Wade Rhodes, Locke Arnold, and Gisela McGugan. (Photo by Jeremy Cooper)

Habersham County voters had their say at the polls on Tuesday, and after the vote, the candidates responded. The winners struck a conciliatory tone as their former opponents offered congratulations following months of campaigning.

But it’s not over yet.

The District 1 County Commission race will have a runoff and, likely, a recount to determine which two candidates will face off at the polls on June 18.

Earlier this week, incumbent commissioner Bruce Palmer said he would likely seek a recount once the election is certified due to the mere 20-vote difference between him and challenger Eric Holbrooks.

According to the unofficial election results, Holbrooks came in second in the three-person race, claiming 1,707 votes to Palmer’s 1,687. Kelly Woodall is assured a spot in the runoff after securing 2,098 votes in Tuesday’s GOP primary.

No Democrats qualified to run for local office.


Woodall and Holbrooks respond

As things currently stand, both Holbrooks and Woodall are eyeing the June runoff.

“Eric Holbrooks and I both have a love for our community. We are two different candidates with different ideas,” said Woodall when asked his reaction to the primary and runoff. “I look forward to continuing to share my ideas of how I will serve as commissioner and help restore trust in our local government.”

“I am very excited and overwhelmed by this experience,” Holbrooks said. “I have enjoyed being in the community and learning about what our county employees face firsthand by spending time with them at their jobs.”

Holbrooks says he hopes everyone will get out and vote in the runoff.

A determination about a recount will be made once the primary results are certified next week.

Harkness, Akins win reelection

While the District 1 contest remains unsettled, Tuesday’s primary left no doubt about the four other contested races on the Habersham County Republican primary ballot.

County commission incumbents Bruce Harkness (District 4) and Ty Akins (District 5) were both reelected. Harkness claimed the most decisive victory of the night, winning 70% of the vote against his challenger, Wade Rhodes, a commercial realtor.

“I want to say to the voters that I am humbled by their confidence in me. Everyone in this county is someone special to me, and everyone matters,” Harkness said after the primary. “I will continue to ask the hard questions, fight against higher taxes and uncontrolled growth, and fight to keep our values and our way of life.”

Akins won 58% of the vote in the District 4 race, fighting back challenges from Locke Arnold (23%) and Gisela McGugan (19%).

“I’m proud and honored to be elected to my first full term,” Akins said of his win. “I’m looking forward to completing some of the initiatives and projects we’ve started. It takes about a year or more to get a good understanding of how things work and what all is going on.”

This was McGugan’s first time running for office. “Although I didn’t secure the win in my run as county commissioner, I’m grateful for the opportunity and the amazing journey it has been,” McGugan wrote in a post on her campaign Facebook page. “Thank you to everyone who supported me along the way—I’m proud of the campaign we ran together! Looking forward to continuing to serve our community. Congratulations to the winners!”

Tuesday’s primary marked Arnold’s third unsuccessful bid for the District 5 commission seat. He ran in 2019 to fill the unexpired term of Ed Nichols and again in 2021 to fill the unexpired term of Tim Stamey.

Board of Education

Board of Education debate. May 9th. From left, Brett Barden, Doug Westmoreland, Robert Barron, and Ernie Garrett. (Photo by Jeremy Cooper)

Doug Westmoreland and Dr. Robert Barron were reelected to the Habersham County Board of Education. They defeated challengers Brett Barden and Ernie Garrett, respectively.

Westmoreland won with 56% of the vote and expressed gratitude for being reelected for a third term.

“I thank all those who voted for me,” he said. “I really enjoy serving on the board of education, especially since I have dedicated 40 years to the Habersham County school system. I look forward to four more years on the board.”

Westmoreland defeated Barden by over a thousand votes—3,053 to 2,048. Barden, a site engineering manager at Ethicon, said in a Facebook post that Westmoreland shared some kind words with him when he called to congratulate him on election night.

“I sincerely appreciate everyone who cast a vote in my name. It has been a humbling experience, and I have no regrets because of all the wonderful people I met along the way,” Barden said.

In the other school board race, Barron defeated fellow retired educator Garrett by 519 votes—3,006 to 2,487. Dr. Barron says he feels blessed to have the opportunity to serve another term on the school board.

“I want to thank all of those who voted for me. I appreciate Ernie Garrett and the race he ran. I appreciate his candor and ideas. I look forward to working with the Board to continue to make our school system the best it can be,” said Barron.

Following Tuesday’s primary, Garrett’s family expressed their gratitude for the support he received.

“We have met so many wonderful and encouraging people who have spoken words of life and truth,” a social media post on Garrett’s campaign Facebook page said. “Even though the election did not have the outcome we desired, Ernie ran an honorable race and stood strong in the face of some trying opposition.”

Print Friendly, PDF & Email