One of the most intriguing local political races to watch this year is going to be the Georgia House District 48 republican primary showdown between incumbent Betty Price and Jere Wood. If you think local politics can’t be interesting, the history behind this race will change your mind.
The Players: Betty Price is the District 48 State Rep. Prior to that, she served on the Roswell City Council. Price is a Doctor, and if her name sounds familiar to you, she is married to Dr. Tom Price, who resigned as Donald Trump’s Secretary of Health and Human Services last year after controversy surrounding his chartering of private flights for government business.
Jere Wood served five terms as mayor of Roswell, and was mayor during Price’s tenure as a councilwoman. When he was elected in 1997, he promised to be a two-term mayor, but ended up winning five-terms, the last of which a Fulton County judge ruled he wasn’t actually eligible to serve. More on that later.
Both Wood and Price are known for being blunt and outspoken, and that may be the crux of their oil-and-water relationship. While the origin of their mutual dislike isn’t immediately clear, suffice it to say the two Roswellians don’t get along.
Act I: Price Joins The Council: Betty Price was elected to the Roswell City Council in 2009. In her early days on council she often found herself as an outlier among other members of the council in part due to her unique rhetorical style. Last year, for example, she asked about quarantining HIV patients and when asked to explain, she said she was only asking to be “provocative” but had no desire to quarantine people with HIV.
Act II: About Those Term Limits: In 2010, while Price was on council and Wood was on his fourth term, the city council approved term limits for the mayor. The change limited mayors to three terms, so it did not apply to Jere Wood’s current term. The consensus at the time of the vote, as reported by several media outlets, was that the term limits did not apply to the term Wood was serving, but would begin with his next term. Keep in mind, Betty Price was on council and was aware of both the term limit and whatever the initial intent of the limits would be.
Regardless of the intent of the mayor and city council members, the term limit resolution did not specifically spell out how the new limits would impact the sitting mayor. That vagueness would eventually negatively impacting Wood seven years later.
Act III: Wood’s Fifth Term Called Into Question: Fast forward to 2015. Roswell resident Michael Litten filed a lawsuit that sought to remove Jere Wood from office. The lawsuit claimed that since the mayor had served beyond three terms, he was ineligible to have actually run for the office again in 2013 and should be removed from his post. As a bit of history, Litten ran against Wood as a write-in candidate in 2005.
To combat Litten’s lawsuit, the city council passed an amendment to the charter clarifying the language of the term limit resolution. For the charter amendment to become law, it would have to be voted on by the state legislature. By this time, Betty Price had become Roswell’s representative in the state house. This is where the story gets even more interesting.
So, the charter amendment is in the hands of the state house, where it is up to the Fulton delegation and Betty Price — who voted for the original term limit resolution and who knows the intent of it — to put the amendment up for a floor vote and clarify when the term limits actually begin. The amendment never makes it to the house floor.
In an interview last year with the Alpharetta Roswell Herald, Wood said he blames Betty Price for stopping the amendment in its tracks. Price, for her part, says the amendment was not legal and the rest of the delegation agreed that it didn’t clarify the term limit issue.
Regardless of who you believe in this “he-said, she-said” dispute, the result is the same. Without the legislature stepping in and passing the charter amendment, the judge in the Litten case was forced to rule based on the law as written. Jere Wood was ordered to relinquish his office in 2017.
That only lasted about a day. Once Jere Wood was ousted from office, all he had to do was appeal the decision. The act of appealing put him back in office, where he served out the remainder of his term and did not seek re-election in November. He had other plans.
Act IV: Wood Runs Against Price: In December, as the end of his two-decade run as mayor was coming to a close, Wood announced his plans to run against Betty Price for the district 48 seat. On Monday, he made that official by filing his qualifying paperwork.
If you were wondering what would motivate a well-known republican to challenge a sitting member of the same party in a high-profile primary race, now you know. Wood blames Price for ending his tenure as mayor, and now he intends to end her tenure as state rep. He claims Price does not represent the interests of Roswell and that the state House needs his governing experience. Whatever his professional reasons for running, it is obvious even to the most casual of observers that there are just as many personal reasons why Wood would choose this moment and challenge this particular incumbent.
To Be Continued: Price and Wood will have a difficult campaign in the primaries but their journey to the state house will not end in the primaries. Democrat Mary Robichaux, has also entered the race. Unless another democrat qualifies by Friday, she will run against the winner of the Price/Wood race.