The good news for voters is that there are key differences between the candidates.
Stoner is a pro-choice Democrat who opposes the charter school constitutional amendment, while Hill is a pro-life Republican who supports the amendment, for example.
Hill said he’s voting for former Gov. Mitt Romney for president because Romney “has articulated a plan and a vision for getting America’s economy back on track, and I am in complete agreement with him that we need to restore confidence to the private sector, grow the economy and create jobs. Regaining our financial footing is our priority, and Gov. Romney has a successful record of rising above the politics of distraction to get the job done.”
Stoner said he’s voting for President Barack Obama because “Obama and I have very similar views when it comes to social issues. I’m a very pro-business person, but my colleagues in the Republican Party have just gone too far on the social issues to the extreme, particularly when it comes to women’s health care issues. And we have that issue directly facing us in Georgia.”
Pollster and author Matt Towery of Vinings, who lives in the district, believes Hill has the edge.
“What Stoner has to deal with is a district that clearly was created in the direction of a trying to put a Republican in terms of its construction,” Towery said.
The Republican-controlled Legislature redrew the lines of District 6 by carving out Democratic leaning portions of Austell and Mableton and drew in portions of Buckhead, Sandy Springs and Brookhaven.
“The plus for (Stoner) is that he’s been an incumbent for a long period of time,” Towery said.
Another positive for Hill is that he won the three-person Republican primary without a runoff, which Towery said is an amazing accomplishment that gave Hill name recognition.
“My guess is a lot of it’s going to be a punch into the presidential race, how strong will Republicans turn out?” Towery said. “I think if they turn out in a strong level, and they get very partisan about their vote for president … Hill stands a good chance of upsetting Stoner.”
If for some reason turnout is tepid, it becomes a much closer race given that Stoner was elected to the state House in 2002 and to the Senate in 2004.
“Stoner has been not only in office for quite a while, but his record has not been considered to be very far off the track of mainstream Republicans in a lot of ways,” Towery said. “And in fact there are some Republicans as I understand it who are quietly rooting for him, but I would say the mainstream Republicans, the people who vote and get out there, they are pretty much very strongly in the Hill camp, and I would expect if everything turns out the way I think it would with a strong Election Day turnout, it’s going to be a tough one for the incumbent to overcome the Republican advantage in that district.”
Both Hill and Stoner tout themselves as champions of the business community. Bank of North Georgia president and former Cobb Chamber of Commerce Chairman Rob Garcia recently issued a controversial letter entitled “Republicans for Doug Stoner,” urging voters to vote for the Democrat.
Yet Cobb GOP Chairman Joe Dendy believes the Stoner camp is worried, “even to the point of employing some rather underhanded tactics.”
Dendy said he was referring to Garcia’s letter.
“Since that letter went out, I have had personal conversations with three of the gentlemen who have told me their names were definitely used without their permission and who strongly support Hill, and I suspect that is the case with every one of the signers,” Dendy said.
Dendy said a defeat of Stoner by Hill would signal a new beginning for Senate District 6.
“No longer will there be the cloud of concern hovering over Stoner’s conflict of interest between his senatorial career and his professional career,” Dendy said. “I am referring to his employment with the engineering firm (PBS&J) that was awarded very large contracts by MARTA while Stoner also serves on the Legislature’s MARTA Oversight Committee.”
Stoner said he is an open book.
“I’ve never hidden anybody I work for,” he said. “And as to that issue, I worked in their water division. I did nothing in transportation, and that contract preceded my employment by them by several years.”
Melissa Pike, chairwoman of the Cobb Democratic Party, said the real story is that some are upset because Stoner has proven to be a pro-business legislator.
“There are essentially three warring factions inside the Republican Party here in Georgia,” Pike said. “You’ve got the group that supports Nathan Deal all the time, the group that supports Casey Cagle all the time and the group that supports Chip Rogers all the time. They have no way of knowing where Hunter Hill is going to land.”
Dendy isn’t the first to raise questions about possible conflicts between Stoner’s public and private positions.
Stoner left PBS&J in 2009 to work for Croy Engineering, a company that was tapped to carry out Cobb County’s $1.8 million Northwest Atlanta Corridor Alternatives Analysis Study. Tom Maloy of the Marietta-based Georgia Tea Party noted at the time that that “doesn’t pass the smell test.”
Jim Croy declined to return calls for this article.
In addition, a few years ago Stoner outraged the Cobb Board of Education by sponsoring a bill school board members said prevented them from performing their due diligence when investigating tax allocation district requests. Stoner’s bill said school boards “shall not make an independent inquiry as to the eligibility of the area for designation as a redevelopment area” and boards “shall accept the findings made by the local legislative body … and shall not substitute its judgment as to those findings for the judgment of the local legislative body.” That prompted board members to call it “a direct affront to open government.”
“It defies reason,” board member Betty Gray of Mableton, a Democrat, said at the time.
Then-Cobb Board of Education Chairman Lindsey Tippins, who now serves as a Republican state senator, said at the time it was wrong to prevent the board from investigating projects when it contributes more than 50 percent of the tax revenue to TAD-supported projects. The board can’t vote on something it hasn’t investigated, he said.
“That’s outside the realm of the constitution,” he said. “This is wrong, my friend,” Tippins said at the time.
Adding heat to the controversy was the fact that during that period Stoner’s father, businessman B.A. “Bogey” Stoner, of Smyrna, had announced he was working on a Powder Springs Street development and would seek $10 million to $15 million in TAD financing, something he backed off from when the economy crashed.
As for Hill, Pike said she has concerns over his stance on the reproductive rights of women.
“He’s essentially parroting what a lot of other Republicans are saying, and that is their position on the fetal pain bill for example,” Pike said. “Basically what it says is that after certain lengths of time in pregnancy that a woman can no longer terminate the pregnancy because the fetus will experience pain, and the major issue that I have with that is — my mother is a nurse — is that when you get to the point where it becomes a question of terminating a pregnancy that far into a pregnancy it’s an absolutely devastating decision. It almost always has to do with the viability of the fetus, frequently it’s already deceased or will very soon be deceased or will not live very long outside of the womb, and it’s essentially asking a woman to carry a dead baby knowing that it’s not going to make it.”
Pike said while Hill supported such measures, Stoner opposed them.
Asked about this, Hunter said while he was pro-life, he preferred not to talk about Pike’s comments.
“I don’t want to go down a rat hole with that because frankly some of the comments seemed out of left field to me,” he said.
Hill said there are major differences between him and Stoner.
“The major differentiator is the military background of leadership,” Hill said. “The thing I want to highlight there is I’ve had the experience of bringing groups of people together that are from multiple backgrounds and have diverse experience and bringing them together to accomplish a goal. I think that’s what we need in our state senate and leaders. I’ve had a values and principles proposition that’s guided the reason I’ve wanted to run. It’s a 30,000-foot view of our principles that made America great, so that’s another difference I think. Founding principles, limited government, low taxation individual responsibility, free enterprise. I think my priorities have been on the economy and increasing jobs.”
Stoner said the importance of a Democrat retaining control of District 6 has repercussions for more than the people who live in the district. He pointed out that if a Republican takes the seat, Senate Republicans will hold a two-thirds majority in the Senate and thus be able to issue constitutional amendments without assistance from Democrats.
“Now there’s this issue of the Personhood Amendment being offered up, which the way that constitutional amendment is written would ban most forms of birth control, including the pill, and would also pretty much ban any in vitro fertilization in the state and would also be a direct threat to the bioscience industry,” Stoner said. “It’s not on the ballot and the reason it isn’t because the Senate and the House have not had the numbers to pass a constitutional amendment on that issue, which requires a two thirds vote, which my seat is the two thirds seat, and I will not support an amendment like that.”
Hill said while it’s important for some to raise the issue of the supermajority, he doesn’t consider it “a big deal” for his race, since he’s focused on the people in his district.
“Their issues are the very issues we’ve been running on which is to make Georgia the most economically competitive state in the country, with a focus on our tax structure and our regulatory environment for businesses to start here and grow here, and then also a recognition that we’ve got to improve K-12 public education, a recognition that we need to invest in our transportation infrastructure and that we need to keep our community safe so that business can thrive,” Hill said.