District 51 State Sen. Chip Pearson is looking forward to spending time with his family when his term expires in December.
Pearson said Monday “the kids are ecstatic” about his decision.
The three-term lawmaker from Dawsonville announced late Friday he would not seek re-election, despite having qualified earlier in the week.
In a statement, Pearson said his time “needs to be spent with my family.”
“For the last six years, my wife has taken on the responsibilities of a single mom, and my children have not had their dad around during the most important time in their lives,” Pearson said.
The 51st District includes Dawson, Fannin, Gilmer, Lumpkin, Pickens and Union counties, as well as portions of Forsyth and White counties.
Pearson’s decision came as a shock to many, including Steve Gooch, who was driving to work when he learned the news and later qualified to run for the post.
“I’m really sorry Chip has decided not to run,” Gooch said. “He’s been a good leader in the Senate and a good leader for North Georgia, serving with very conservative values. There will be a void there when he is gone next year.”
Just seven months ago, Gooch was appointed to a five-year term on the state Department of Transportation board.
As the lone Republican candidate in the Senate contest, he will automatically receive his party’s nomination and advance to the Nov. 2 general election, where he will face Democrat Joseph Mann, 32, of Mineral Bluff.
It is not clear, however, how Gooch’s bid will affect his role as the 9th District representative on the DOT board, which has already been vacated twice since February 2008.
The attorney general’s office may make the final decision on whether Gooch will have to step down.
Candidates typically must resign from other elected state positions when qualifying.
But Gooch, 43, and state Rep. Amos Amerson say they consider the DOT post appointed. As such, Gooch would not need to resign unless he was elected to the Senate in November.
If that’s the case, it could be February before the 15-county 9th District gets a new DOT representative.
Gooch said he did not plan to resign from the board “until the time comes that requires it.”
He also said he had no intentions to run for state Senate until he learned Pearson would not seek re-election.
“Anyone who knows me, knows I’d never run against Chip,” said Gooch, who ran an unsuccessful campaign to unseat Amerson in 2008.
A Lumpkin County native, Gooch previously served four years as that county’s sole commissioner and four years as chairman of its commission, once voters approved a five-man board.
Many including Amerson anticipated Gooch would hold out and run for Amerson’s seat once the veteran representative retires.
The plan was for Amerson to serve one more term and retire in 2012. At that point, Gooch would have served on the DOT panel for two years.
“That’s what I thought,” Amerson said Friday. “I mean, that was the plans that we’ve made all along.”
Gooch said his change of heart came after he learned Pearson would withdraw his candidacy Friday morning.
“I really enjoy public service work and after eight years as county commissioner, I’m not ready to give it up just yet,” Gooch said.
“I saw an opportunity to continue public service and I signed up to run.”
Amerson said he hated to lose Gooch on the DOT board, a position for which he supported him, but views the candidate as the best replacement for Pearson in the Senate.
“I think Sen. Pearson wanted to retire and he wanted to make sure we got a good man,” Amerson said. “And so I agree with him. As far as I’m concerned, Steve Gooch is the best man for the job.”
In his statement, Pearson also endorsed Gooch as “the ideal candidate.”
“I’ve known Steve for many years and I know he will fight for the same causes that I have, including limited government, less taxes, protection of private property and second amendment rights, as well as the rights of the unborn,” Pearson said.
“I know the great people of North Georgia will be in good hands by electing Steve Gooch.”
Pearson was first elected to the state Senate in 2004.
“It has been an honor to serve the 51st District and I have been humbled by the many years of trust and support by the citizens of Georgia,” he said.
“Serving with my distinguished colleagues in the Georgia Senate has truly been a pleasure and honor. We have done great things for Georgia.”
Ashley Fielding of the DCN regional staff contributed to this report.