Matt Laughridge of Cartersville, Christopher Nesmith of Adairsville and Dean Sheridan of Woodstock all qualified earlier this month to run in the Nov. 5 special election. Laughridge and Nesmith qualified Wednesday, Sept. 18, while Sheridan qualified Tuesday, Sept. 17. A few days later, Garrett Jamieson, a Canton resident, filed complaints against Nesmith and Sheridan on Sept. 19, and a complaint against Laughridge on Sept. 20.
District 14 covers half of Bartow and Cherokee counties and a small portion of Cobb County.
The complaint against Laughridge alleges he has not lived in District 14 for the one year required under Georgia law. According to qualifying information, Laughridge listed 326 Dock 3 Captains Walk Drive, Cartersville, as his residence, which is inside of District 14. However, the complaint stated Laughridge’s voter registration 2012 was at 13 Reynolds Lane, Kingston, last year and was only recently changed. Laughridge also voted in the 2012 elections using the Reynolds Lane address, which is in Senate District 52.
“Mr. Laughridge’s representative claimed that he has been residing at a house boat docked at a property owned by the Laughridge family on Captain’s Walk,” the complaint reads. “As you will see in the attached records from the Bartow County Tax Assessor; Mr. Laughridge’s boat is registered to 13 Reynolds Lane. You will also see there is no record of a property owned on Captains Walk by any member of the Laughridge family.”
In addition, Laughridge was arrested Feb. 21, 2013, by the Georgia State Patrol while allegedly driving under the influence. According to the police blotter in the Feb. 22 edition of The Daily Tribune News, Laughridge’s address was listed as 13 Reynolds Lane, Kingston.
Laughridge’s campaign has released a statement addressing the challenges. In part, it reads:
“Questions surrounding my qualifications for the 14th Senate District race are nothing more than political ploy meant to distract voters from the real issues of this campaign,” the statement reads. “There’s an old adage that says, ‘Home is where you hang your hat,’ and Georgia state law agrees. In fact, it clearly states: ‘The residence of any person shall be held to be in that place in which such person’s habitation is fixed, without any present intention of removing therefrom...’ The attorney general’s office has also written an opinion in agreement.”
In addition to the Captains Walk and Reynolds Lane addresses, Laughridge owns a home on Peeples Valley Road N.E., Cartersville. According to the complaint, Laughridge’s representative said he planned on moving into the home after renovations were finished. The renovations were reportedly the reason he was living in the houseboat. According to Bartow County Assessor’s Office documents included in the complaint, Laughridge received the Peeples Valley property Jan. 9, 2013, in a quick claim deed.
Attempts to reach Laughridge for comment via his Campaign Manager Matt Robinson were unsuccessful. The DTN was referred to the previously released statement. The rest of the statement follows:
“To clear this issue up once and for all, according to state law, my legal residence for nearly two years has sat squarely in the 14th District. I am renovating a home that also sits within the 14th District, and I look forward to representing my neighbors and friends in the 14th District as their State Senator in Atlanta.
“Ironically, a few detractors to my campaign have also brought up the fact that I voted in 2012 at my former precinct. While this is just another distraction, the Georgia Court of Appeals has already addressed this issue, and I will let their ruling stand on its own.
“That stated, my campaign has and will continue to be focused on economic growth, education, transportation and other issues important to the people of the 14th District. I look forward to discussing these issues with the voters in the coming weeks leading up to Nov. 5.”
The second Bartow County candidate to receive a challenge is Christopher Nesmith, who is running as the special election’s only Democrat.
The challenged filed against Nesmith alleges he has not paid his 2012 property taxes, which makes him ineligible to run for office.
“The Georgia Constitution deems a person ineligible to hold office who ‘is a defaulter for any federal, state, county, municipal, or school system taxes required by such officeholder or candidate if such person has been finally adjudicated by a court of competent jurisdiction to owe those taxes,’” the complaint reads.
According to the Bartow County Tax Commissioner’s website, Nesmith owes a total of $2,820.68 in taxes. Attempts to reach him for comment were unsuccessful.
The third complaint filed is against Dean Sheridan, and it alleges he also owes taxes and is not eligible to hold office.
According to the complaint, Sheridan “failed to pay 944 employee withholding taxes collected to the U.S. Internal Revenue Service for the tax period ending 12/31/2008.”
The taxes were related to Vend One Consultants, which Sheridan owned before it was administratively dissolved on Sept. 12, 2010. The amount owed, according to IRS documents included in the complaint, totals $1,399.09.
Attempts to reach Sheridan were also unsuccessful. However, in an Atlanta Journal-Constitution article dated July 22, 2012, Sheridan commented on the lien when he ran for State House District 23. Sheridan stated he changed his tax profile during a “transitionary period” in his business.
“They were assuming I was conducting my affairs in the same fashion,” Sheridan said in the AJC interview. “I provided them with documentation showing them different, and they never wrote me again, so it’s been resolved.”
In 2012 the AJC noted the lien was still active. The challenge states the lien is still active in 2013.
Cody Whitlock, a communications coordinator with Secretary of State Brian Kemp’s office, said the reviews on all three candidates were ongoing.
The review process, as written in O.C.G.A. 21-2-5, involves the secretary of state requesting a hearing on the issue before an administrative law judge of the Office of State Administrative Hearings. The judge then reports any findings to the secretary of state.
If the secretary of state determines the candidate is not qualified to run for office, the candidate is removed from the ballot. If there is not enough time to remove the candidate or print new ballots, the code requires notices to be placed at the polling place and any votes for the candidate will not be counted.
Should the candidate be removed from the ballot, there is an appeal process. Similarly, there is an appeal process if the candidate stays on the ballot and anyone wishes to challenge it a second time.