Kemp’s decision came after Deputy Chief Judge Michael Malihi of the Georgia Office of Administrative Hearings recommended earlier in the day that Laughridge be allowed to seek the District 14 seat, despite a resident complaint the candidate had not lived in the district for the full year required by Georgia’s Constitution.
Both Laughridge and the resident who complained, Garrett Jamieson, appeared before Malihi last week in a hearing in downtown Atlanta to defend their cases.
After hearing the news both Malihi and Kemp decided in his favor Thursday, Laughridge said he was thankful and ready to get back to the issues.
“I think the right decision was made,” Laughridge said. “Trying to use distractions instead of talking about the issues is finally behind us. It’s just sad we had to go through political glitter and glamor versus talking about the issues. The reality is we aren’t giving the people of District 14 the race they deserve. They should know people’s positions.”
Jamieson wasn’t as satisfied.
“I am very disappointed,” Jamieson said Thursday. “Our election system is severely flawed, and I will be working in the coming months to bring those flaws to the attention of those in charge and to the voting public. As far as the special election is concerned, I stand by the evidence and testimony presented in the hearing. The public can and must make their own decision, and I pray it is an informed, educated decision.”
During the hearing, Jamieson’s side argued, in addition to other factors, Laughridge’s legal residency wasn’t in District 14 because he had voted three times in a different district in 2012.
Another issue cited by Jamieson was Laughridge claimed he had lived in the district since December 2011 on a houseboat on Lake Allatoona. That property is owned by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, which does not allow full-time residency, making him living there against federal regulations, Jamieson argued.
Laughridge said during the hearing he had been living in the boat waiting to move into another home in District 14 when it was renovated, and he had never been told he couldn’t live on the boat full-time.
He added when the “commodore” of his yacht club told him he couldn’t live there, he moved out immediately.
The judge disagreed with Jamieson’s argument.
“Although (Laughridge) did not intend to live on the houseboat permanently, he established intent to live in Senate District 14 when he moved onto the houseboat,” Malihi wrote in his Thursday decision. “(Laughridge’s) intent to remain in Senate District 14 is evidenced by his purchase of property located in the district.”
Despite the state’s decision, Cherokee community activist Linda Flory, who also testified against Laughridge last Thursday, still feels it was the wrong call.
“This decision was disturbing on many levels,” Flory said Thursday afternoon. “Obviously our legislators have written laws with loopholes large enough to drive a houseboat through for their own benefit. We have a double standard when we as citizens are expected to follow the laws but someone running for office can admit that they have violated state and federal laws and our judges and the Secretary of State will look the other way as they rubber stamp their approvals.”
Laughridge, however, said he broke no law living on the houseboat.
“It’s not a federal law. This is a regulation that the corps had,” he said. “It’s obviously not being enforced.”
The election is to replace Barry Loudermilk, who resigned to run for Congress in 2014.
Laughridge is one of five candidates in the race, along with Dwight Pullen of Canton, Nicole Ebbeskotte of Woodstock, Bruce Thompson of White and Christopher G. Nesmith.
Yet another candidate, Dean Sheridan, dropped out of the race last week, saying he was worried the conservative vote would be split if he stayed in.
Sheridan’s qualifications were also the target of a complaint, and Malihi heard that case as well.
The judge ruled Thursday that Sheridan was legally eligible to run. Kemp also agreed with the candidate’s eligibility to be on the ballot.