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Don Balfour seeks seat in Congress

LAWRENCEVILLE -- State Sen. Don Balfour, R-Snellville, Monday was the first to jump into the race for Congress, after U.S. Rep. John Linder's surprise retirement announcement this weekend.

About a half dozen other politicians have said they are considering campaigns, including Commissioner Mike Beaudreau, Sen. David Shafer, Reps. Clay Cox, R-Lilburn, and Jeff May, R-Monroe and Gwinnett GOP Chairman Chuck Efstration.

Balfour, who is the chairman of the powerful Senate Rules Committee and heads the National Conference of State Legislatures, is a formidable competitor to become Linder's replacement after 18 years in office. The Waffle House executive, like Linder, was first elected to his current position in 1992 and is the longest serving Republican senator in the state.

"Elections should be about leaders standing up to defend conservative principle," Balfour said. "I am running for Congress to serve the people of the 7th district and to fight for the conservative principles we hold dear. We deserve a Congress that rises above political pettiness and balances the Federal budget just like the citizens of the 7th District do every day."

While Linder plans to retire to a family farm in Mississippi, he said he plans to continue publicizing his FairTax plan, which would abolish the federal income tax and other taxes in favor of a national sales tax, the subject of a best-selling book he wrote with radio personality Neal Boortz.

Balfour pledged to take up the FairTax torch. He also wants to stop cap-and-trade and government-run healthcare proposals.

Not long after Balfour officially announced he would run for Congress, Rep. David Casas, who became one of the state's first Hispanic representatives in 2002, said he would run for Balfour's Senate seat.

Despite a Web site created to "draft" Sheriff Butch Conway to run for the position, Conway said he believes he can serve Gwinnett residents better in his current position.

Others have said the call to Washington is strong, but the unexpected retirement announcement, which comes a little more than a month before the candidate qualifying period, has left little time for reflection.

"I'd love to be in Congress," Cox, of Lilburn said, adding that his platform would be to "save the Union from socialism," if he decides to run. "At the same time, I'd love to be in town to coach my boys in football."

Many, including Shafer, May and Beaudreau, said the upcoming July primary would be important in selecting the right conservative to take on the Democratic powers in Washington.

On the flip side, Gwinnett Democratic Party Chairman Mike Berlon said Linder's retirement could give that party its best shot at the office in decades.

"Although our politics are different, I commend (Linder) for the work he has done," said Berlon, who ran against him in 2002. "It's pretty exciting for us. ... I would imagine with the right candidate in that spot, we're going to have a pretty good chance."

The lead contender at this point for the party could be Doug Heckman, who challenged Linder in 2008, bringing in 41 percent of the vote.

Heckman, a colonel in the U.S. Army Reserves, recently completed a tour in Iraq and is still on active duty. He said he would make his political plans known after his duty is complete later this month.

On Monday, Georgia's congressional politics was muddied a little further, as U.S. Rep. Nathan Deal announced he would resign to concentrate on his race for governor, forcing a possible special election.

Ga. Rep. Bobby Reese, R-Sugar Hill, had been pursuing Deal's 9th district, even though he currently lives in the 7th District. He said he has not decided how to proceed in light of Linder's and Deal's announcements.