LAWRENCEVILLE -- Could the third time be the charm for Tommy Hunter?
Or will Mike Beaudreau win for his third term?
Voters will decide between the two in a District 3 commission GOP runoff Tuesday, with the winner having no competition in November.
Beaudreau was the surprise victor eight years ago in a contentious race for the southern Gwinnett district. Hunter was part of the race then too, but the win went to Beaudreau, a young, brash conservative promising to shake up the old political structure backed by developers and land owners.
He says he has stuck to those principles, balancing revitalization efforts in the older parts of his area with a slowing of growth in Gwinnett's vanishing rural landscape.
After moving to Buford, Hunter mounted a similar campaign two years ago against a District 4 commissioner now facing indictment. When boundary lines changed, he found himself again battling Beaudreau.
The political landscape is very different from 2004, when the problems of growth have shifted to the perils of a down economy.
Now, with voters still raging over ethics controversies that have ended with the resignation of three commissioners in three years, Beaudreau, once the young upstart, is now the seasoned veteran on the Board of Commissioners.
He has faced many public battles -- over budget cuts and service agreements with cities, rezoning battles and a controversial trash program -- but he says that experience is now necessary since the government is continuing to face deficits in a slowing economy.
"We have more difficult days ahead," Beaudreau said at a recent forum, saying he had made unpopular but necessary choices, like adding light fees for recreation programs. "It requires disciple and a firm backbone. ... I have a track record of actually doing it."
Hunter hasn't spent his time between elections in the background. He has served as an appointee, first to the Water and Sewerage Authority and then on the Planning Commission.
Plus, he said his experience as a former county staffer and as an engineer who has worked on water and transportation issues gives him key insight into two of the biggest issues the government is facing.
Compared to Beaudreau, Hunter takes a less staunch approach to zoning issues, acknowledging positives in allowing growth to continue, which left the incumbent accusing him of catering to "land barons who fund his campaign."
But Hunter, a native of the area with a Southern drawl counter to Beaudreau's fast-talking Connecticut style, prefers to talk about kitchen-table budgeting and creating an open-door policy with constituents.
"They say to treat government like a business. Treat government like your home," he said. "It's time government learns that whenever they are out of money, they need to live with it."
The open-door policy is one of Beaudreau's favorite topics as well, since he has held a monthly "Meetings with Mike" session with constituents since he has taken office.
Both see the importance in re-establishing trust with Gwinnettians disheartened by politicians.
"I've taken the bullets," Beaudreau said, comparing himself to a tree bending in the hurricane but not breaking. "I think that experience is especially crucial now."
But Hunter sees a need for a new leader.
"It runs deep. It's been here for years," he said of the corruption seen recently in the investigations around commissioners. "We need the little guy to get on there and look out for people."
Polls will be open from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. Tuesday across District 3 for the runoff.