Who will replace longtime state representative Calvin Smyre?
He represented Columbus in the Georgia House of Representatives for nearly half a century, and now he leaves the Gold Dome behind. Smyre was tapped to be the new U.S. Ambassador to the Dominican Republic, and he is awaiting confirmation by the U.S. Senate.
Two Democrats, Zeph Baker and Teddy Reese, are running in the redrawn and renumbered District 140. No Republican entered the race.
The Ledger-Enquirer asked the men three questions. Below are their responses. Baker’s responses are listed first due to alphabetical order. Some have been edited for clarity and brevity.
Meet the candidates
Zeph Baker, 45, told the Ledger-Enquirer he is the owner of a healthcare business and a philanthropist. Baker is a graduate of Carver High School and Columbus State University.
Baker has unsuccessfully run for political office in the past. In 2008, he ran against Smyre as an Independent.
Baker first ran for Columbus mayor in 2010, forcing Teresa Tomlinson into a runoff. In 2014, he lost against Councilor Jerry Pops Barnes for the Columbus Council’s District 1 seat. In 2018, Baker finished a distant second to Skip Henderson in Columbus’ mayoral election.
Baker’s residency was a key storyline in that 2018 election. Rival Beth Harris alleged Baker didn’t live in Columbus. However, the Muscogee County Board of Elections, and later, a visiting Superior Court judge didn’t disqualify him from the race. During proceedings, Baker maintained he lived at 1091 Bolton Court.
An address is not listed for Baker on the Georgia Secretary of State’s list of qualified candidates. The Bolton Court address is in District 140. Baker told the Ledger-Enquirer that he lives in Columbus.
Teddy Reese, 41, is the managing attorney & Owner of The Reese Firm. This is not Reese’s first run for state office. He unsuccessfully ran against Ed Harbison in Georgia Senate District 15 in 2020. He also unsuccessfully challenged Skip Henderson for the Columbus Council District 10 seat in 2016.
Reese holds a Computer Science degree from Albany State University, a masters in Public Administration from Georgia College & State University and a law degree from Florida A&M University.
He is currently on the United Way of Chattahoochee Valley Board of Directors, and serve as the Chairman of the National Board of Youth Advocacy Programs, Inc.
Q: Why are you running for the Georgia House of Representatives?
“The city of Columbus is at a critical juncture. Many of our elected officials have broken their promises to the citizens, and quite frankly, many of us feel abandoned.
I am running to restore the people’s confidence and bring results to the communities that have been overlooked and ignored. I will bring the community the resources needed to reduce crime, reduce poverty, provide better housing, and produce jobs that pay livable wages.
I will improve the overall quality of life for the residents of District 140 and throughout Columbus. To get different results, we must make changes. My candidacy represents a change from the “good-ole-boy” way of doing things to the new progressive, compassionate, hands-on way of doing things. I represent the people, not the establishment. I am a product of this community. I am running for the people, not the power.”
“A great strength of our city is that we have a state-level delegation that is very effective for our area. We have been fortunate to elect representatives who embody the spirit of working together for the greater good of all.
I am running for the Georgia House of Representatives to ensure we continue to have great representation for our community that reflects the leadership we have enjoyed from Representative Calvin Smyre for 48 years.
I will continue to deliver the honesty, high level of integrity, full transparency, and fierce advocacy the residents of District 140 have grown to expect.
With me at the State Capitol, the citizens of Columbus, Georgia will be able to rest easy knowing they have one of their best in Atlanta advocating for their interests. It will simply be a continuation of the great work I am honored to have accomplished in our community.”
Q: What are the most important issues in this election?
“Crime is cited most as the major concern. When you unpack crime, many more issues and concerns are exposed.
Thus, in order to address crime, we must resolve the issues around quality affordable housing, better-paying jobs, access to healthcare for seniors, in particular, and fair and equitable education for our students.
We must transform the communities plagued with crime into communities of opportunities. That is why I have committed to identifying 5,000 jobs for our youth and young adults.
Additionally, that is why I am pledging 100 Million Dollars in development in East and South Columbus. And that includes a Million Dollar personal commitment I am making to preserve our history through ‘The Buy Back The Block Program’ that I and a group of young investors and business owners started to address these very issues. The way we change the narrative is to change the leaders.”
“As a lifelong Democrat and a consistent and reliable supporter of the local Democratic party, I have witnessed the Democratic platform change and grow. I have served as a Post Committee member of our local party for almost 10 years and have honorably carried out the duties of Election Protection Poll Watcher during past elections.
I am committed to fighting for solid democratic principles, especially those that benefit the marginalized in our party. Some of the most important issues in this election align directly with most of my campaign points. I will fight for medicaid expansion, economic opportunities for all, strengthening voting rights, protecting our seniors and veterans, voting to fully fund education, advocating for social justice reform, and highlighting the challenges of those with disabilities.
There’s a lot of work to do and several issues that Democrats and Republicans can work together on and I’m qualified and job ready to work.”
Q: What sets you apart from your opponent?
“I have nothing to say about my opponent, largely because I don’t know him so, I will tell you about Zeph Baker. There are many things that distinguish my candidacy. I’m a product of this community. I have more than 20 years of business experience. I am a problem solver and a healthcare provider.
I am a customer service expert and customer service is what I promise the voters. My campaign is not only about what I will do, it’s about what I have been doing. I am investing in the revitalization of the community surrounding the historic Columbus Times building which I am transforming into a cultural arts center. This is the first of a list of improvements. I am a workhorse, not a show horse. I don’t look for accolades I work for impact. I am running for the people, not the power.”
“Though I admire and appreciate my opponent’s willingness to serve, I have proven for the past decade that I am capable of working with individuals from all walks of life to accomplish success and deliver results.
When the going gets tough, I stick it out. When I know I am standing on truth, principles and transparency, I stand strong. The citizens of District 140 know I have been present and involved. There are no gaps in my education, my resume, my experience, my community engagement, my passion, nor my commitment to the citizens of 140.
State Rep. Carolyn Hugley said, ‘I can’t think of a better person to follow in his (Calvin Smyre) footsteps than Teddy Reese.’ I am honored to be endorsed by 10 other current elected leaders. I am ready, Day One, to work with our current elected leaders to improve the lives of all.”
This story was originally published May 10, 2022 1:41 PM.