Hawkins fights hard for 9th District seat
by Debbie Gilbert
White County News
It’s only been a few weeks since Tom Graves won the Ninth District congressional seat in a runoff election, but rival Lee Hawkins aims to push him out of the job.
Hawkins, a Gainesville dentist and former state senator, came in second in the June 8 runoff. But he’ll get a chance to unseat Graves in the July 20 Republican primary.
Graves, a former state representative from Ranger, was elected to fill the unexpired term of former U.S. Rep. Nathan Deal, who resigned to run for governor. Graves will serve in Congress until Dec. 31.
In order to win a full two-year term in the House of Representatives, Graves has to defeat Hawkins on July 20.
But Hawkins has no intention of making it easy for his opponent. He’s zeroed in on what he thinks may be Graves’ Achilles’ heel: allegations of bank fraud.
According to documents filed in Gordon County Superior Court on May 17, 2010, Bartow County Bank amended a previous lawsuit against Graves, his business partner and their hotel management company, Tich Properties.
The defendants had taken out a $2.25 million loan to buy and renovate the Oglethorpe Inn in Calhoun. On June 12, 2009, Graves defaulted on the loan, claiming that his liabilities exceeded his assets.
That same day, according to allegations in the court documents, Graves fraudulently transferred some of his real estate property in Gordon County in order to hide his assets and avoid paying his obligations.
Hawkins has called upon Graves to publicly release copies of his bank application and all paperwork he filed with Bartow County Bank in 2007, 2008 and 2009.
“I think honesty and integrity are pretty important,” Hawkins said. “Anybody can make a bad investment. What they’re charging him with is fraud.”
Graves was unable to return a phone call from the White County News on Tuesday because Congress was in session. But he has issued a statement accusing Hawkins of “mud-slinging.”
“Voters recognize these last-minute, desperate smear tactics and are tired of this type of gutter politics,” Graves said.
Graves explained that he was included in the bank’s lawsuit only because he had signed his name as a guarantor on a partner’s business loan. He added that the original lawsuit was “frivolous” and was dismissed.
Hawkins said it is not credible for Graves to claim that he was only marginally involved in the business deal.
“(Graves) is like the kid who got caught with his hand in the cookie jar and then tries to blame someone else,” Hawkins said.
Graves has filed a countersuit against the bank, demanding damages for breach of contract.
He has also called upon Hawkins to “drop the dirty politics.”
Hawkins said he’s not playing a political game but merely telling the truth.
“I didn’t file the charges (against Graves),” he said. “I’m just trying to bring this to light.”
Hawkins said if Graves has nothing to hide, he should come clean and release all of his financial records to the voters.
“Before I got into this (congressional) race, I thought he was a great guy,” Hawkins said. “But this is not the kind of congressman I’d want.”