After four terms in office, a majority of incumbent state representatives in Georgia face a comfortable path to reelection.
Most have no opposition in their primary elections, and their name recognition is enough to breeze to another term in office in the November general elections.
That was never the case with Jason Spencer, R-Woodbine, in the District 180 race.
He has been challenged in the Republican primary elections each time he sought another term in office. Spencer, who was seeking a fifth Republican primary win, lost handily in Tuesday’s Republican primary election. He received 42 percent of the vote against his opponent, Steven Sainz, a 24-year-old political newcomer who had never sought public office before.
District 180 encompasses most of Camden County and parts of Charlton and Ware counties. Spencer defeated Sainz by 13 votes in Charlton County and by 61 votes in Ware County.
But in Camden, his home county, Spencer lost by more than 700 votes. He got 1,241 votes, or 38 percent, in Camden County, while Sainz got 2,458 votes, or 62 percent.
Spencer did not return several phone messages or an email for comment on Wednesday.
Jim Stein, former chair and current board member of the Camden County Republican Party, said he was not surprised Spencer lost because Spencer rubbed people the wrong way in Atlanta.
“I don’t recall we’ve ever had anyone with this much time in office with this much opposition,” he said. “He stayed at odds with the folks in Atlanta. It was obvious because of Spencer’s antics they weren’t going to work with him.”
Stein said there was “no question” Spencer was disliked by many of his fellow elected officials in Atlanta for what Stein described as adversarial positions and fiery statements on issues. He said they wanted him out of office.
Spencer has butted heads with the Catholic Church and Georgia Chamber of Commerce over his Hidden Predator Act Legislation. He also drew the ire of critics last year when he suggested former state representative LaDawn Jones could “go missing in the Okefenokee” if she came to South Georgia after she called for the removal of Confederate monuments in the state.
“It made us appear we were a bunch of rough-riding convicts who belonged in the Klan,” Stein said of Spencer’s comments.
Stein said Spencer cost Camden County funding for a new technical college because of his adversarial nature. Camden finally got funding approved for a new college during the most recent legislative session, but it wasn’t because of his efforts, Stein said.
The location of the college was moved into state Rep. John Corbett’s district, which includes part of Kingsland, which led to approval for the funding to build the college, Stein said.
“He took credit for things he didn’t do,” Stein said. “He was what prevented us from getting a college way back when.”
Stein said local Republican Party officials knew Spencer was vulnerable this election, but they were reluctant to criticize him.
“It was common knowledge among party members he wasn’t liked in Atlanta,” he said. “We knew it, but we couldn’t say a whole lot about him.”