Moderate Baptist publisher Cecil Staton, who two years ago ran unsuccessfully for Congress on a platform reaching out to the religious right, is re-entering politics, thanks to a court-ordered redistricting that puts his Georgia state Senate district up for grabs.
Staton, president and CEO of Smyth & Helwys Publishing in Macon, Ga., announced Monday that he would seek an open seat in a redrawn District 18 seat in the Senate, according to a report in the Macon Telegraph.
Creation of the new district “came about very quickly,” Staton told the moderate news journal Baptists Today. He said he was seeking office in the interest of improving life in the community where he lives and has business interests.
In 2002 Staton established residency in another part of Georgia to run for Congress. In his first bid for public office, Staton lost in a runoff in the Republican primary to Phil Gingrey, who eventually won the 11th District seat in the U.S. House of Representatives.
The 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in February ruled that a map of Georgia’s legislative districts drawn by Democrats in 2001 is unconstitutional because it violated the one-person, one-vote principle.
A three-judge panel on March 25 approved new legislative districts, which will have the effect of throwing some legislators out of office.
The boundary lines for District 18, for example, moved several miles north, leaving the current state senator, Sen. Russ Tolleson, R-Perry, in another district.
The redrawn District 18 includes parts of Bibb County, where Macon is located, along with portions of four other counties.
A court panel which drew the new district map wasn’t told where incumbent lawmakers lived, to make the process as non-political as possible, according to the Savannah Morning News.
Pundits aren’t sure which side will benefit most from the redistricting. Republicans hold a majority in the Senate, after four Democrats switched parties when Gov. Sonny Perdue won as the first Republican Georgia governor since Reconstruction. Republicans hope also to gain ground in the House, where Democrats now outnumber them 108-71.
Baptists Today said Staton has reduced his daily involvement with Smyth & Helwys, a for-profit publishing firm he and three partners started 12 years ago, since entering politics, but he remains “very committed” to the enterprise.
Smyth & Helwys is listed as a “partner” organization by the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship, and many moderate churches aligned with the CBF use Sunday school materials and other resources produced by the company.
Staton, who says he is a lifelong Republican, surprised many moderates two years ago by running a radically conservative congressional campaign, which included endorsements by religious right figures such as Phyllis Schlafly, Gary Bauer and Alan Keyes.
Staton also owns a broadcasting company.
He recently resigned as publisher of Mercer University Press and created a new company called Stroud & Hall to publish a best-seller book by U.S. Sen. Zell Miller, A National Party No More: The Conscience of a Conservative Democrat.
Macon physician Meg Nichols, also a Republican, is also running for the Senate seat in District 18, according to the Macon Telegraph.
Bob Allen is managing editor of EthicsDaily.com.