Bill Hitchens’ 40-plus years working in state government and his strong ties to a number of state leaders were too much for political newcomer Kristopher Moutray to overcome in the Republican primary for the Georgia House of Representatives District 161 seat.
Hitchens took three-fourths of the vote in Effingham County and district-wide to earn the seat, which serves Effingham and west Chatham County.
“I was really humbled by the results. I never expected that kind of percentage,” Hitchens said.
Hitchens will run unopposed in November to succeed Rep. Ann Purcell, who is retiring from the seat. Purcell endorsed Hitchens, as did several others, including Gov. Nathan Deal, former state House Public Safety Committee Chairman Burke Day (R-Tybee Island) and state Reps. Ron Stephens (R-Savannah) and Ben Watson (R-Savannah).
“The governor and the speaker of the House have called and they seemed to be excited I won by such a margin. They told me they had some things in store for me,” Hitchens said.
Asked if Hitchens’ experience and endorsements were the difference in the race, Moutray said, “More signs, more money, more endorsements – the whole shebang, I guess.”
Hitchens retired from the Georgia State Patrol after 28 years and served as the state Homeland Security director and Department of Public Safety commissioner. He said that experience gave him a strong understanding of state government through the relationships he built and the legislation he wrote and presented to committees.
Despite the time commitments with the positions he held in Atlanta, Hitchens maintained his home in Rincon and his children grew up in Effingham County. He coached youth sports and was president of the Rincon Jaycees and the Effingham County High School booster club.
“Even though I’ve kept my residence and we’ve come home once or twice a month and over the holidays, my wife and I have essentially lived in Atlanta. I was concerned I hadn’t been involved in community activities and the things I had been in the past,” Hitchens said. “I felt like I didn’t know a lot of the new people who had moved into the community. I didn’t know what kind of response I would receive from the people who didn’t know me.”
However, those fears were laid to rest when Hitchens captured 75 percent of the vote. Once the results were in, Hitchens said, he was flooded with calls from supporters.
“I got so many phone calls, the battery in my phone went dead,” he said.
Hitchens touted his conservative views and campaigned on issues such as limiting taxes only to essential services, safeguarding Second Amendment rights, promoting education and deepening the port of Savannah to ensure growth for the region.
“I was a little concerned about how unhappy people are with government right now. I know economic deprivation has played into a lot of it,” he said. “There are a lot of people who are upset with the way the country’s being run. I haven’t heard a lot negative about the state. They’re pleased we have a balanced budget.”
Moutray, a senior aircraft technician at Gulfstream, had not previously run for any elected position. He said he “enjoyed” the campaign and did not rule out running for political office again.
“I gave people a choice, which a lot of people didn’t have (for other races) around the state,” Moutray said.