After retiring from serving the state of Georgia, Bill Hitchens considered entering public life somewhere down the road. He didn’t envision becoming a candidate for elected office so soon after ending his career with public safety.
But Monday morning, , surrounded by his large family and friends, the former state Homeland Security director and Department of Public Safety commissioner formally announced his candidacy for state House of Representatives District 161
"I told people this wasn’t on my bucket list," he said.
Hitchens retired as commissioner of the Department of Public Safety on Jan. 31. He also had been colonel of the Georgia State Patrol, and his son Bill is a major in theState Patrol, overseeing the southeast region.
When Ann Purcell announced she was retiring from the House, it set the wheels in motion.
"I thought Ann would be my representative forever," Hitchens said. "When Ann announced her retirement, I was just stunned."
Having considered running for school board or county commission at some point, the longtime Rincon resident had a couple of people approach him about running for Purcell’s seat.
"I asked Ann, ‘who is going to be your replacement?’" he said. "She said, ‘you’re going to be the replacement.’ I said, ‘I’m not so sure about that.’"
Hitchens drew endorsements from Purcell and former state Rep. Burke Day, who served for 16 years on the House Public Safety Committee. Also joining Hitchens for his announcement was state Rep. Ron Stephens (R-Garden City), and Hitchens also could get Speaker of the House David Ralston’s backing soon.
"I’ve known many people in government, on virtually every single level there is," Day said. "And I’ve known a lot of good people. But there are no finer individuals than Bill Hitchens when it comes to integrity, honesty, remembering why he is where he is, and that’s in public service. That’s a true honor to say that in an era and a time when public service has been called into question so much."
Purcell, who has endorsed Hitchens, took Hitchens to three churches Sunday morning before noon, he said.
"He is a family man," she said. "He stands up for his Christian beliefs. I am not regretting giving up my seat to a wonderful man who stands for the same principles Burke Day and I stand for."
Hitchens maintained his home in Effingham and his children grew up in the county, even as his duties with the State Patrol took him all across the state. He coached little league baseball, softball and basketball, was president of the Rincon Jaycees and was president of the Effingham County High School booster club.
Hitchens will face Kristopher Moutray in the July 31 general primary for the Republican nomination. He espoused his beliefs in his announcement Monday, proclaiming his support for the 2nd Amendment and that life begins at conception.
"I believe in God," he said. "I believe in life."
Hitchens also had been a commander in the U.S. Coast Guard Reserve and served a tour of duty in Vietnam as a Marine.
As commissioner of public safety, he said he had to cut $21 million out of his budget but did so with sacrificing any personnel.
"It was a difficult process, but I explained it to all our people," Hitchens said. "It’s just like your family budget. You can’t write that check for more than you’ve got in the bank. We did some difficult things. We didn’t lose anybody except through attrition."
Hitchens said he also will work to keep groceries sales tax-free.
"I’m very concerned about tax issues," he said. "I know sometimes we feel like the process isn’t fair. But we have to have essential services from all levels of government."
Hitchens also spoke in favor of the deepening of the Savannah harbor, pointing to the recent University of Georgia study that detailed the port’s impact on the entire state.
"It affects all 159 counties in the state, and I understand the need for the deepening," he said.
As a retiree, Hitchens said he can be a "24-7" state representative.
"Past performance is the best indicator of future performance, and I’d like to say my record stands for itself," he said.