Chuck Payne says that if you told him back in 1991 he'd one day be a state senator he wouldn't have believed you.
That was the year his daughter was born and the year he attended his first meeting of the Whitfield County Republican Party.
"I had no ambition for political office," he said. "I just wanted to have a voice so that she could have a better future."
But in 2016 friends encouraged him to run in a special election to fill the unexpired term of Charlie Bethel in the state Senate from District 54. Payne won a special election runoff in 2017 to finish the unexpired term of Bethel, who had been appointed by then-Gov. Nathan Deal to the Georgia Court of Appeals. Deal later appointed Bethel to the Supreme Court of Georgia.
Payne won a full two-year term in 2018, and on June 9, he faces businessman and former Chatsworth mayor Dan McEntire for the GOP nomination for Senate District 54. No Democrat qualified. District 54 includes all of Whitfield and Murray counties and parts of Gordon and Pickens counties.
Payne served in the U.S. Army for four years in the 82nd Airborne Division. After leaving the Army, Payne began a career with the Georgia Department of Juvenile Justice, first at the Dalton Regional Youth Detention Center as a probation/parole specialist and then as a juvenile probation officer in first Catoosa County and then Murray County.
Payne held party offices at the state, congressional district and local levels, including multiple terms as chairman of the Whitfield County Republican Party.
Looking back over his three years in the House, Payne said he is "very proud that we cut the state income tax, the top rate (from 6 to 5.75 percent)."
One point of contention between Payne and McEntire is a proposal to create a special, distinctive driver's license for illegal immigrants who have federal work permits. McEntire supports the idea, saying such a license would prevent someone from using it as an ID to vote or to obtain government benefits. Payne voted against a bill that would have created such a license two years ago.
"That bill wouldn't prevent illegal aliens from getting driver's licenses," he said. "It just creates a whole new division of (the Department of Driver Services), creating more bureaucracy and spending more money."
Payne notes that almost 10 years ago the state created a secure driver's license, which requires people to bring a proof of ID such as a birth certificate, two proofs of residence and other documents.
"That's so we know who you are," he said. "So if you try to register to vote, they'll run that through the database and find out whether you are eligible."
Early voting in the Republican Party primary is underway. In Whitfield County, early voting is in the elections office in the courthouse from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday (Memorial Day excluded) through June 5. In Murray County, early voting is at the Recreation Department at 651 Hyden Tyler Road, Chatsworth, from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Monday through Friday (Memorial Day excluded) through June 5. Early voting will also be held on Saturday, May 30, from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. in both counties.