GRIFFIN, GA -- He is the oldest man in the Georgia legislature, and John Yates is now in a political fight to keep his seat. He was forced into a runoff by a challenger in the May Republican primary.
Yates is the oldest member of a state legislature in America, according to the National Council of State Legislatures. John Yates’ father was born in 1869 – four years after the Civil War ended. But Yates says at age 94, he’s young enough to serve two more years at the Capitol.
"There’s nobody in the legislature in better health than I am," Yates said at his home Wednesday.
Yates is chairman of the House Veterans Affairs Committee, a World War II veteran and he says, a health enthusiast to whom his age, 94, is merely a number. He is running for a thirteenth term in the House of Representatives – after which, he says, he plans to retire.
"That’s what I’m trying to try to do," Yates said, "if I can whup this woman."
Karen Mathiak is the woman trying to unseat Yates. She is a longtime Republican activist in Spalding County who says she has happily voted for John Yates many times—but now thinks, enough.
"I do believe in term limits," Mathiak said. "And twenty plus years is a long time to be in office. How stale do we get after that many years?"
Perhaps one answer came earlier in the week, when Yates overlooked an appointment he’d made with 11Alive News. He surfaced four hours later by phone. He was very apologetic and said his forgetfulness was only temporary.
"In spite of my age, at this stage of my life, I don’t believe I have a memory problem any more than the people I deal with," Yates said.
Yates says he has two more years worth of work to accomplish at the state Capitol. At that time, he says he’ll willingly yield the seat.
"I’m not doing it hold a job forever," Yates said.
Yates adds that he started his political career late in life. He was a rookie legislator at age 71.
The GOP runoff is July 26.