The Commerce News
July 26, 2000
Make For Low Voter Turnout
Not even a fifth of Georgia's registered voters cast their ballots
last week in the primary elections; in Jackson County, the percentage
was robust in comparison at 28.
But look closer. The county has 15,562 registered voters. Its
population of people 18 or older is probably around 25,000 (the
Census should give us real data, but give me a break here with
this number). Accepting that estimation, the 4,361 people who
cast ballots represent a real voter turnout of less than 17.5
percent. And, believe it or not, there may be a lower turnout
for the run-offs.
And we call this a democracy?
The political repercussion of the miserable turnout is a call
to make voting easier and registration for voting easier, neither
of which will work.
Look at our process. Candidates announce their intentions two
months before qualifying, cover the countryside with signs and
make the media wealthy with advertising, the total of which makes
the average citizen sick of the whole process. By the election,
most citizens are convinced all of the candidates are morons.
Meanwhile, state election officials want people to be able to
register to vote by email, at the beer store or at K-mart, and
there is movement toward letting people vote by the Internet.
The public isn't staying away in droves because voting is hard.
It staying away because it is bored to stueification by the process.
The public gets weary of candidates asking it to vote and telling
it how to vote, becomes cynical about fund-raising, promises
and negative characterizations and irritated by the continuous
assault on the senses by advertising, so it tunes out the whole
process. The process leads the public into a they're-all-the-same
apathy. As long as voters think it doesn't matter who wins, there
will not be a high voter turnout.
Let's test this hypothesis: How many of you are excited about
George W. Bush or Al Gore? A few rabid Republicans who want to
get revenge for eight years of Bill Clinton are all a-froth for
Bush. A handful of skirt-chasing, grin-and-spend Democrats find
Gore dynamic. Most of us, however, wish both of them would go
away, and the election is still more than 60 days away and the
TV ads haven't even started.
Those of us who vote don't do it because we're wild about our
options or issues, but because we feel like we have an obligation
to elect the best leaders possible, regardless of how limited
the choices might be.
It could be worse.
We'd all be eager to vote if the incumbents had raised our taxes
50 percent, closed our schools or taken some other controversial
stand. The lack of clear issues suggests that the public is largely
satisfied with the status quo or sees nothing better on
the horizon. If you want to see high voter turnout in November,
let Tommy Stephenson propose Commerce as the county seat and
Harold Fletcher seek consolidation of the three school systems.
No, boring is better. Al and George W are all-stars in boring,
but the fact that there are no critical issues suggests that,
in spite of our political cynicism, things are going well.
And don't worry. There will be plenty of hot local issues the
way this county is growing. No doubt about it.
Mark Beardsley is editor of The Commerce News.
The Jackson Herald
July 26, 2000
Council should talk less, listen more
We're not sure we understand the goal of the Jefferson City Council
in its efforts to provide a city civic center and meeting facility.
It now appears that rather than focusing on one comprehensive
facility, the city wants two facilities: one a small building
to house social functions at the site of the current city clubhouse;
and a second larger building for a civic center.
Perhaps both facilities are needed, but we're not convinced that
one comprehensive facility wouldn't suit both purposes. If designed
correctly, a larger facility could house a variety of group sizes,
from a small setting to large crowds.
What really scares us about this split mandate is the apparent
hurry some are in to build the proposed smaller building. The
mention of a metal building by one city councilman has the tone
of "butler building mentality" - quick and cheap, but
not necessarily best for the long term.
Apparently some on the city council have already made their minds
up as to what they want to do and where they want to do it. Why,
then, is the civic center committee necessary? Is the purpose
of this group to gather ideas and present options, or is it simply
a vehicle for the council to use to carry out a predetermined
Frankly, we're less concerned about what the city council thinks
than we are what this committee thinks. So far, however, the
committee hasn't been given the chance to think for itself.
This city council will have the chance to make the final decision
on this matter, as well it should.
In the meantime, we'd like for the council to talk less and listen
more. Maybe, just maybe, our city fathers will discover that
they didn't have all the answers before the questions were even
Jackson County Opinion Index
The Jackson Herald
July 26, 2000
like reading tea leaves
Reading the results of last week's balloting is like looking
for your fortune by reading tea leaves. Hidden messages are often
difficult to spot and sometimes voters say one thing, but we
hear something different.
Alas, it is an editor's duty to make an attempt to decipher all
BOC CHAIRMAN'S RACE
The results of this contest weren't too surprising as Harold
Fletcher and Tommy Stephenson are headed for a runoff. Anti-growth
candidate Roy Grubbs got 20 percent of the vote, perhaps a signal
that anti-growth sentiment is becoming a larger part of local
elections. The race between Fletcher and Stephenson was close,
with Fletcher's core support coming from the central part of
Jackson County, especially Jefferson and the North Jackson areas.
Stephenson dominated the West Jackson and East Jackson areas,
but was hurt by a low Republican turnout in his home area of
Commerce. The difference in the runoff could be which way Grubb's
supporters swing in Jefferson and Harrisburg. Both Fletcher and
Stephenson took off the gloves this week as they unleashed negative
ads about each other. So far, neither candidate has found a knock-out
punch, but those body blows have to be hurting.
A new wrinkle to this race is the apparent entry of an independent
candidate who will appear on November's ballot. Jerry Presley,
a recent political science graduate from Alabama, has submitted
what appears to be enough signatures to get his name on the November
ballot. Presley has described himself as a "political entrepreneur"
and I am, for one, dying to find out what that is.
DISTRICT 3 BOC
Perhaps the biggest surprise in last week's balloting was the
results in District 3 as political newcomer Emil Beshara was
the top vote-getter in a four-way race. Beshara and Pendergrass
Mayor Mark Tolbert are headed for a runoff, but most observers
had expected Tolbert to draw the most votes in the Primary. You
have to wonder how much Tolbert's connections to the Water Wise
controversy hurt him in this race. If that was a major factor,
will the results of the runoff echo into the November balloting
with Mark's brother, Scott, who is running for re-election to
the state House? And with two Tolbert's on the ballot, do voters
in District 3 sense there is some hidden agenda in this election
that may have ties to the Water Wise deal?
DISTRICT 1 BOC
As expected, Stacey Britt easily won the Republican Primary in
this district. But now Britt has to get ready for November's
bid against Democrat Thomas Benton. Britt has taken some shots
because he's in the development business, but those concerns
weren't evident in last week's voting. Still, Benton and Britt
are in many ways polar opposites and this race may be the one
to watch in the final weeks of the General Election.
No real surprises here as incumbent Stan Evans dominated the
Republican returns while perennial challenger Steve Gary won
the Democratic nod. But who would have dreamed 16 years ago when
Evans first ran for sheriff that he would one day not only carry
the Newton and Center precincts, but win them as a Republican?
The times, they are a'changing.
Now for a bit of political humor. Following last week's balloting,
the Mike Beatty campaign issued a news release saying that Mike
"won the Republican Primary and clinched the Republican
nomination for State Senate on Tuesday." The release went
on to quote Beatty as saying that "It is obvious that our
message is resonating with the voters all across the District."
Some political rhetoric is to be expected during elections, but
this release takes that to a new level. Since Beatty didn't have
any opposition for the Republican nomination, it would have been
a shame if he hadn't "clinched" it.
I've heard of candidates grasping victory from defeat, but never
of a candidate grasping victory when there wasn't even a race.
Mike Buffington is editor of The Jackson Herald.
The Commerce News
July 26, 2000
Get Used To 2-Party
Confusion In Elections
Round 1 of the 2000 election cycle is complete. Round 2 takes
place in just under two weeks, after which there will be some
relief before the General Election in November.
In spite of the importance of the election due to the change
in county government and the need to elect five new county commissioners
voter interest lagged. There was also frustration with
the partisan election of local officials that we haven't heard
For the first time, the elections brought a lot of candidates
from both the Republican and Democratic primaries, the result
of which was that many people struggled to decide which primary
in which to vote. In the Minish District, for example, voters
had to decide whether to cast their ballot for a nominee for
county commissioner to represent the district, where both candidates
were Democrats, or in the race for chairman of the board of commissioners,
where all three candidates were Republicans. The frustration
will continue next week where those who voted in the Democratic
Primary for the District 1 seat must sit on the sidelines while,
in all likelihood, the next chairman will be selected in the
Republican Primary runoff.
Jackson County voters are used to being able to choose among
all of the candidates for local office, the result a virtual
one-party system that no longer exists. To get elected, candidates
of any political affiliation in years past ran in the Democratic
Primary. The Republican Party has made such gains that we now
have a real two-party system. It'll take some getting used to.
There has been some interest expressed in having local elections
made nonpartisan. We elect board of education members and court
officials that way. Could we not elect the commissioners, sheriff
and others similarly?
Actually, we probably cannot. State law provides that local legislation
can be passed in the General Assembly to hold nonpartisan elections
for school board members, judicial officials and offices of consolidated
government. It makes no mention of constitutional officials,
according to the Attorney General's office. We appear to be stuck
with the current situation.
Partisan politics should play almost no role in the election
of county officials in a small county like Jackson, where most
of those seeking office are well known. It matters little whether
a candidate for county commissioner is a Republican or a Democrat.
What matters is where the candidate stands on local issues from
land use to the disposal of solid waste. That having been said,
however, voters will have to adjust to a two-party system, which
in some cases may mean choosing between participating in one
race at the expense of another.
As Jackson County grows the time may come when there are enough
candidates that both Republicans and Democrats field slates for
every available office. In the meantime, voters will have to
adjust to primary elections in which neither party fields a full
slate. The confusion and frustration are just part of the process.