Jackson County Opinions...

 July 26, 2000

By Mark Beardsley
The Commerce News
July 26, 2000

Boring Campaigns 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

Jefferson civic center:
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 agenda?
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 asked.




Jackson County Opinion Index

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By Mike Buffington
The Jackson Herald
July 26, 2000

Election results 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 of this:
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.
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?
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 before.
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.

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