Jackson County Opinions...

NOVEMBER 13, 2002

By Mark Beardsley
The Commerce News
November 13, 2002

Why Barnes Couldn’t Win
4 More Years
Required by the Code of Columnists in the aftermath of an election to explain why it went the way it did, I directed my research staff last Friday to figure out why Roy Barnes did not win re-election.
The startling fact uncovered somewhere into the fourth six-pack was that Georgia's education professionals (teachers, administrators, parapros and spouses) backed Sonny Perdue 104,557-0 Nov. 5, getting some revenge for the governor's "reforms" of education. Had all of those people stayed home grading papers instead of going to the polls, Barnes and Perdue would have tied.
"The other reason," said my Russian-born research director Iwana Knowmore, "is that some moron in Ward 3 of Commerce voted Libertarian in the race. Those two factors handed the state over to Republicans. We've been set back to Reconstruction."
It did not seem to be a good time for confessions.
I admit to a certain amount of glee in seeing the governor go down, yellow-dog Democrat that I am notwithstanding. The trend toward Republicanism and George Bush's coattails might have cost Barnes re-election anyway, but his arrogance and relentless pursuit of power certainly turned off a lot of people who normally would vote Democratic.
Meanwhile, nationwide Democrats are blaming the GOP victory on special interests, political code for saying the Republicans had more money to spend. But Georgia's governor's race belies that statement and there were other cases where the more well-heeled candidates took a dive.
The biggest ally the Republicans have is Osama bin Laden. He's not sleeping in the Lincoln Bedroom, but his terror campaign elevated Bush and diverted the nation's attention from the corporate scandals, return to deficit spending, lousy economy and all other valid domestic issues. As a nation under attack (we get new warnings every week), we've rallied behind Bush, giving him coattails and power he never would have had otherwise.
The question is whether this is good or bad, which we'll know only as things play out. A short war in Iraq, Saddam Hussein eliminated and/or bin Laden killed, great. If the war engulfs the Middle East, results in the use of nuclear, biological or chemical weapons, not so great. If the economy recovers due to further tax cuts so that the budget is balanced, Bush's coattails look wonderful. If the deficit spending dries up capital, if oil prices go up dramatically for more than a few months and the economy really tanks, if we lose Constitutional rights in the name of homeland security, we'll see last Tuesday's results less charitably.
In Georgia, Perdue will face both a recession and a General Assembly controlled by Democrats, but, what happens in Washington will hugely overshadow events in Atlanta.
The public appears to have rejected the Democratic party in this mid-term election. The Republicans now have the opportunity they’ve waited for to implement their beliefs without interference from Democrats.
They out-hustled, out-worked and out voted the Democrats Nov. 5, earning the right to try things their way. Here’s hoping they get the desired results.

The Jackson Herald
November 13, 2002

New jail a need, too
The Jackson County government has done a lot of good things over the last decade, but one area it has neglected is its building infrastructure needs.
That’s why the county is looking into building a new courthouse and it is why Sheriff Stan Evans is lobbying hard for a new county jail. In fact, some believe a new jail is more of a priority than a new courthouse.
Last week, members of the board of commissioners did a formal tour of the county jail. That apparently came from an unreleased grand jury report calling on the board to build a new jail facility.
But building a new jail is going to be a difficult political problem for the board. The cost of a jail will rival, or perhaps even exceed, the cost of building a new courthouse. Doing both at the same time may prove to be financially impossible.
No doubt, some on the BOC don’t want the need for a jail to distract from their plans to build a courthouse on Darnell Road. If the push for a new jail gets hot, and Sheriff Evans is in a position to bring it to the fore, that could put off the courthouse project for a couple more years.
On the other hand, if county leaders neglect to address the jail problem and proceed with a courthouse, the courts could step in and force the county to build a jail anyway. Building a jail under court order would not be in the best interest of the county.
All of this means that county leaders are going to have to make some difficult choices. Balancing the needs with limited funding won’t be easy.
We just hope that our leaders will not let the need for a new jail become a political football that gets kicked around, but never completed.

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By Mike Buffington
The Jackson Herald
November 13, 2002

Hidden message in elections
As the dust settles from last week’s elections, one thing about the voting in Jackson County is clear — newcomers now control the political agenda.
It was the strength of the newcomer votes that made the difference in the surprising upset of Rep. Pat Bell by challenger Chris Elrod.
Newcomers to Jackson County who now populate the dozens of subdivisions from the center of the county toward the west are largely young families moving away from the more urban areas of Atlanta. They are largely Republican in their political leanings. And with no previous ties to the community, political party affiliation becomes the standard by which they cast their votes.
But that will change in the next election. Bell is probably the last Democrat to run on a local ballot. From now on, those who want to hold public office here will all run as Republicans and the outcome will be decided in the primary election.
That’s probably the best system anyway. Political party affiliation has nothing to do with holding local public offices. Who cares what party the tax commissioner belongs to?
Of course, this single party domination isn’t new. Before 1990, virtually every local race was on the Democratic ticket and was decided in the primary. It has been only in these last 12 years that local races became party contests.
But now that it is clear no Democrat can win, how will voters sort out who they will support in the primary? On the general election ballot, the choice was simple — vote for the party. That becomes a problem, however, when all candidates are from the same party.
What will happen, of course, is that we will see the rise of real elections again. Voters will have to become better informed about the candidates to make a choice. No longer will simply searching for party affiliation be the litmus test.
At the state and national level, party politics will continue to be important. But at the local level, party politics is dead. It died with Bell’s defeat. She is the last local Democrat we’ll probably ever see in Jackson County politics.

But there are other aspects to this beyond just the party politics. With the newcomer vote so strong, the issues surrounding local elections will shift. It will be the interests and concerns of newcomers that will set the political agenda.
High on the agenda will be education. Young families are interested in their kids’ schools. Yet local education politics is mostly dominated by long-time residents. Newcomers are going to demand a seat at the education table in the coming years.
Zoning and land use planning will also be high on the agenda. Newcomers have already been vocal at zoning meetings and that will increase in the coming years as commercial developments rub against residential land use.
Recreation amenities will also be important to newcomers. Many are from larger communities that offer far more programs and parks than Jackson County currently has. There will be pressure to increase those services and programs.
The control of the newcomer votes will also act to increasingly fragment Jackson County. We are a large county geographically, with nine incorporated towns and a half-dozen unincorporated communities. Jackson County has never really been unified, but long-time residents have developed some overlapping communities of interest through extended families, school friendships and church and civic institutions.
But newcomers don’t have that web of ties to other areas of the county. What is important to most newcomers is what’s happening in their immediate geographic area. Beyond that, the interest level drops way, way off.
All of those things will be difficult for local political leaders to deal with. The political dialogue in Jackson County has changed and for the next decade or so, we will become increasingly polarized over some of these issues.
The last decade was an era of party politics in Jackson County. The next era will be one of old vs. new.
That was the hidden message in last week’s elections.
Mike Buffington is editor of The Jackson Herald.

The Commerce News
November 13, 2002

Lots Of Spending Left
Out Of County Budget
The new $30 million budget proposed for the operation of Jackson County is most remarkable for what it doesn't have. The budget, approved Friday, does not contain a tax increase. Nor does it contain funding for salary increases for hourly workers, any of the "wish list" items supposedly needed by county departments or for the two major projects about which we've heard the most in the previous year – Concord Road and the proposed courthouse.
What it amounts to is that some or all of the county commissioners have spending plans for the next year that, for whatever reason, were excluded from the county budget.
At least one commissioner wants an animal control program. Another proposes increasing those hourly salaries. And let's not forget the commitment for the road to serve the new Michigan Automotive Compressor Inc. and the impending work on the courthouse. The budget does not address them because the commissioners haven't settled on exactly how to fund them.
All of that makes the 2003 budget something less than a blueprint for Jackson County's operation during the year. Instead, what the commissioners have presented is a plan for spending all of the traditional sources of revenue and a we'll-let-you-know-later attitude about the extraordinary expenditures we all know are coming.
The budget is several million dollars shy of accurate because some items (animal control, salaries) have not been approved and because on others (Concord Road, the courthouse) the commissioners plan to borrow the money. The budget may serve as a basis for levying property taxes, but it in no way indicates all of the tax money the county commissioners plan to spend during 2003.

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