Madison County Opinion...

FEBRUARY 11, 2004


Column
By Frank Gillispie
The Madison County Journal
February 11, 2004

Frankly Speaking

Georgia should distance itself from party politics
In his farewell address to the American people delivered on September 26, 1796, George Washington warned against the development of political parties.
“It serves to distract the Public Councils, and enfeeble the Public Administration....agitates the Community with ill-founded jealousies and false alarms; kindles the animosity of one....against another...”
Never has a political prediction been more correct. Never has a valuable bit of advice been more ignored.
Now I could spend the rest of this column discussing the distortions, vilification, power plays and out right lies that make up modern party politics. But I don’t think I need to. All you have to do is watch the nightly news. Instead, I will localize the problem by telling you how the state of Georgia deals with party politics.
Rather than acting to protect its citizens from political abuse, Georgia has written it into state law. Under Georgia law, you have no chance of having your voice heard on public policy unless you first declare yourself to be a member of one of the two major parties. Georgia voting rules makes it almost impossible to get on the ballot as an independent or third party candidate. The state finances and conducts the primary elections used by the parties to choose their candidates for the general election.
That’s right. Georgia requires that we, the taxpayers, finance the Democrat and Republican parties by paying for their primaries. The state sets the rules for who can qualify for the primaries, uses state offices, equipment and personnel to conduct the primaries, and counts the votes. The two-major parties are now a key part of Georgia’s government.
Just how complete is the state’s control of the political process? Consider the so called flag referendum. The question is attached to the Democratic and Republican Presidential Primary ballot. If, for some reason, you actually wanted to vote in this fiasco, you will have to declare yourself to be a Democrat or Republican before you will have access to the ballot.
Now, the voting records cannot show which individual you supported. It will show which party’s ballot you requested. The voting list, with your party preference, is available to anyone who wishes to pay for it. Once you express your preference by taking a Republican or Democratic primary ballot, you can expect your mail box to be filled with letters from politicians telling you about the terrible things their opponents are doing and why it is critical that you send in your money so they can defeat this evil.
Now I have read the Georgia constitution from end to end. I cannot find anything that authorizes the state to finance and conduct political primaries. I think it is unconstitutional for the state to do so.
Thirty years ago or thereabouts, political parties in Georgia were responsible for their own methods of choosing candidates. The Democrats chose to use a primary. They organized, conducted and paid for it. The Republican Party, which was quite small at the time, held nominating conventions. The state had nothing to do with the process.
I think the state of Georgia ought to distance itself from party politics.
The state should conduct only the general election and open the ballot to anyone who wishes to run for office. Candidates chosen by political parties should have no special consideration. They should be required to meet the same standards as any independent or minor party candidate.
Just imagine how much better our government would be if we were allowed to select individuals who best represent our desires, rather than the policy of the political parties. Wouldn’t it be great if we can once again say that our government is by and for the people?
They will build a greater America.
Frank Gillispie is founder of The Madison County Journal. His e-mail address is frankgillispie@charter.net.

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Column
By Zach Mitcham
The Madison County Journal
February 11, 2004

In the Meantime

Outlining our 2004 election coverage
We’re already into the second month of a major election year, but so far, only one person has officially announced his candidacy for a local office in this newspaper.
Chris NeSmith recently declared that he will seek the DA’s seat in November.
But sooner or later, the local attorney is going to have a lot of company. Because quite a few local elected posts are up for grabs in 2004, including the chairman of the board of commissioners, all five posts at the commissioners’ table, Districts 3-5 on the county school board, the probate judge, the clerk of court, tax commissioner, sheriff, coroner, surveyor, three state represenative seats and two state senator posts.
No doubt, there will be quite a bit to write in coming months about the elections. And we will sincerely strive to provide fair and informative coverage.
So here’s a brief outline of how we intend to do that:
•Candidates’ announcements — These announcements are edited just like any other news copy. They will be printed on page 2A or 3A, not on the front page. If we give one person front page coverage, we feel all deserve it. And that’s a hard promise to keep considering all of the news we cover. We run every announcement that is submitted to us. But we will run announcements no later than May 26, which is nearly a month after qualifying ends on April 30. By that point someone’s campaign announcement will be old news.
•Advertising — We have a number of guidelines for political advertising and will soon have campaign ad pamphlets available at our office on Hwy. 29 across from the county government complex. Positive identification of the persons placing a political ad will be required, because we want to ensure that no ads will be purchased without the candidate’s knowledge, or by that candidate’s opponent. Sounds dirty, but it’s been known to happen. Also, we will not knowingly print false information in ads. Anyone with a question about advertising can contact our ad representative, Charles Richards.
•Endorsements — We have no plans to make political endorsements for local elections. However, we will make editorial comment on campaign activities on the opinion pages of this paper if we feel it is appropriate. I doubt we will escape from forming preferences in the campaigns ahead, but any published opinion of ours will be expressed solely in the opinion section of this paper. Those who see political aims in the size of headlines or placement of an ad or news piece are not privy to the production whirlwind that accompanies each issue. They do not see the mad dash to the deadline that — even if you wanted to — would leave little time or energy for subtle designs of favoritism in writing or layout. Nevertheless, newspapers can never completely avoid perceptions of bias from the public, but no good newspaper will willfully embrace bias on anything other than its opinion page.
•Questionnaires — We plan to offer all candidates a questionnaire concerning issues and the candidate’s views. Each candidate for a particular post will receive the same questions. These questionnaires will be printed with a photo of the candidate in The Journal the week before contested primary and general elections.
•Letters to the editor — It is the policy of this paper’s ownership not to publish letters for or against a particular candidate. In the past, MainStreet newspapers have run these letters about candidates. This can get ugly and turn the opinion pages into a character-bashing setting, instead of a forum for expressing thoughts on local issues. So remember, if you want to write about an issue, send us a letter. If you want to shed light — positive or negative — on a candidate, buy an ad.
Anyone willing to run for public office deserves a certain measure of respect. Those who step into the fray submit themselves to considerable scrutiny. They are the ones who must make tough decisions on issues that often have no clear black and white.
Let’s hope those seeking office this year will show dignity and respect for their opponents. And let’s all strive to do the same.
There are election battles ahead, but let’s keep ‘em clean.
Zach Mitcham is editor of The Madison County Journal.


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