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Too many lawmakers escaped challenges

Posted: May 30, 2012 - 12:00am

The General Assembly will have a familiar look when lawmakers convene for the 2013 session, judging from the results of candidate qualifying last week.

In the House of Representatives, 62 Republican incumbents made it through qualifying without drawing opposition in either the GOP primary or the general election. Another 16 GOP incumbents have minimal opposition and are virtually assured of winning another term, for a total of 78 safe incumbents.

There are 25 Democratic incumbents in the House who are unopposed, and at least four more who have light opposition, so 29 members of the minority caucus can start planning for another two years at the Gold Dome.

In the Senate, 24 Republican incumbents are unopposed while four more incumbents have token opposition and likely will be back next year. There are 10 Democratic incumbents who are unopposed, and three more with light opposition.

Overall, you can safely assume that at least 148 of the current 236 legislators will be returning for another term before a single vote has been cast in any election this year.

That tells me that most Georgians are either satisfied with the way their legislators are representing them, or they aren’t interested enough to pay attention to what’s happening at the Capitol.

There will still be a few legislative elections that should be worth watching as the campaigns get underway.

Even with all the safe incumbents, a couple of members of the Senate’s Republican leadership team will actually be forced to campaign to retain their legislative seats.

Senate Majority Leader Chip Rogers is being challenged in the GOP primary by Brandon Beach, a member of the State Transportation Board. Sen. Cecil Staton, R-Macon, the majority whip, also has a primary opponent in Thomaston physician Spencer Price.

Sen. Don Balfour, R-Snellville, chairman of the powerful Senate Rules Committee, is a rare incumbent who may have to contend with challengers in both the primary and the general election.

Balfour has been targeted by ethics reform advocates because of pending complaints against him – involving state reimbursement on official expenses – that were filed with the Senate Ethics Committee.

“There were some minor mistakes and I reimbursed the state for those mistakes,” Balfour acknowledged after he qualified last week.

Balfour has GOP primary opposition from Travis Bowden of Snellville and Steve Ramey of Lilburn. Lawrenceville attorney Scott Drake qualified to run as a Democrat in that district.

Sen. Bill Heath, R-Bremen, chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, will be facing a strong primary challenge from Bill Carruth, former chairman of the Paulding County Commission and a member of the state Board of Natural Resources.

Sen. Jack Murphy, R-Cumming, who remained the chairman of the Senate Banking Committee even after getting sued by the FDIC for actions he took as a director of a now-defunct bank, has opposition in his Republican primary from Steve Voshall, a Cumming insurance agent.

Some familiar figures will be trying to make a political comeback by running for seats in the General Assembly.

Jeff Chapman, who served six years in the state Senate before running unsuccessfully for governor in 2010, qualified to run for the House seat along the coast that Roger Lane gave up to accept a judgeship appointment.

Vernon Jones was a member of the Georgia House in the 1990s before he was elected to the first of two terms as DeKalb County’s chief executive officer in 2000. Jones is running as a Democrat for an open seat in House District 94 against four other Democratic candidates.

Thomaston attorney Johnnie L. Caldwell Jr. is running in House District 131 against Republican Ryan Christopher of Barnesville. Caldwell was a Superior Court judge before he resigned in 2010 in the wake of allegations that he sexually harassed a female attorney.

David Lucas, who served in the Georgia House for 37 years, is back for another campaign against Sen. Miriam Paris, D-Macon. Lucas resigned from the House last year to run for the Senate in a special election, but was defeated by Paris.

Those could be interesting elections, but there won’t be enough of them. Once again, we’re letting too many elected officials coast to another term without having to answer for what they’ve done.

(Tom Crawford is editor of The Georgia Report, an internet news service at gareport.com.)

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