Qualifying ends to-day for the District 4 Columbia County Commission race. Two weeks ago no one thought wed have an election this year; then Mark Devoti quit and opened the scramble for his Commission seat. In spite of the lack of warning, when qualifying opened last week the field got crowded early and drew controversy quickly.
Well get to the controversy in a minute. First, a look at the early candidates, and 2 cents worth of analysis:
* George James comes in as an early favorite by virtue of his endorsement from Devoti, and from the mayors of Grovetown and Harlem.
James has had an interesting political career. He served at the turn of the 1990s on City Council and was defeated for re-election. Then he ran against Mayor Dennis Trudeau in 2000 and was thoroughly beaten, and returned two years later to win back his Council seat.
James was instrumental during negotiations with the county over sales tax proceeds, helping craft a compromise that gives the cities slightly more than theyd get if the tax was divided strictly by population percentage.
James has interesting family connections, too; hes the cousin of former state Rep. Robin Williams, whose involvement in the race against Trudeau almost turned ugly. And hes the brother of former Columbia County Clerk Elaine Matthews, whose wrongful-termination suit against the county ended last year in the countys favor.
Former Columbia County School Board member Lee Anderson wanted to run for the District 4 seat last year after Barry Fleming stepped down, but his residence is just outside the old District 3. The current election encompasses the remapped District 4 that went into effect in January.
Now Anderson is eligible, and counts geography and experience in his corner. Ive got a Grovetown address, an Appling phone number and I graduated from Harlem, laughs Anderson, who thinks one of the keys to the likely low-turnout race will be galvanizing voters in the Kiokee and Eubank Blanchard precincts.
Until last Tuesday, however, there was still disagreement over whether those precincts would be included in the election and whether Anderson could run. State Reps. Fleming and Ben Harbin believed the race should be restricted to the old District 3 boundaries, because the election would fill Flemings unexpired term that began in 2000.
The states legislative counsel reviewed the boundaries and agreed with Columbia County attorney Doug Batchelor, Harbin says. So the election will include the additional Ap-pling precincts.
* John Bentley lost his re-election bid last year as mayor of Harlem. He still has significant support in the city, but lacks James endorsements and Andersons deep roots.
* Rosa Lee Owens single foray into politics came in 2000, when the retired teacher challenged Roxanne Whitaker for her seat on the School Board. Whitaker beat Owens handily, but Owens managed a respectable showing in Grovetown.
The big question, then, is why Owens didnt instead sign up to run for James City Council seat. Her issues, when articulated in public, have focused entirely on Grovetown.
* Sam Jones, who serves as the state Republican Partys 9th District chairman, last sought elective office when he faced then-U.S. Rep. Doug Barnard over a decade ago. Jones is a therapist and family counselor.
Jones got some counseling of his own, however, from Columbia Countys Republican Party chairman Lee Muns. In a publicly distributed Dear Sam e-mail message last week, Muns told Jones, I have been informed by numerous individuals that you have stated you have my endorsement for your campaign.
Not so, Muns said: I encourage you to be 100 percent sure of an endorsement that you may convey to the public. It is very unethical to use someones name in such a powerful manner without their personal consent.
This election takes place in just four weeks. Look for more name-dropping and a little name-calling as this unexpected race continues.
(Barry L. Paschal is publisher of The Columbia County News-Times. E-mail comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.)
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