Nearly all the candidates who took the stage at Thursday night's debate shared the same party affiliation, but that didn't mean they all agreed on issues important to Columbia County voters.
Photo by Jim Blaylock
Contenders in five local races faced off against their opponents in last week's debate at Lakeside High School, where several hundred people filled the auditorium.
The debate was the second and final one hosted by the county's Republican Party in preparation for the July 20 general primary elections.
In the District 3 County Commission race, incumbent Diane Ford touted her 12-year experience on the board over her opponent, Greg Kernaghan.
The two differed in their positions about how to work with businesses in regards to zoning rules, specifically pointing out the example of Fatz Cafe, which had requested a variance for temporary parking at its Evans restaurant.
"We don't need to bend the rules just because some people to want to comply with them," Ford said.
Kernaghan said zoning ordinances need to be updated as the business climate changes.
"When ordinances are put in place, they're put in place at that time," he said. "We need to work with those people."
Experience vs. new blood also was the theme between the two sheriff candidates - incumbent Clay Whittle and Augusta businessman Lewis Blanchard.
While Blanchard stressed his business background as qualifying him to handle the sheriff's office budget, Whittle said he has developed "a proven track record" during his more than 24 years in law enforcement.
"Do you want a politician running your county?" he said.
Whittle pointed to a reduction in the county's overall crime rate - a decrease in 26 percent since 1996 although population has grown 17.5 percent. But Blanchard said there is still a significant drug problem in the county, adding that if elected he would double the sheriff office's vice squad.
This is not the first race for either man running for the state Sen. District 24 seat.
Incumbent Joey Brush, R-Appling, who has held the seat since 1996, outlined the work he has done in Atlanta, including what he described as an important role helping shape the state's education reform bill and saving foreign elementary language programs.
"We also faced tough economic times," he said. "We said we're going to live within our means and reduced the cost of government." Republican Challenger Jim Whitehead also boasted of his political accomplishments when he served eight years on the Columbia County Board of Commissioners.
"We experienced rapid growth with no millage rate increase expect for when we built the justice center and jail," he said.
Three candidates are running for the county's Chief Magistrate position, which was vacated by retiring David Huguenin.
Associate Magistrate Wade Padgett vowed that if elected, he would reduce his salary by 20 percent to help reduce the court's overhead.
He said a change in state law in recent years ballooned the court's budget when it uniformed magistrates' pay statewide.
With seven magistrates, candidate Richard Ingram said Columbia County's court has more than any of the surrounding counties.
He also suggested merging the clerk of court duties under the Clerk of Superior Court's office and offering services and information online.
Hal Morris said he would be able to work as a full-time magistrate judge since he is not a practicing attorney.
"People who commit their crimes should pay their dues," he said. "This county's going to have to pick up the money somewhere."
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