Jane Jacobson of Martinez casts an early ballot in the Columbia County Board of Elections office Wednesday. Jacobson and hundreds of other voters took advantage of early balloting at the office this past week.
Photo by Barry Paschal
For a number of Columbia County candidates who have spent the past half year stumping for votes, Tuesday is it.
Winners of the county's contested offices will be decided in the primaries, while others will advance another step closer to the November elections.
Interest has been steady all week as hundreds of county residents took advantage of advanced voting at the Board of Elections office, and Elections Director Deborah Marshall said she is expecting a strong turnout because of interest in several local races.
She warned voters that some of the high-profile, partisan races appear only on one party's ballots, adding that several advance voters who have taken Democratic ballots into the polls have asked why candidates were not listed for the sheriff race, which is being fought by two Republican candidates.
Jamming up the ballots also will be partisan races for U.S. Senate, statewide positions and the local Superior Court judgeship. And since they have a captive audience in the poll booth, county officials have posted a binding referendum about extending the 1-cent sales tax collection.
County party leaders also are using the opportunity to gauge public opinion about a number of topics from same-sex marriage to a county recycling program. The local Republican and Democratic parties have devised separate non-binding straw poll questions to appear on their ballots.
But the questions with the more immediate impact will be who gets to stay - or enter the political world - and who goes home empty-handed.
Here is a look at some of the contested county races on Tuesday's ballots:
County Commission, District 3
Diane Ford, a 12-year veteran on the Columbia County Board of Commissioners, will face political newcomer Greg Kernaghan on Tuesday. Both are Republicans and do not face a Democratic opponent.
Ford said she is experienced in the board's procedures, committees and working with the other sitting members. She also said she has listened to constituents while upholding county ordinances even though some decisions have been unpopular such as allowing Rhinehart's Oyster Bar to open on Belair Road.
"I've been very responsive to my constituents and trying to analyze each issue on its own merit while representing my district and the county as a whole," she said. "I think that I've done that."
Kernaghan said he is looking to be more pro-active to handle the county's growth. He said he supports new business as a way to reduce the tax burden on homeowners and would call for a more frequent review of the county's growth management plan.
"Before we have more businesses pop up in people's backyard such as the Wal-Mart and all that, we need to be real aggressive with our growth management plan," Kernaghan said.
Columbia County Sheriff
In another match-up of longtime office holder and a newcomer advocating for change, Sheriff Clay Whittle will have to defeat businessman Lewis Blanchard on Tuesday to retain the job he has held since 1995.
Whittle has made the county's dropping crime rate a cornerstone of his campaign, pointing out that the county's overall crime rate has declined 26 percent since he's been in office while its population has grown 17 percent.
"But it's not over, and it's not finished by any stretch of the imagination," he said. "I want to continue to do that for the next four years."
Blanchard has countered that drugs continue to be a prevalent problem and vowed to double the number of vice and narcotics officers to eight if he is re-elected.
"I'll reduce wasteful spending in the budget, I'll bring the drug problem under control in Columbia County and I'll start a strong, positive relationship with our school systems and other public safety agencies," he said.
Columbia County Chief Magistrate
The county's Chief Magistrate position became an open seat when David Huguenin announced his retirement earlier this year.
Vying for the seat are three Republican candidates: current Associate Magistrate and attorney Wade Padgett, attorney Richard Ingram and Hal Morris, who is not a lawyer but serves as a senior magistrate across the state.
The court, whose $700,000 budget is facing a directive from county officials to shave expenses, has prompted the candidates to come up with various plans to cut back on personnel costs.
Ingram said he would change the four full-time and three part-time magistrate positions that are currently paid for by the court to three full-time magistrates and himself - a part-time position. He also said he would get rid of the Associate Magistrate role.
"I don't know why it's needed, quite frankly," he said.
Morris said he is best prepared to manage the office because he would work full time and be able to keep an eye on the budget.
"I'm going to look at it and maybe run it with four magistrates max - three part time plus me," he said.
Padgett, who has pledged to cut the court's budget by 20 percent including the same percentage from his $53,000 salary, said he would turn all of the full-time magistrates into part-time positions, leaving seven.
"People are complaining about the budget and 89.7 percent of our budget is personnel costs so you've got to address personnel costs, and the only way to do that in my mind is to start with yourself," he said.
State Senate, District 24
Neither Republican candidate who will assume the 24th District seat Tuesday is a new face to local politics.
Incumbent Joey Brush has held the office since 1997 after serving two terms in the state House. Challenger Jim Whitehead served for eight years on the Columbia County Board of Commissioners, including two years as chairman.
"I've built up in the Senate, respect of my peers, committee chairmanship, eight years of seniority," Brush said about why voters should choose him over Whitehead. "That is important to getting results when it comes to the budget, those kinds of things are how the Senate operates."
Though Brush has worked closely on education issues in Atlanta, Whitehead said it has not been enough.
"The education system is in turmoil, and they need somebody that will listen, that they can talk to and not just give them talk," he said. "We've got to find ways to work with our school systems or we're going to destroy them."
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