All politics is local, sez the cliche. But with all the presidential stuff holding the spotlight, we had to wonder when our local political year would begin.
Then, bang. Here it is.
Last week, Brett McGuire announced his plan to run for the District 117 Georgia House seat. That's the post currently held by Barry Fleming, who intends to step down at the end of the current legislative session to challenge U.S. Rep. Paul Broun for the 10th District congressional seat.
County Commissioner Lee Anderson said in September that he would seek the seat and will hold an announcement today, so it's officially a contest. It also sets up a rematch of sorts. Anderson was a big supporter of state Sen. Bill Jackson last year; McGuire was one of Jackson's opponents.
One of the folks on Jackson's payroll was marketing consultant Jim Cox, who is working on Anderson's campaign.
Last week, Columbia County commissioners - including Anderson - approved Cox's appointment to the county's Planning and Zoning Commission to fill the unexpired term of (drum roll) Brett McGuire.
McGuire quit Planning and Zoning after commissioners voted to require Planning and Zoning board members to resign if they file to run for office.
Commissioners rationalized the change as a way of getting politics out of Planning and Zoning. And then they turned that seemingly noble purpose into a cynical joke by appointing Cox. Though he's a great guy, Cox is a hired gun for numerous campaigns and is as political as they come.
Some of the commissioners - including Anderson and chairman Ron Cross, both of whom have employed Cox - wanted McGuire off the board. They should have been honest enough to just say so, rather than pretending there was some high-minded reason for changing the rules.
Meanwhile, another candidate in that McGuire-Jackson race last year was Lee Benedict, who Monday dropped his name into the hat in a different race.
Benedict sent a notice announcing his intention to challenge state Rep. Ben Harbin for the District 118 state House seat.
Actually, the notice does more than that. Way more. It's three pages long.
The important part is handled in one sentence on the last page: "It is my intent to file paperwork seeking the Republican nomination for Georgia's Assembly District 118."
The rest of the announcement (posted below) details Benedict's frustration with politics. It focuses on Harbin in large part because of the incumbent lawmaker's repeated delays in going to court in Atlanta over a DUI arrest.
"We have an important decision to make on July 15," Benedict writes. "Do we want a public servant representing us, or do we want a politician who refuses to face those who hired him, but is more than willing to face lobbyists and PACs and their checks?"
The latter part of the question comes after Benedict notes that Harbin reports total contributions of more than $60,000 in his most recent campaign donation disclosures.
Harbin has about $76,000 on hand, just a fraction of contributions the still-powerful chairman of the House Appropriations Committee will receive after the session ends and lawmakers can again solicit donations.
As for his own campaign, Benedict says he doesn't intend to file the paperwork necessary for receiving contributions - i.e., he won't accept them.
That's also the way Benedict ran in that state Senate race last year, which perhaps explains why he came in last place among four candidates.
Still, even without money, Benedict's candidacy could be this year's face on the perpetual frustration with politics as usual.
Barry L. Paschal is publisher of The Columbia County News-Times. E-mail comments to email@example.com, or call 706-863-6165, extension 106.
Statement from Lee Benedict:
On March 17, 1986, I became eligible to vote. Soon thereafter, I became a registered Republican and have been one ever since and will remain one. Over the past decade, I have grown somewhat frustrated with the Republican Party and many of its high-profile "representatives" (elected Republicans). By frustrated, I mean that we have drifted from our long-standing history and bedrock principles of rule of law, limited government, fiscal responsibility and soundness, personal responsibility, fighting for those less fortunate, and sense of right and wrong, honor, and integrity. Yet we, the grassroots members, still support the GOP, pay membership dues, attend fundraisers, get the vote out, and essentially anything to help.
In 1994, the GOP swept into Congress after pledging major reform guided by the Contract With America, which was soon thereafter abandoned for big spending, pork-barrel projects, and increased government. In short, it strayed in a major way, so much so that we now have Speaker Pelosi and if we do not buckle down and fly right, (another) President Clinton or President Obama.
In the great State of Georgia, we have similar issues. Governor Perdue has done a respectable job - but his executive actions regarding those with disabilities (his veto of HB 549 immediately comes to mind), and causing us to pay $500.00 a day for a temporary judge because for months he refused to interview candidates and then appoint a Superior Court judge for the Augusta Judicial Circuit when he knew for several months that November 01, 2007 (Judge Dickert's last day) was coming, is disheartening and irresponsible. If a lame-duck Governor has time to traverse Georgia raising money for his PAC, I believe that 5 months to interview candidates and select a judge is more than enough.
Last legislative session, Lieutenant Governor Cagle declared that the taxpayers of Georgia will be receiving a $140,000,000 refund. This makes perfect sense in that if we pay too much, or are overcharged, at a store, the store issues a refund immediately. However, less than two weeks after making the promise, Mr. Cagle went back on his word. Sir, words mean things. And, many Georgians were planning on receiving some of their money back. That money belongs to the people, those from whom the money came - not Atlanta.
Most recent, the GREAT tax plan has been touted in Georgia by many Republican lawmakers, which is perhaps the most inane idea to come from Atlanta. For purposes of brevity and simplification, GREAT will eliminate property taxes and replace them with additional state sales tax, which will then be sent to the counties from Atlanta. First, revenue from property taxes is how many counties function. People of Columbia County pay their property taxes and then Kay Allen disburses the funds to Charles Nagle / Regina Buccafusco, Clay Whittle - The money stays in Columbia County. Second, GREAT will force all gross plus a baker's dozen counties to rely on Atlanta to send the money; under GREAT, money will be disbursed by Atlanta, and those in charge of disbursement will undoubtedly be the ones jockeying for popularity in preparation for gubernatorial and lieutenant gubernatorial bids. Do you see the major obstacle here? And oh by the way, a bureaucracy will probably be created to receive and disburse the revenue thereby increasing the size of government and spending more money that does not need to be spent. GREAT is an awful idea that takes sovereignty away from Georgia's counties; the people's money (or as much of it as possible) should remain in the people's counties and pockets!
Georgia's two United States Senators, both Republican, have strayed at an alarming rate. Both Saxby Chambliss and Johnny Isakson have touted amnesty for those in the United States illegally (all 12,000,000 - 20,000,000 of them). Mr. Chambliss endorsed the idea because farmers in his home county depend on persons here illegally to perform various labors. He said it, and I was at Fatz Cafe in Evans when he said it, as were candidates for State Senate, District 24, and candidates for United States House of Representatives, Georgia's 10th District. What happened to the rule of law? Illegal means illegal. As of March 05, 2007, according to the State of Georgia, there were more than 2,000 convicted felons in Georgia's prisons who claim residency in another country. So - why are they still here and why are Georgians paying for it?
Regarding illegal persons, they use and consume water. Georgia has a major water shortage and a major battle with neighboring states regarding water. We have been supplying water to illegals for years and common sense dictates that this expedited the conundrum. Add to that the fact that a United States Senator from Alabama, Richard Shelby, attached a last-minute amendment to a $555,000,000,000 spending bill that prohibited the United States Army Corps of Engineers from modifying how the federal government controls the flow of water from the Chattahoochee River to Alabama, Florida, and Georgia. Senators Chambliss and Isakson admitted that they knew of Mr. Shelby's amendment. So why did they not stop it? According to an article that appeared in The Augusta Chronicle, the Georgia Senators assumed that this amendment would not "make it through the legislative process". I applaud Mr. Shelby, a Republican, for fighting for his constituents. I wish that Mr. Chambliss and Mr. Isakson would do the same.
A little closer to home, we recently had some acts of indiscretion occur in our superb school system. One gentleman accepted responsibility for his mistake and resigned one of his positions. Another individual paid by us, made a premeditated decision to cheat during a football game. This play was captured on videotape and viewed on YouTube more than tens of thousands of times. Coach Jody Grooms was given a fine of $250, lost his position of Athletic Director, and is suspended for the first two games of the 2008 season. He cheated. He forced his players to cheat. Yet he is still employed by this system. If a classroom teacher cheated, s/he would (probably) be terminated immediately. However, the same rules and standards do not apply to football coaches. He is employed by the Board of Education - not the Board of Football, and even if there was such an entity, it should not retain Mr. Grooms' services. Whatever incriminating information he has and whomever he has it on cannot be worth the integrity of one of the best school systems in Georgia.
On May 20, 2007, State Representative Ben Harbin was taken into custody under suspicion of driving drunk; we all know the story. Mr. Harbin is innocent until proven guilty and is entitled to all rights guaranteed by our Constitution. That said, when a person has the word "Representative" before his name, that person should address the matter with due speed. However, Mr. Harbin has asked for and received delay upon delay with his appointment with the criminal justice system. If he is innocent, go to court as soon as possible so his innocence is established and entered into the permanent record. If he is guilty, go to court and accept responsibility for the actions. We all say that he is entitled to "his day in court". However, he insists on delaying that day. Given his level of authority and responsibility and his title of Representative, there are certain things that you just do not do.
I wish Ben Harbin well, I really do... I like him - he is on my Christmas card list, which is what makes this all the more difficult. These never-ending delays should not be granted by the court system and the continuous delays and ducking constituents are a slap in the face to his constituents. I, and many others, thought that this matter would have been behind us long ago. Had that been the case, I would not be writing this statement after serious soul-searching. Regrettably, that did not happen. No one is perfect, and perfection is not the issue here. Actually, there was one perfect Person and He was ridiculed, beaten, had a helmet of thorns placed upon His head, and was then crucified while His mother watched. All other people make mistakes. There are many ways to deal with mistakes, shortcomings, and lapses in judgment. It is how these things are handled that reflects what we are made of. When I receive a speeding ticket, I pay the fine prior to the due date. When a contract I entered into for legal/financial services was breeched many years ago and I was left with a debacle that I am still dealing with, I had to deal with it, not abandon it. An editorial appeared in the January 13, 2008 edition of The Columbia County News-Times that is attributed to Ms. Holly Jensen of Evans. She too is vexed by Representative Harbin's tenor throughout this ordeal and I applaud her for taking the time to write and express her concerns. In fairness to Representative Harbin, perhaps he is delaying his appearance in court until his term expires and that he will not seek reelection? Keep in mind that Assembly District 118 belongs to the people and not Ben Harbin.
According to Mr. Harbin's Campaign Contribution Disclosure Report dated January 08, 2008, he accepted $60,775.00 in campaign contributions during the reporting period that ended on December 31, 2007, and many donors are from far beyond the boundaries of Assembly District 118. That being the case, I am of the opinion that he will seek reelection.
After my one and only bid for public office, a bid in which Georgia Right to Life declared that I am a pro-life candidate, and the Southern Party of Georgia called me the "best of four candidates", I was asked when I will run for office again. My response was that I have no intention to seek another office "for quite a while" (2010 at least) and that "I'm not an honorary Denise Majette." There is an overwhelming aura that "the people" have no true voice in government anymore. This may explain why many good men and women do not seek public office, as well as explain low voter turnout. In Iraq, 80% of eligible voters walked to the polls amidst gunfire in order to vote. Yet as a collective group, American voters do not frequent their polling places under much safer and convenient circumstances.
I am proud to be a Republican and I want to help restore the Party to greatness. Basically, I want my Party back, as do many others. I am not demanding or expecting perfection from Republican officials, let me make this clear. I do have a reasonable expectation that ALL officials and candidates with "R" before their name, act with dignity and integrity and have the best interests of the people guiding them. And yes, we must change (to an extent) with the times, but we must not expedite the times' change.
We have an important decision to make on July 15th; do we want a public servant representing us, or do we want a politician who refuses to face those who hired him, but is more than willing to face lobbyists and PACs and their checks? I ask you this because it is my intent to file paperwork seeking the Republican nomination for Georgia's Assembly District 118. Even though Mr. Harbin produced and is prolonging this predicament, what I mentioned in this statement is all that I will say about Mr. Harbin's legal proceedings because anything else will be exploiting what his family is going through; I just wanted to make my reasoning as clear as possible on these pages. I trust that Mr. Harbin and others will understand why I chose to declare my intent and I am more than happy to discuss issues and my legislative priorities as well as yours.
-- I will not submit a Declaration of Intention to Accept Campaign Contributions to the Secretary of State's Office. Should I be the nominee and win in November, I will consider submitting this form then.
-- If I do not receive the nomination, I will not run as an Independent.
-- Should I be the victor, I will be a true Representative of the fine people of Assembly District 118. I will answer to the people-not lobbyists, not lawyers.
-- I will work with my fellow legislators to better Georgia. I will not be one who opposes anything and everything that does not benefit "my district". We have entirely too much of that, and with that mentality, what happens is that at the end of the day nothing has been done and a whole bunch of money was somehow spent.
Please feel free to contact me at your leisure. My name is Lee Benedict of Martinez, Georgia and I am asking for your vote in the Republican primary on July 15, 2008 and in the general election on November 04, 2008, so that I can be the Representative in Atlanta that we deserve. Thank you and may God bless each and every one of you!
Born: March 17, 1968 in Newburgh, NY
Family: Married 11 years and have an 8-year-old son
Education: Bachelor of Arts in Public Relations- Mount Saint Mary College (Newburgh, NY)
Master of Education in Special Education - Liberty University (Lynchburg, VA)
Education Specialist (May 2008) in Educational Psychology; Applied Cognition and Development - The University of Georgia (Athens, GA)
Military: US Army - July 25, 1996 to July 22, 2004 - Operation Iraqi Freedom veteran
Occupation: Learning Specialist - George P. Butler Comprehensive High School
Comprehensive High School (Augusta, GA)
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