Bibb delegation making move toward nonpartisan local elections

pramati@macon.comNovember 13, 2012 

Members of the Bibb County legislative delegation are considering making all local elections nonpartisan when the new consolidated Macon-Bibb County government takes effect in 2014.

Sen. Cecil Staton, R-Macon, said Tuesday that he has already drawn up a bill to that effect for introduction when the General Assembly convenes in January.

Staton said the legislation would cover the offices of mayor, commissioners, the Bibb County school board and the Macon Water Authority, as well as other locally elected positions, such as coroner.

Some positions -- sheriff and district attorney, for example -- wouldn’t be covered by the legislation, because those offices are mandated to be partisan.

Staton said he and others in the delegation decided against putting nonpartisan language in this year’s consolidation bill, which voters approved in July, because they thought there were too many other important issues that needed to be part of the initial bill.

But Staton said he frequently hears from his constituents about making local offices nonpartisan -- something that’s the case far and wide across Georgia.

“The people have spoken,” he said. “That’s one thing I heard from constituents, something we heard during the town hall meetings (for consolidation). ... Augusta-Richmond (County) is the only consolidated government to have partisan elections. The other ones -- Columbus, Athens -- don’t.”

State Rep. Allen Peake, R-Macon, said having partisan elections in the original consolidation bill was one of many compromises between the Republicans and Democrats in the delegation, but he has heard an “overwhelming response” from constituents that they had wanted it to be part of the original legislation.

Peake said partisan races might be one of several tweaks to the bill as the delegation hears ideas from the transition committees.

Staton said the new government also would save money by having nonpartisan elections, since there would no longer be a primary election for those offices.

State Rep. Nikki Randall, D-Macon, said she opposes nonpartisan elections because a political party can tell a voter a lot about a certain candidate.

“I’ve always been opposed to nonpartisan elections,” she said. “To me, it’s a solution that’s looking for a problem. I choose to be a Democrat because it is in line with my personal beliefs and values. Why wouldn’t I want to have that label?”

Randall said there are too many uninformed voters already and by removing the party label from a candidate, it deprives them of another piece of information about that candidate. But Peake said party issues don’t tend to matter on the local level.

“At the end of the day, in local elections, (party affiliation) shouldn’t matter,” he said. “It should be the quality of the candidate. I think this is a move in the right direction.”

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