Nonpartisan election question divides Bibb County delegation

mstucka@macon.comNovember 27, 2012 

Where voters now see Democrat and Republican, some state legislators are seeing red.

A Republican-led push for nonpartisan elections in Bibb County led to clear fissures in the county’s legislative delegation hearings Tuesday at the Greater Macon Chamber of Commerce.

State Rep. Nikki Randall, D-Macon, said partisan elections were continued in the consolidation proposal that voters approved this year.

“Are we saying, ‘We got you to vote for it, now we’re going to change it?’” Randall asked. “Some may consider it to be a deceptive act.”

Randall said she expected bills for nonpartisan elections will be filed by state Sen. Cecil Staton and state Rep. Allen Peake, both Macon Republicans whom she thinks have the votes needed to pass them.

State Rep. James Beverly, D-Macon, said he hopes other legislators will reconsider.

“Hopefully the part of the delegation introducing this stuff will have the integrity to say, ‘I’m not going to do it,’” Beverly said.

Peake said he did a survey of hundreds of people through e-mail and found 85 percent of the people want nonpartisan elections.

“Nonpartisan elections are I think what the community wants,” he said.

But some three hours after legislators began debating, Macon Mayor Robert Reichert -- himself a former legislator -- arrived to talk to about the city’s priorities. He suggested a middle ground between partisan and nonpartisan elections.

Reichert proposed having all nonpartisan elections, in which every voter could vote for anyone -- but allowing candidates to identify themselves as Republican, Democrat or independent.

Both Peake and Randall said the idea is worth considering.

“Maybe it’s a compromise,” Reichert said later.

Both Reichert and Bibb County Commission Chairman Sam Hart worried aloud about whether a legislative fight over nonpartisan elections for the new consolidated government would divide the community or distract legislators from critical matters.

Bibb Commissioner Joe Allen asked legislators to consider nonpartisan elections for sheriff, district attorney and judges -- but not commissioners. That drew immediate opposition from Commissioner Bert Bivins.

“As long as we act like Republicans and Democrats, we should be elected as Republicans and Democrats,” Bivins said.

Allen said later he would support Reichert’s election proposal.

Bibb County officials have other divides to smooth over. They asked legislators for help in trying to think more regionally. Differences erupted earlier this year when voters were considering a regional transportation special purpose local option sales tax. That tax was defeated in July, with strong opposition from Houston County and support from Bibb County.

“If the T-SPLOST taught us anything, it taught us the importance of having political alliances among regional leaders,” Chamber of Commerce President Mike Dyer told legislators Tuesday. Dyer said he hoped state-level alliances could provide pressure to unite local people.

“We really need you to step up,” said Dyer, noting that regional cooperation has benefited Robins Air Force Base.

To contact writer Mike Stucka, call 744-4251.

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