CORRECTION: An earlier version of this story misstated the party affiliation of state Sen. David Lucas, D-Macon. Below is a corrected version.
State Rep. Allen Peake said Thursday he knew there would be criticism from the community when he and other members of Bibb Countys legislative delegation changed partisan elections to nonpartisan for the new Macon-Bibb County consolidated government.
Still, If it came up today, I would do it all again, he said.
Peake, R-Macon, addressed more than 30 members of the Macon Exchange Club, talking about the nonpartisan special election thats set for Sept. 17.
He said he and other Republican members of the delegation decided to switch to nonpartisan elections earlier this year for several reasons, even though last years consolidation bill called for a partisan vote.
For whatever reason, Ive become a real polarizing figure, Peake told those gathered. I hope going to nonpartisan elections eliminates a lot of division in the community. Were all one government now. That was kind of the intent of this.
Peake and others, including state Sen. Cecil Staton, R-Macon, drew protests over the change, with officials such as state Sen. David Lucas, D-Macon, referring to it as a bait-and-switch action.
The Bibb County Democratic Party and other members of the community appealed to the Department of Justice, asking it to block the move, but the appeal became moot after the Supreme Court struck down part of the 1965 Voting Rights Act that made prior approval of such voting changes mandatory.
Lucas and others also maintained that Republicans were marginalizing black voting.
But Peake countered that contention by saying nonpartisan elections are actually more inclusive, not less. Previously, voters had to declare themselves for one party or the other during a primary election. That meant voters couldnt vote for certain offices if someone from their party wasnt running.
Nonpartisan elections eliminate that dilemma, he said.
Peake also noted that all cities in Georgia except Macon hold nonpartisan elections, so the move would make the city consistent with the rest of the state.
He said the most important reason for the change is that the new government needs the strongest leadership possible, and nonpartisan elections offer voters more choices.
He showed those in attendance a breakdown of the candidates in each race, though he didnt endorse any candidate.
The mayoral race, with six candidates on the ballot and one write-in candidate, is going to be hotly contested and almost certainly result in a runoff Oct. 15, Peake said.
He noted that the District 2 race, featuring Macon City Councilmen Larry Schlesinger and Henry Ficklin as well as former mayoral candidate Paul Bronson, and the District 9 race between City Council President James Timley and local activist Al Tillman, would be among the most interesting races, while the District 3 race pitting Councilwoman Elaine Lucas against former school board member Terry Tripp also will draw a lot of attention.
Peake pointed out that the District 7 race -- with Eric Arnold, Barry Bell and Scotty Shepherd -- features candidates who have never held a political office in Macon or Bibb County before, meaning the new commission will have new blood. Most of the district races feature at least one candidate who has never been elected to office before.
The good thing about this election is that there are new, fresh faces, which is what we wanted, Peake said.
To contact writer Phillip Ramati, call 744-4334.