Few signs of moderation in voting records of Macon-Bibb candidates

mstucka@macon.comSeptember 13, 2013 

Next week’s Macon-Bibb County elections will be nonpartisan.

On the other hand, most of the candidates are wholly partisan.

A Telegraph analysis of voter data shows that most commission candidates haven’t crossed party lines in primary elections since at least 1996. Of the candidates, 16 of them have voted in 304 Democratic primaries without once voting Republican. Two others have voted in 26 Republican primaries without voting Democratic.

Charles Bullock, chairman of the political science department at the University of Georgia, said the technique used by The Telegraph is identical to the tools that politicians themselves use to determine which doors they want to knock on.

There have been ample opportunities to vote in either party, of course. While Democrats have dominated Bibb County elections, Republicans have held sway in state elections. Last year, the same people could have voted in the Republican presidential preference primary and later voted for Bibb County’s Democratic candidates for sheriff.

Bibb County’s candidates show sometimes starkly different histories. City council members and commission candidates Henry Ficklin and Elaine Lucas have each voted in 30 Democratic primaries since 1996 without crossing party lines, while Bibb County commissioner and candidate Gary Bechtel has voted in 20 Republican primaries without crossing party lines.

In some of the commission races, voters can’t help but elect partisans.

Bechtel is running in District 1 against Harold Young, who has voted in three Democratic primaries and none as a Republican.

In District 2, Ficklin is running against Paul Bronson and Larry Schlesinger, all of whom have voted exclusively in Democratic primaries since 1996, state records show. Lucas is running against Terry Tripp, who has voted 23 times as a Democrat and never as a Republican.

District 8 features veteran Democrats Regina Davis (23 primaries), Charles Jones (22) and Virgil Watkins (10). District 9 voters will choose between James Timley, with 19 Democratic primary ballots, and Al Tillman, with 18. None has voted Republican.

The mayoral ballot is split, with few signs of moderation.

Robert Reichert, Sam Hart and C. Jack Ellis have only voted Democratic. Joe Allen voted once as a Republican, and Charlie Bishop voted twice as a Democrat. David Cousino is the closest to a moderate, with 12 Democratic and 8 Republican votes.

The most moderate race is probably in District 4, where Mallory Jones has voted in 12 Democratic primaries and 14 Republican primaries. Beverly Olson has voted 10 times as a Democrat and 14 times as a Republican. Theron Ussery has voted three times as a Democrat and 12 times as a Republican, state figures show.

Bechtel and Ussery are advertising themselves as Republicans on campaign signs. Both of their districts would have voted about 61 percent Republican in the last gubernatorial race, a previous Telegraph analysis shows.

Bullock said political candidates give voters’ partisan voting records a great deal of weight. The inverse is also true. Voters, particularly those who are less informed, probably tend to vote based on party lines, he said.

Tuesday’s nonpartisan election won’t list partisan affiliation for any candidates, so the would-be politicians must advertise for name recognition, religious affiliation, ties to popular colleges or anything else that could help them connect with voters, who will have less information to go on.

“Some of them may be surprised to show up to vote and be surprised that there isn’t a party cue to help them,” Bullock said. “If a voter’s standing there looking at some (candidate) pairings and there’s one name that sticks in their minds, they’ll probably vote that name rather than the other.”

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