Macon-Bibb legislators react after Tuesday wins

mlee@macon.comMay 21, 2014 

ATLANTA -- Voters are sending two Macon-Bibb County political veterans and a political newcomer to the state Legislature next year, following elections that reveal something of a split between voters in Bibb and neighboring counties.

Fewer than 19 percent of voters turned out statewide for Tuesday’s primary vote. Chris Grant, associate professor of political science at Mercer University, attributes that low number in part to foregone conclusions in ticket-top races, such as the GOP gubernatorial primary and in part to crowded, confusing races such as the nine-candidate GOP state school superintendent primary.

Especially when the turnout is so low, “I think the thing is whoever has the organization and who can get the voters out,” Grant said. “The longer you’ve been in politics, the more you can do this.”

That small electorate handed early victory Tuesday night to several midstate politicians who don’t face a November challenger.

Even before the Georgia Senate District 18 ballots were tallied, voters knew there would be a new lawmaker in that district because of the retirement of state Sen. Cecil Staton, R-Macon.

Nearly 57 percent of GOP voters chose Macon lawyer John F. Kennedy over Thomaston physician Spencer Price in a large district that covers Monroe, Upson, Crawford, Peach and parts of Bibb and Houston counties.

“The desire to have someone who could and would be an effective legislator ... I think resonated with the voters,” Kennedy said.

Grant ties the result to an ongoing, internal GOP philosophical debate.

“The more established GOP are not as interested in shaking up government as some insurgents,” Grant said, naming Price as the “insurgent” in that equation.

It’s the jumbo-sized Macon-Bibb electorate that ultimately secured Kennedy’s place in the state Senate. In Bibb, he collected more than twice as many votes as Price, easily making up for Price’s victories in other parts of the district.

Multiple attempts to reach Price and his campaign team were unsuccessful Wednesday.

In Senate District 26, veteran lawmaker David Lucas, D-Macon, handed former senator and former Macon City Council President Miriam Paris a defeat in their third meeting. Lucas won nearly 63 percent of the votes in the huge state Senate district that runs from east Bibb County through all or part of seven counties.

“The Lucases have worked for a long time to know who it is who supports them and get them to the polls,” said Grant, in reference to both David and his wife, Elaine Lucas, a longtime City Council member who’s now a Macon-Bibb commissioner.

David Lucas said he was a little taken aback by how low the turnout actually was. At about 12 percent, turnout was lower in the Paris-Lucas race than in the state overall.

“We know our people will turn out in November, but May?” David Lucas said. “You got graduation and parties,” and people are used to a July primary.

Georgia moved the primary to May on a federal judge’s order to set up a calendar that leaves time to process overseas ballots in runoffs.

Paris fared best in rural areas, carrying Wilkinson and Hancock counties even though Lucas’ marquee policy this year was to push for rural triage centers in underserved counties, a policy since espoused by Gov. Nathan Deal. But Bibb proved a deal-sealer and stronghold for Lucas, where more voters turned out than in the rest of the district combined.

Paris blames the defeat on what she called the Lucas electoral “machine.”

She is not sure whether she will seek elected office again.

“I guess you never say never,” Paris said. “I certainly won’t be absent from the community. You don’t have to be in office to serve. I take that seriously.”

In a matchup that got rather contentious toward the end, with allegations of bad faith on both sides, state Rep. James Beverly, D-Macon, ended with about a two-to-one win over former Bibb County Commissioner Lonzy Edwards in the House District 143 contest.

“There’s no substitute for hard work,” Beverly said. He and his team knocked on doors in all 15 precincts, and he said there’s no substitute for hitting the sidewalks to learn about a district.

“You really get a sense for what the community need is,” he said.

Although the votes didn’t go his way, Edwards said he did succeed in shining a light on key district issues such as the lack of jobs, minority-owned businesses and state attention to roads.

“As I have occasion to raise those issues, I will do so,” he said.

The state legislative session begins in January. Terms for both the House and Senate last two years.

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