Bibb chairman hopefuls woo Republican faithful

Bibb County GOP members gathered Friday to check out their choices for Bibb County Commission chairman in the July 15 primary, when voters will pick a Republican to face Democrat Sam Hart in the fall.

In the primary, incumbent Chairman Charlie Bishop faces two Republican challengers: Theron Ussery, a former Macon city councilman, and David Cousino, who unsuccessfully ran for mayor last year.

Paul Rish, the incoming Bibb GOP chairman, said the race promises to be interesting. Rish said he is most familiar with Bishop, whom he expects to eke out a victory next month.

"Republicans are going to stick with Charlie," Rish predicted. "He's done a lot to help out the county. ... He's just a good leader. He really is."

The three Republican candidates spoke for a few minutes each with about 50 party members gathered for a buffet lunch.

Ussery said he hoped to bring a cohesive leadership style to the commission. He said the county is not in the best shape, and down the road should look to consolidation with the city of Macon as a potential source of improvement. He pledged to work with the mayor and City Council, and to think outside the box.

"We can't do this by ourselves," he said.

Bishop brandished his own record of service and said the county is much better off than it was when he arrived four years ago.

He cited Bibb's lower unemployment rate than the rest of the state or country and said the county's financial reserves had increased by millions of dollars during his tenure. He also pointed out that new or existing industry had spent hundreds of millions of dollars to locate or expand in the county.

"It takes a lot of work," he said, telling party members they were free to boot him out of office if they don't think he's done a good job.

Cousino seems likely to have to work the hardest to capture the conservative base in Bibb County. Although he was the party's representative last year in the mayor's race, many Republicans crossed over to vote for Mayor Robert Reichert, then a candidate in the Democratic primary.

Friday, Cousino said he would run a grass-roots campaign similar to last year's, but he wants to see stronger voter participation. Cousino said he's the best candidate to keep the public's interests in mind.

When he wakes up in the morning, Cousino said, "I see all your faces in that mirror, not only mine."

All three Republican candidates found themselves aligned on their answer to the only question that was raised in the audience, when a woman asked them to pledge not to call for a new special purpose local option sales tax.

None of the trio would make that promise. Bishop labeled the SPLOST as the best tool governments have to fund large capital expenditures. He said he would "never ever" commit to not using it.

"That's the one time I agree with the chairman," Ussery added.

To contact writer Matt Barnwell, call 744-4251.