Big issues, decisive races await Middle Georgia voters Tuesday

Changes are coming as a result of the Tuesday elections. There’s no doubt about that, given the contested offices and major issues on primary ballots across various Middle Georgia counties.

The direction those changes take will depend on whether candidates and issue advocates have swayed voters and whether the voters are motivated to get to the polls.

High participation is usually driven by statewide or national elections, but only local and regional issues are on Tuesday ballots across Middle Georgia.

Even so, in Bibb -- the region’s largest county -- early voting was brisk, said Jeannetta Watson, who works in the Bibb County Board of Elections office.

That’s not always a reliable indicator of overall participation, but it can give a hint.

On the local level, races for a variety of offices can change the character of local governments, from county commissions to law enforcement to representation in the state Legislature. Alcohol votes are to be decided in Houston County, while consolidation of Macon and Bibb County governments tops the Bibb ballot. A transportation special purpose local option sales tax referendum, to be decided in various regions of Georgia, will be on every ballot in the state.

Proponents of consolidation and the T-SPLOST such as Bibb County Commission Chairman Sam Hart, Macon Mayor Robert Reichert; and attorney Calder Pinkston, spokesman for the Macon-Bibb Wins Again! committee that’s backing consolidation, call this election a decisive opportunity, a chance to arrest the area’s relative decline.

Former Mayor C. Jack Ellis and Bibb County Commissioner Lonzy Edwards, who oppose the consolidation bill, and Houston County Commission Chairman Tommy Stalnaker, who opposes the T-SPLOST, argue that the respective proposals won’t produce promised results and will only hinder the area further.

Partisans on all sides are urging their constituents to vote Tuesday, reiterating that turnout is key.

Across the 11-county Middle Georgia region, the T-SPLOST has been the overarching issue because it affects all of the 478,000 residents in those counties. The additional 1-percent sales tax for 10 years would raise roughly $750 million for major road, bridge, trail and other transportation projects.

The T-SPLOST will pass or fail by a simple majority vote in the region, so a win or loss in one or two big counties such as Bibb or Houston could offset an opposing result in several small counties such as Jones and Twiggs.

If the tax passes, backers expect it would attract another $500 million in federal transportation funding. If the T-SPLOST fails, however, local governments would triple the amount of matching money required to get state road funds.

The Macon-Bibb County consolidation vote, based on House Bill 1171 as negotiated by all members of the Bibb County legislative delegation and approved by the Georgia General Assembly, would result in government unification in January 2014 if it passes.

To win, backers must convince a majority of Macon voters, as well as a majority of county voters as a whole, which includes city voters.

The proposal would replace Bibb’s five-member commission and Macon’s 15-member council, plus the mayor, with a nine-member commission and countywide mayor. The consolidation plan sets term limits for elected officials.

All city and county departments, a total of about 2,000 employees, would be merged as some, like the fire department, already are.

The legislation requires the combined budgets of Macon and Bibb County, now about $155 million, to be cut by roughly $31 million within five years, though without explaining how that’s to be done. Separate tax districts would be maintained to pay off existing city and county debt.

Tuesday, midstate voters will decide important races that include congressmen, state legislators, sheriffs and others. Houston County voters will decide whether they should allow Sunday alcohol sales by the drink and by the package.

Much of Middle Georgia, including a sizable piece of Bibb County, will try to settle a Republican primary for the 2nd Congressional District. Other voters will attempt to settle Republican primaries in the 10th and 12th congressional districts.

Georgia General Assembly races are highlighted by a Democratic grudge match that includes David Lucas challenging Miriam Paris for the state Senate District 26 seat, with another Democrat and a Republican also competing. In the House, longtime Democratic incumbent Nikki Randall faces a challenge from former Macon City Councilman Gerald Harvey. Other area legislative posts also are scheduled for elections Tuesday.

With Bibb County’s sheriff retiring, David Davis, Albert Hall and Bill Lucas are fighting for a Democratic nomination. Republicans in northern Bibb County may settle a fight among Gary Bechtel, Ed Bond and Mallory Jones, who all want to replace retiring Commissioner Elmo Richardson.

Houston County residents may settle a countywide school board election and contested races for judicial posts.

Other primary battles Tuesday include Republican or Democratic elections for Baldwin County Commission; Crawford County Commission; Jones County Commission and school board; Laurens County Commission and school board; Monroe County magistrate judge; Peach County Commission and school board; Pulaski County Commission; Twiggs County Commission, sheriff and school board; and the Wilkinson County tax commissioner.

To reach writer Jim Gaines call 744-4489. To reach writer Mike Stucka call 744-4251.