Primary elections banal, show lack of voter intrigue



The primary elections came and went last week with no big surprises, except maybe that Republican gubernatorial candidate and one-time front-runner John Oxendine came in fourth in a race he was supposed to win and that Augusta's Trish McCracken got 30.3 percent of the statewide vote for lieutenant governor, even though she didn't put up one sign, make one speech or political ad. And, oh yes, former state School Superintendent Kathy Cox won re-election in some counties although she pulled out of the race months ago to take a job in Washington.

Makes you wonder, doesn't it?

Now it's on to the Aug. 10 runoff with Republican gubernatorial candidates Karen Handel and Nathan Deal duking it out for the chance to go head to head with Democrat Roy Barnes in November.

It's going to be an uphill battle for Deal to beat Handel with a state ethics commission investigating a complaint that he used more than $19,000 in campaign money to pay lawyers defending him in a federal ethics probe. The federal probe into allegations that he lobbied Georgia politicians to save a program that benefitted him financially was dropped when he resigned from Congress in March to run for governor.

Allegations that Handel is a closet liberal and doesn't finish one term in a public office before seeking another -- Fulton County Commission, secretary of state -- somehow pale in comparison.

THE OTHER NIGHT I DREAMT OF KNIVES: For the first time in years, there are no scheduled elections in Richmond County next year. But a statewide transportation-tax referendum is scheduled for the 2012 ballot. Is it likely any local tax pushers, such as the school board, will wait until 2012 and ask the voters to tax themselves twice over in the same year the Aztecs said the world as we know it will end? Of course, there is the fact that the Democrats will have had a four-year jump on the Aztecs.

GARBAGE IN, Garbage Out: Augusta Democratic voters said no to a straw poll question asking whether they favor one garbage collection a week instead of two, but they might change their minds when they find out it's going to cost them more to maintain the status quo. It's inevitable. The contracts were last renegotiated in 2005, before gasoline prices spiked. They'll be rebid this year, giving haulers two options to bid on -- one pickup or two. Solid waste director Mark Johnson said a better straw poll question would have been, "If going to once-a-week pickup saves you money, would you be in favor of it?"

WHO'S ON FIRST? Mayor Deke Copenhaver said he didn't actually say he'd ignore the results of the straw poll question asking voters whether they favor spending public money to build a new baseball stadium. He just doesn't think it's representative of the majority of Augusta's registered voters.

"There are 100,000 registered voters, and basically a little over 5 percent of them voted no and half of the voters didn't see the question," he said. "It was only on the Democratic ballot. And only 14.59 percent of registered voters came out to vote in the primary. I don't think that gives a very accurate picture, based on those numbers. I majored in political science at Augusta State and took polling classes under Dr. Ralph Walker , and I believe I have a pretty good understanding of how polls can be weighted."

Sounds to me like he's going to ignore the results. Anyway, he says he's out of the middle of what happens to the Golf and Gardens property -- the proposed site of a new downtown stadium.

"The property will be put up for bid in a competitive process, and whoever it goes to will ultimately have a great deal of input," he said.

More than 77 percent of Democrats voted no on the question.

PREYING ON PRAYING: The Boy King played a key role in two more news events last week. One of them was a two-page letter from the Freedom From Religion Foundation urging the city to stop beginning commission meetings with a prayer. There was no mention of a lawsuit, as there was in the letter the foundation sent to Aiken city officials. They have resorted to a generic prayer with no mention of Jesus, the mayor said.

Apparently, Freedom From Religion knew the issue of prayer at public meetings in Georgia has already been settled. When Sam Olens , who is now in a runoff with Preston Smith to become the Republican candidate for state attorney general, was Cobb County Commission chairman, Gary Pelfrey and six other Cobb County taxpayers filed a lawsuit against the county, saying sectarian prayers were unconstitutional. The 11th Circuit Court disagreed with Pelfrey and ruled that Cobb County's prayers were constitutional.

THE KING OF CAKES: The other big story in Augusta last week was the carrot cake "throwdown" between Vera Stewart of VeryVera and star chef Bobby Flay on the Food Network. Thousands were glued to their TVs Wednesday night to watch Flay's cake fall apart and Stewart win. Some people suspected home cooking when in a blind taste test the Boy King proclaimed that Vera's cake was the best. But there was no proof of any home cooking. Well, except for the big orange carrot on the top of Stewart's cake. Could that have been a clue? Anyway, a lot of people really take these things seriously. The mayor said he was shocked when he saw all the blogging about the contest on the Internet. One headline said, "Vera Wins, Gamblers Rejoice."

"They had odds on it," he said. "I had no idea."

He said he had gone to the show's taping as a spectator, but when one of the celebrity judges was late, they asked him to stand in, which he really didn't want to do. He said he told them he was running for re-election and was afraid if he picked the wrong cake, he'd get run out of town on a rail.

"Thank heavens I picked the right one," he said. "And I learned more about carrot cake and ate more carrot cake in one afternoon than I had in my whole life."

"IT'S LIKE A LOST AND FOUND IN A BORDER TOWN, ASKIN' 'BOUT A DIAMOND RING": Burke County resident Bernard Clark e-mailed The Chronicle to say his family was having the house weatherized through the CSRA EOA Weatherization Assistance Program when a diamond engagement ring disappeared.

"The only people in the house during their work was them and us," he wrote. "The children were away (plus they don't have any keys) and we didn't have any visitors which represents our normal lifestyle. It is our contention that the CSRA EOA weatherization assistance program has a thief or thieves amongst them. We have searched for legal assistance and have yet to receive an offer to help.

"The investigating Sheriff ... did not look in the bedroom where the theft took place. He did not question the CSRA workers. He left and told us to pick up his report the following morning."

Clark said that was the extent of the investigation, and the EOA program director in Washington did not respond. The Augusta office referred him to its attorney, who asked for Clark's telephone number but never called him back.

Finally, the district attorney's office said all they could do is call the sheriff's office and ask that a more thorough investigation be conducted. An investigator said he would try to get the GBI to help with the search.



City Ink: Governments only get bigger and bigger

About two-and-a-half hours into a Friday commission work session on the 2017 proposed budget that was presented and praised for being balanced... Read more

City Ink: Augusta government keeps growing

Augusta City Administrator Janice Jackson presented her proposed 2017 budget just in time for Halloween and frightened the commission's Finance... Read more

Reader's letter means I've got apology to give ...

Well, as my first editor Archie McKay always said, “Don’t try to bury the mistakes you make in... Read more