Turnout likely low for District 22 election

The timing of Ed Tarver's presidential appointment as U.S. attorney for the Southern District of Georgia has led to a rarity in politics -- a special election the first Tuesday in January, on the heels of the Christmas and New Year holidays.


After the U.S. Senate confirmed Mr. Tarver on Nov. 5, Gov. Sonny Perdue called a Jan. 5 election to fill his vacated state Senate District 22 seat, not wanting to see the district go without representation when the next General Assembly session begins Jan. 11.

That means the four candidates vying to succeed Mr. Tarver must do their heaviest campaigning during the yuletide, when voters are likely to have jollier things on their minds.

It also means that, while E.G. "Earnie" Davis slipped into the vacated House District 122 seat by paying a $400 qualifying fee in Atlanta when no one else did, the winner of the Senate race can slip in by galvanizing a relatively small group of supporters who will turn out at the polls.

Citing off-year election disinterest and the distractions of the holidays, Richmond County Board of Elections Executive Director Lynn Bailey predicts turnout between 10 percent and 20 percent -- more likely toward the lower end. District 22, which covers the core of Richmond County, has 76,630 registered voters. Mrs. Bailey has said the election will cost $70,000 to $80,000, with 46 of the city's 52 precincts open.

Ralph Walker, a longtime political observer and director of the Research Center at Augusta State University, predicts turnout of 13 percent to 16 percent. "I like to say in these little elections," Dr. Walker said, "the one with the most relatives wins."

LIBERTARIAN CANDIDATE Taylor Bryant said he can sense apathy on the streets, which he attributes to the city having just gone through a scorcher of a campaign season with the Augusta Commission elections, especially the Dec. 1 runoff that saw Matt Aitken elected to replace Betty Beard.

"I think people are probably burned out with the political process, due to the commission races," Mr. Bryant said. "But that doesn't make it any less important."

Democratic candidate Harold V. Jones II, who resigned as solicitor general to seek the position, said voters should be concerned about the middle class having a voice in Atlanta, in addition to the issue of education funding.

"You know why you have low voter turnout?" Mr. Jones said. "Because people feel disaffected. We need to get back to where people feel like they're participating in the process."

He has been running radio ads, and his first mailing went out Friday. More important, he said, he'll make phone calls and campaign door to door. He said interest in the race is growing. "I think what you have to do is go out and speak to the issues that matter to people, and you have to do it face to face," Mr. Jones said.

Mr. Bryant, the only non-Democrat in the running, said he's hoping the low turnout will give him a boost if the Democratic vote gets split three ways, and he can garner about 90 percent of the Republican vote and support from the small-government-minded Tea Party contingency. He said he lacks the campaign war chest to pepper the district with yard signs, as Mr. Jones and Hardie Davis have done, or to buy billboard space, as Sandra Suetta Cannon Scott has done.

"Yard signs don't win elections," he said. "People showing up at the polls win elections. I'm asking people to look at my platform."

The GOP is sitting this one out, 10th Congressional District Republican Party Chairman Dave Barbee said, because the chances of winning are too slim to make a run worthwhile. He said he couldn't foresee any Republican doing any better in heavily Democratic District 22 than Don Cheeks did in 2004, when he lost with 43 percent of the vote to Charles Walker's 57 percent.

But while Mr. Walker once wielded great power in the seat, that won't be the case Jan. 11 -- or later if it's not decided until a Feb. 2 runoff.

Whoever wins will be a freshman senator in the minority party, Mr. Barbee said, another factor that could lead to a lack of interest. They'll have little sway in high-profile, statewide issues.

What's more, the job could be temporary. The winner will serve out Mr. Tarver's unexpired term, then will defend the seat in next year's July primary and November general election, when there will be much higher turnout. Then the seat would come up for re-election in 2012, which will be after reapportionment, when Augusta could potentially lose one of its two state senators to the Atlanta and north Georgia areas.

But the worst thing going for the special election is its post-holiday break date -- something Mr. Barbee said he's never seen before. He predicts turnout of no more than 15 percent.

"Nobody gives a rip," Mr. Barbee said. "It's Christmas. New Year's. Football. Bowl games. Nobody's thinking about politics. This election's the farthest thing from anyone's mind."

DR. WALKER said any seat is important. The minority party might not always be in the minority, and a freshman senator won't always be so either.

"You have to start someplace to build up seniority," he said. "A vote's a vote in the Legislature. Not every vote is right down the line, Republican and Democrat."

The new senator will have more pull on local, "home rule" issues, having a pivotal vote in decisions among the two-senator, five-representative legislative delegation, Dr. Walker said.

A few local matters bound to come up next year are the Augusta Commission's request for a referendum on enacting a Municipal Option Sales Tax, or MOST, which would add an extra cent to the sales tax to help fund city operations and offset property taxes. Another is a proposal to do away with or reduce the school tax exemption for property owners 65 and older.

Still another indifference factor Mr. Barbee cites -- the lack of a pressing issue, in voters' minds. In candidate forums held so far, the apparent front-runners, Mr. Jones and Mr. Davis, have traded barbs over Mr. Davis' support of Georgia Power Co. rate increases and Mr. Jones' opposition to corporate tax breaks, which Mr. Davis said create jobs. Such quibbles don't energize voter bases, Mr. Barbee said.

Mr. Davis, who resigned as the House District 122 representative to seek the Senate seat, said there's a very pressing issue in this election as the state faces a $1.25 billion shortfall. It's crucial, he said, that Augusta have a representative who is experienced and already has built up influence and respectability in Atlanta.

"It's going to be imperative that Augusta elect someone who is not a novice to the process," he said, and it's also imperative that the election be decided Jan. 5, without a runoff, so the city doesn't go a third of the legislative session without a District 22 senator.

Like Mr. Jones, Mr. Davis also sent out mailers last week, which were designed as Christmas cards with a photo of him, his wife and 8-year-old son on the front.

"We wanted that to be personal and not political," he said, "which is very important, to let people know that we care about you, especially at a time when a lot of people are struggling."

So far, Dr. Scott, a first-time candidate, has livened things up in her own way. An adjunct music professor at Aiken Technical College, she sang her opening remarks at a forum at Jenkins Memorial CME Church earlier this month. She said she did so because God gave her the gift of music, and God called her to run for the seat.

The most pressing issue in the race, she said, is the recession.

"How we're dealing with the economy, and lack of jobs for the people so they can make ends meet," she explained. "If the candidates don't bring the issues to the forefront, then they won't be dealt with."

Reach Johnny Edwards at (706) 823-3225 or johnny.edwards@augustachronicle.com.


Early voting continues until New Year's Eve for the special election to fill the state Senate District 22 seat.

Voting will be held at the Richmond County Board of Elections office at 530 Greene St., Room 104, weekdays until Dec. 31. The hours will be from 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Wednesday. The office will be closed Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, then the hours will expand from 8:30 a.m. to 6 p.m. from Dec. 28 to Dec. 31 for Advance Voting Week.

During Advance Voting Week, the Henry Brigham Center at 2463 Golden Camp Road and Warren Road Center at 300 Warren Road will be open from 8:30 a.m. to 6 p.m. Dec. 28-31.

Voting by mail will be available from Monday until Dec. 31. Those voters should give a written request by mail or fax to the Board of Elections office, 530 Greene St., Room 104, Augusta, GA 30901. The fax number is (706) 821-2814. The request should include the voter's name and address, date of birth, date of the election and a signature.

For more information, call the Board of Elections at (706) 821-2340 or go to www.augustaga.gov.


PARTY: Libertarian AGE: 30
FAMILY: Wife, Amanda; stepsons, Cameron, 13, and Blake, 11
EDUCATION: Diploma from Aiken High School, class of 1997; associate's degree in auto technology from Aiken Technical College
CAREER: European car technician for Gerald Jones Volkswagen Audi in Martinez
LEADERSHIP EXPERIENCE: President of Pine Hill Middle School Parent-Teacher Association; public relations director for the Libertarian Party of the CSRA
PLATFORM POINTS: Lower taxes; seeking new industries to reduce unemployment and expand economic opportunities; standing up for individual rights; pushing for more awareness of states' rights and 10th Amendment issues; protecting rights to bear arms; repealing laws restricting Sunday alcohol sales; cutting wasteful spending; streamlining government; selling unused state property
WEB SITE: www.bryantforaugusta.com


PARTY: Democrat AGE: 41
FAMILY: Wife, Evett; son, Benjamin, 8
EDUCATION: Diploma from Hephzibah High School, class of 1987; Bachelor of Electrical Engineering from Georgia Tech; Doctorate in Ministry from Christian Life School of Theology, Columbus, Ga.
CAREER: Pastor of Abundant Life Worship Center on Mike Padgett Highway
LEADERSHIP EXPERIENCE: State representative for House District 122 from 2007 to 2009; House minority assistant whip; trustee of the University Health Care Foundation; board of directors member for the Georgia Chamber of Commerce; board of trustees member for Leadership Georgia; former member of the Augusta Board of Zoning Appeals; former board of directors member for Leadership Augusta; former board of directors member for Child Enrichment
PLATFORM POINTS: Expanding Peachcare and Medicare eligibility for those hit by the financial crisis; providing universal access to health care for children; providing prescription drugs at lower prices, especially for the elderly; restoring cuts to education; providing classroom and technology resources; providing career and technical education classes for middle school pupils; establishing a vocational and technical education high school in Augusta; promoting growth and commercial development, with an emphasis on blighted and underutilized areas
WEB SITE: www.hardiedavis.com


PARTY: Democrat AGE: 40
FAMILY: Wife, Kimberly
EDUCATION: Diploma from Glenn Hills High School, class of 1987; bachelor of arts in political science from South Carolina State University, Orangeburg; juris doctorate from North Carolina Central University Law School, Durham
CAREER: Partner at Shepard, Plunkett, Hamilton & Boudreaux law firm; adjunct professor at Paine College, Voorhees College, Georgia Military College and the University of Phoenix
LEADERSHIP EXPERIENCE: Augusta solicitor general from 2005 to 2009; former chairman of the Richmond-Burke Youth Council; former president of the Greater Augusta Arts Council; former board of directors member for Leadership Augusta
PLATFORM POINTS: Fully funding education; increasing teacher pay; putting a moratorium on tax exemptions for corporations; reforming the criminal justice system, including decriminalizing traffic offenses; improving small-business development; protecting water resources; improving the local job base through business development; stressing the importance of minority participation in the state and city's economic development
WEB SITE: www.haroldvjones.com


PARTY: Democrat AGE: 56
FAMILY: Foster daughter Chenese Williams, 34, of Raleigh, N.C.; foster sons Tyson Williams, 33, of Washington, D.C., and Tyler Williams, 32, of Durham, N.C.
EDUCATION: Diploma from McCall Senior High School, Tallulah, La., class of 1971; bachelor of music education, Jackson (Miss.) State University; master of music, University of Michigan; doctorate in music education, University of Southern Mississippi; graduate of Harvard University's Institute for Educational Management
CAREER: Former music teacher at Laney High School; adjunct music professor at Aiken Technical College; president and CEO of Scott Consulting, a grant-writing service
LEADERSHIP EXPERIENCE: Minister of music at Transformation United Methodist Church on Tobacco Road; former campaign director for Paine College's United Way and United Negro College Fund drives; former Augusta Ballet board member
PLATFORM POINTS: Economic security; focusing on issues of women and children, such as teen pregnancy, domestic violence, rape, homelessness, HIV/AIDS and poverty; access to and resources for military families and veterans, as well as for the disabled, seniors, adults, youth and infants; universal health care -- bringing attention to health care needs of the uninsured, underinsured and underserved insured; access to quality education from pre-K to higher education and beyond; access to technology to close the digital divide; environmental protection of all resources -- water, soil, air and wildlife; reducing the recidivism rate in the adult and juvenile corrections systems

-- Compiled by Johnny Edwards, staff writer