Augusta’s oldest political group made its preferences known Tuesday after a marathon session of more than 20 candidate speeches.
The Augusta-Richmond County Committee for Good Government endorsed the incumbent in all local elections where the incumbent wasn’t term-limited, including District Attorney Ashley Wright, Richmond County Solicitor Chuck Evans, District 1 school board member Marion Barnes, District 8 school board member Jimmy Atkins, District 1 Commissioner Matt Aitken, state Sen. Jesse Stone and state Rep. Earnest Smith.
In the 94 ballots cast, the incumbent endorsements came by a wide margin in all but the District 1 school board race, which Barnes won by just three votes over Augusta businessman Lucien Williams, according to committee President Richard Isdell.
For posts with no incumbent, the committee overwhelmingly chose Freddie Sanders for sheriff, Carleton Vaughn for probate judge, Mary Davis for Augusta Commission District 3, Donnie Smith for Commission District 7 and Harold Jones for Commission Super District 9, according to Isdell, who was still counting ballots after 10 p.m.
Jones won by a landslide over former Commissioner Marion Williams, who garnered only eight votes.
Aitken raised the topic of the Augusta Convention Center in his speech, as several candidates did, but Aitken cast the new facility, also known as the TEE Center, as one that will draw millions in sales tax
dollars to downtown.
His competitor, Bill Fennoy, criticized the center as a waste of money that doesn’t meet the needs of District 1, where buildings are dilapidated and residents must “wade in the water” when it rains and floods.
“These are the concerns of District 1,” Fennoy said.
He criticized commission moves to privatize Augusta Public Transit and Augusta Municipal Golf Course.
District 1 candidate Denice Traina said both leadership and management ought to be outsourced at the bus service to enhance a service that connects people with jobs.
Attorney Ed Enoch, seeking the District 3 seat, said his analytical skills could help the city address issues such as the uneven tax structure that has been in existence since consolidation.
Davis touted experience in fundraising and development for several Augusta education institutions.
“You can call me in the middle of the night,” said Smith, a state trooper. “I’ve met with everybody in county government, because I’m concerned.”
His opponent, retired hospital administrator Ken Echols, said he’d be governed by District 7 residents and would hold regular town hall meetings.
Evans said he has cut the state court budget and sped up cases, while his opponent, Kellie Kenner McIntyre, said she will be “the solicitor for all of Augusta.”
After turning in his ballot, west Augusta resident Charlie Coleman said he and his wife joined the Committee for Good Government last year because it helps educate the public about its choices.
Coleman said he voted for Donnie Smith because he will bring “change” that’s needed in District 7.
The group has a high rate of predicting the winner in local elections, typically 85 percent to 90 percent, Isdell said.
“We have intelligent voters as a whole, who represent the entire district,” he said. “Whatever we’re doing here, they’re pushing out into the community.”
Ralph Walker, a political science professor emeritus at Augusta State University and a regular Good Government attendee, said the crowd that packed the Julian Smith Casino Barbecue Pit indicated how much the committee’s support means on Election Day.
“You see all the politicians showing up, so it must mean something,” Walker said.