Augusta legislators are working at cross purposes on the issue of local elections, and their bills are beginning to fill the House and Senate hoppers.
On Monday, Rep. Barbara Sims, R-Augusta, introduced a bill that would essentially set the date for Augusta Commission elections in July, effective this year. Sen. Hardie Davis, D-Augusta, introduced a bill that would set the elections in November.
Sims said her bill is to clarify last year's law change that moved judicial elections, as well as nonpartisan races in the state's seven consolidated cities, to the July primary. Augusta officials are proceeding with November balloting, relying on a letter from the attorney general that says the city charter's requirement for fall elections trumps last year's law. Sims’ bill aims to trump the charter.
Rep. Wayne Howard, D-Augusta, is drafting a bill for introduction in coming days to move the lines for commission and school board districts to reflect the recommendations of an ad hoc committee composed of four legislators, four commissioners and four members of the school board. That panel unanimously approved a map that conforms to population changes since the 2000 census.
"I believe we owe that to the hard work of that committee," he said.
Howard, the chairman of the local delegation, said he'll drop his version of the maps into the legislative hopper for introduction in the House once the legal ads have run in The Augusta Chronicle as required by law.
Sims is drafting an alternative supported by members of the ad hoc committee who had second thoughts.
"I am going to have legislation on Plan No. 2," she said Tuesday.
On the map, sure to affect his upcoming race for a second District 5 term, Commissioner Bill Lockett said he thought both plans 2 and 3R had been “relatively good plans,” although he supports 3R because of its unanimous committee support.
Plan 2, which loosely maintains a 5-5 split between majority-white and majority-black commission and school board districts “was the least disturbing to the community,” Commissioner Wayne Guilfoyle said.
Commissioner Joe Jackson, whose District 6 changes the most in the committee-approved plan, questioned the committee’s work.
“The way a certain senator was down at the mapping committee office on a daily basis trying to gerrymander,” Jackson said, “they know good and well it’s not fair.”
And Rep. Quincy Murphy, D-Augusta, has sponsored his own election bill. It would ask voters about switching the elections to partisan so candidates for the commission would have to declare which political party they belong to. Various members of the delegation have said they don’t agree with the idea , one Murphy raised before.
“Why would we want them partisan?” Guilfoyle said, questioning the delegation’s involvement in local affairs. “It’s always putting their noses in Augusta business; it’s nothing positive; it’s going to disrupt.”
Lockett, a Democrat, said he’d prefer partisan commission races. “I think that one should know who he or she has voted for,” he said. “I think party identification is extremely important.”
The idea chafed Jackson, who said he had been given grief by delegation members over his handling of the transportation sales tax referendum going before voters later this year.
“What has our delegation done when it comes to Wrightsboro Road, Windsor Spring Road? What has our delegation done when it comes to widening Highway 56? Why has it taken so long? Oh, so now let’s go back to partisan races. I think people are tired of having stuff crammed down their throats.”
The delegation met Tuesday morning, but none of these issues was on the agenda or discussed. It was entirely devoted to a conversation with the commissioner of juvenile justice about the Augusta Youth Development Campus where a 17-year-old was beaten to death two months ago. Davis and Jesse Stone, R-Waynesboro, didn't make it to the 8 a.m. gathering. Howard is calling another delegation meeting next week.