Originally created 02/20/00

Kent: Primary fallout; veto power; luring retirees



WHEN THIS IS READ, we will know the winner of South Carolina's Republican presidential primary. But whether candidate John McCain wins or comes in second, there's no question his candidacy has drawn more independents, Democrats (of varying stripes) and young people into asking for a Republican ballot.

There are McCain crossovers in our neck of the South Carolina woods who are the old "Reagan Democrats" of the 1980s. They -- as well as young, first-time voters -- ought to be welcomed by any political party. After all, under our system, a party's general election nominee must broaden his base to capture a state's electoral vote. (When he reaches 270 electoral votes from among the 50 states, the candidate wins.)

South Carolina Democrats also have their own views on the GOP primary's much-ballyhooed "crossover vote." And the race issue comes into play. Listen to Kevin Gray, a black writer/political activist:

"Rep. Todd Rutherford, D-Columbia, is not sophisticated enough to hold his tongue. He has been all over television encouraging blacks and Democratic voters to vote for John McCain. Of course, McCain is the designated `protest candidate.' A McCain victory embarrasses Bush and the Republican Party establishment."

But, as Gray noted, there's a flip side to this coin. "A colleague joked Rutherford must be working for Bush -- `when he let people know what he was doing, he handed Bush the Bubba vote."'

Rigging it for Gore

South Carolina's Republican primary went forward after a three-judge federal panel in Charleston rejected State Democratic Chairman Dick Harpoot-lian's lawsuit claiming the GOP was "restricting" access to polling places. That was humorous -- especially when you consider that Harpootlian and a

clique of presidential candidate Al Gore's supporters are doing everything to stick as many knives as they can into the back of Democratic presidential candidate Bill Bradley.

Talk about "restricting" the vote. Unlike the Republicans, who conducted an all-day Saturday primary open to all registered voters, Harpootlian will preside over a Soviet-like caucus and -- get this! -- a "primary" for a couple of hours on a Thursday night (March 9).

While the GOP balloting was designed to attract maximum turnout, no more than 50,000 hard-core party activists (mostly pro-Gore urban liberals and union members) will be the players in this un-democratic Democratic farce. Also, there's currently no plan for absentee ballots.

Mayoral veto?

It is now flying low under the radar screen in Atlanta, but prospects for passing a law allowing veto power for Augusta's mayor lie with Sen. Charles Walker, D-Augusta. If the Senate majority leader wants it to happen, it will. That's also assuming Sen. Don Cheeks, D-Augusta, remains amenable -- and if a majority of the Augusta House delegation agrees. But there's no reason to think they won't -- if Walker is on board.

Walker says he supports, at a minimum, mayoral veto power over Commission budgetary votes (with a commissioners' override provision). If he's sincere in strengthening the position of mayor, he will work with the other local lawmakers to slip in enabling legislation at the last minute.

A Columbia County legislative footnote: Rep. Ben Harbin, R-Evans, is finally drawing up a referendum bill presenting options for either a Columbia County chief executive officer position, to be elected countywide, or retention of the status quo. A second bill will have yet other options for Columbia County voters. He could unveil both bills this week.

Let's lure retirees

Augusta Metro Chamber of Commerce President Jim West is catching flak for not doing anything to woo retirees here, especially after a recent report from a prominent St. Paul, Minn., research firm ranking Augusta sixth in a list of the 10 best U.S. cities to retire.

While marketing this area as a "retirement Mecca" doesn't excite West, we remember that Mayor Bob Young earmarked some money in his now-abolished mayoral discretionary account to pay for retiree advertising. However, the Augusta Commission has a $40,000 advertising budget for a quarterly report (which hasn't been done for a year), so perhaps the Commission could undertake its own limited advertising campaign.

Or maybe the Convention and Visitors Bureau -- with its million-dollar-plus budget -- could spare some extra dollars to lure retirees here. As residents well know, we have a low cost-of-living, mild climate, access to fine medical centers, great entertainment activities, a declining crime rate and an improving overall quality of life.

Phil Kent is senior editorial writer for The Augusta Chronicle. He can be reached at (706) 823-3327 or philkent@augustachronicle.com.