Originally created 11/16/00

Kent: An election post-mortem of the two-state area 111600 - The Augusta Chronicle



UNTIL THE 20TH century, all too often American "officers" with nary a hint of military experience led troops in the field. At the dawn of the 21st century, so it is in politics.

Rep. Bob Irvin, R-Atlanta, was ousted as minority leader this week by GOP colleagues in Georgia's House of Representatives because, in the words of one senior lawmaker, "he wasn't a general who knew how to fight."

On Nov. 7, two GOP House incumbents were shot out of the saddle - a total of five losses since the 1998 election. This is a trend that shouldn't be happening in a state that heavily votes for the party's presidential candidate, that re-elects all eight of its Republican congressmen and that has the Senate GOP caucus picking up two new seats (for a total of 24 of 56 seats in that body).

Fifteen to 20 lawmakers supported a last-minute effort to oust Irvin with Rep. Ben Harbin, R-Martinez. After a second ballot, though, the minority leader job eventually went to a more senior lawmaker, Rep. Lynn Westmoreland, R-Tyrone.

Harbin knows when to fight the Democrats on policy issues, but also knows when to craft and pass legislation in a spirit of bipartisanship. Westmoreland, though, appears to want to battle Democratic Gov. Roy Barnes more than Irvin did.

Veteran Rep. Max Davis, R-Atlanta, feels Harbin's bid helps the three-term Augusta area lawmaker in the future. "He went up a notch," Davis said, especially with his impassioned speechmaking and adept handling of colleagues' questions.

S.C. GOP contrast

Voters in the Palmetto State added five more representatives to majority House Republican ranks and, in a stunner, supported enough GOP challengers to cause the state Senate to split evenly. That means GOP Lt. Gov. Bob Peeler, the presiding officer of the Senate who lost some power under the Democrat regime, becomes an even bigger legislative player.

A footnote: South Carolina Republicans will miss a battle-hardened "general" when the 2001 General Assembly opens. Rep. Terry Haskins, R-Greenville, died recently at age 45 after a bout with melanoma. The speaker pro tem was the conservatives' "terrible swift sword," having led successful battles against everything from a tobacco tax to a proposed auto tax hike.

Local election notes

Who got the highest vote in Richmond County on Nov. 7?

The most ballot punches (assuming there were no "confused" Palm Beach-type voters) were garnered by Democrat District Attorney Danny Craig, who ran unopposed. The second highest punches were recorded by unopposed Tax Commissioner Jerry Saul. No. 3 is Ronnie Strength, the Democrat sheriff's candidate who crushed Republican Leon Garvin by 41,130 to 14,993 votes.

By the way, why must DAs, sheriffs and local magistrates like Bill Jennings run under a partisan label in Georgia? They should be administering their offices without fear or favor, regardless of party. The 2001 General Assembly should pass a bill designating these offices as non-partisan.

A coup is brewing in Columbia County to oust county GOP chairman Alvin Starks in March. He fought hard against an at-large elected County Commission chairman, but Columbia Countians nevertheless voted 3-to-1 in favor. Starks also riled some party members and elected officials over accusations he refused to qualify two potential challengers in the party's primary in order to ensure the re-election of his pal, Commissioner Diane Ford.

Two irked politicos

Georgia Rep. Tom Murphy, D-Bremen, was re-elected speaker by his House Democratic caucus. But Murphy, the longest-serving speaker in the U.S., is still irked. He barely survived a Republican challenge in his rapidly changing district by less than 500 votes. (Are "yellow dog" Democrats finally becoming a dying breed in such rural districts?)

State School Superintendent Linda Schrenko is depressed that Senate Republicans didn't pick up more seats on Nov. 7. She failed to get legislative leverage in that body to challenge the governor on his second-phase of education proposals, and many Republicans remain miffed at her because she interfered in GOP primaries.

If George W. Bush becomes president, look for Schrenko to take a federal education job in his administration.

One more run-off

There is just one run-off election in Richmond County on Nov. 28. It's a Board of Education election in "Super District 9."

Retired 33-year local educator Mildred McDaniel must get supporters back to the polls (and pick up votes from defeated candidate Venus Cain) to defeat challenger Johnny Hatney, one of the sorrier members of the pre-consolidation Augusta City Council.

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