Originally created 02/12/02

Quick-fix won't work; make elections partisan



"QUICK FIX" legislation, supposedly to better our city government, is being presented to the Georgia General Assembly. The danger of such legislation is that it does not look to the future but legislates against currently elected individuals. Such legislation historically has proven to make things worse, since elected individuals change and are confronted with impractical and untested guidelines.

Despite claims to the contrary, one has to accept that our commissioners and our mayor try to do the best job they can. The frustration that many feel about the city government comes from the fact that there seems to be no one who can monitor their actions and put things together. The bill presented by Rep. Sue Burmeister, R-Augusta, which gives veto power to the mayor, is not going to fix this; neither will the obviously unconstitutional provision that an abstention is equal to a no vote.

What makes the situation in our city so difficult is that commissioners are elected on a non-partisan basis; consequently, they are not responsive to the city as a whole or to a party, but only to the district from which they are elected. Thus, votes are cast along district lines rather than what's best for the city.

ON THE STATE level and on the national level, elected office holders are not only responsive to the electorate but to a political party as well.

I contend that it is the non-partisan elections of the commissioners and mayor that make for a weak city government. This should be changed. A political party should nominate these officials. The election should be held just like state and national elections with endorsement through a party affiliation. It is the political party that can bring pressures to bear for commissioners to vote for the good of the city and not simply for their districts. If an individual commissioner follows through, he or she will be endorsed for re-election. Those who do not will find themselves hard-pressed to be renominated.

UNDER THIS system, the Democratic and Republican parties would develop platforms for the candidates for commissioner and mayor to run on. The voters would know full well what the individual stands for and that he or she is elected for specific beliefs, rather than for name recognition or a nice smile (no person intended.)

The party affiliation also has the advantage that there would be more recognition of our city officials by the state and national parties. Party platforms have the advantage that ideas to enhance the city are debated and brought to the fore. Parties are also charged with finding good candidates for positions, thus giving added direction to good government.

At present, the commissioners and the mayor have not requested anyone to change our system. If there is to be change, it is important that they take the initiative to do so since the people have elected them.

IF THERE is to be a referendum for the voters to decide whether there should be change, a partisan type election should be considered, rather than a "quick fix" piece of legislation, which will no doubt have to be fixed time and time again and do little for our city.

(Editor's note: The author is the chairman of the Democratic Party of Augusta.)