Columbia County Commission District 3, which was left unrepresented earlier this month when Commissioner Charles Allen stepped down along with his embattled wife, Tax Commissioner Kay Allen, has two early potential candidates officially testing the waters.
In the last two weeks, retired businessman Brett McGuire and Evans attorney Mack Taylor each filed a Declaration of Intent to Accept Campaign Contributions with the Columbia County Board of Elections office. The filing allows them to begin accepting financial contributions.
According to Elections Director Nancy Gay, no other candidates have yet filed Declarations of Intent for the District 3 seat. Gay says that because the special election will be held in conjunction with November’s general election, there will be no extra cost associated with it.
Already qualifying for other commission races are Republicans Jim Bartley and Ron Cross for commission chairman, Republicans Hafeez Chaudhry and Doug Duncan for District 1, and Republican Bill Morris and Democrat Vernon Thomas for District 4. Cross and Morris are both incumbents.
McGuire is well known among Columbia County voters, having run against Ron Cross for commission chairman in 2009, against Lee Anderson for the seat vacated by state Rep. Barry Fleming in 2008, and against Bill Jackson in the special election to succeed Jim Whitehead when the state senator decided to run for Congress after the death of Charlie Norwood. He lost each election.
Taylor, 40, is a former assistant district attorney in the Augusta Judicial Circuit, which includes Columbia County. He left that post in 2008 to go into private practice. Before that, he spent over a year with the Solicitor’s Office.
A Westside graduate, the Augusta native moved with his wife and two children to Columbia County in 2010, and he hopes his youth and fresh face will appeal to voters growing tired of seeing the same people running for office.
The last fresh face to run, Butch Holley, lost to Allen in 2012, winning less than 30 percent of the vote, but Taylor insists he’s not deterred.
“Looking forward, people aren’t going to want to continue to see the same faces show up wanting to get in and run our county,” he says. “Part of the problem we’ve had in Augusta is the same people keep coming in and making progress slow instead of moving forward and keeping up with the growth that we’re obviously going to see. Seeing what happens in Richmond County is definitely motivating me to make sure Columbia County doesn’t move in that direction.”
Given the circumstances of the special election, Taylor thinks voters will be looking for accountability and oversight.
“I know that as a voter myself, that’s what I’d be looking for,” he says. “Though I’d been thinking about it, when the news developed about what was happening with the tax commissioner, the internal motivation [to run] started to stir.”
Charles Allen resigned from the commission on March 4 in concert with his wife, who was accused of personally collecting more than $160,000 in tax collection fees from Grovetown and Harlem that should have gone to the county.
It’s probably not surprising, given Columbia County’s continuing growth, that Taylor thinks the county’s infrastructure needs are of primary concern.
“We’ve done great with parks and the aesthetics of the county, and that’s what people like and seem to enjoy,” he says. “I think we’ve just got to do what we can to make it easier to get to those parks.”
And those parks and aesthetics continue to cost. At Tuesday’s committee meetings, commissioners passed on to the full commission a $34,000 upgrade to the sign at Wildwood Park and a $29,000 change order for the Gateway Exhibit Hall, which will also need a sign, though commissioners and staff have yet to determine the type of sign or its funding source.
Taylor’s early entrance seems to be motivated in large part by former commissioner Frank Spears’ on again, off again interest in the seat.
“I’ve heard people tell me no, I’ve heard people tell me yes,” Taylor says of Spears’ intention to run. “I haven’t spoken with him directly, so I don’t know, but I thought it would be important for me to get out there and let people know that, yes, I’m serious about it. I’m not going to file a Declaration of Intent if I don’t have an intent to run.”
Spears is currently out of the country on a trip to Thailand. His frequent travel has been a source of amusement for Taylor.
“I think we can envy him on those regards,” he says. “Hopefully, if he does get into this and win, he’ll stay around for county business.”
The next step for Taylor: finding someone he’s comfortable with to run the campaign and then getting out and putting feet to the pavement.
“That’s the part of it I love — getting out and meeting people,” he says. “It’s a fun atmosphere. People are energetic and enthusiastic about the future. It’s a good time.”
Though he says he’s never been a part of an organized campaign, he does say he has supported friends like Jason Troiano and Sheryl Jolly in judicial races.