While qualifying for local elections in Columbia County doesn’t take place until next year, insiders are already talking about the fact that Columbia County Commission Chairman Ron Cross will likely have some competition this time around.
And this newly proposed candidate is no stranger to Cross.
Back in 2010, when Cross also faced a challenger for the chairmanship in retired Appling businessman Brett McGuire, there was another battle he was fighting behind the scenes.
During that campaign, on one side, he was fighting McGuire, who had the support of several Republicans on the county’s executive board; but on the other side he found himself battling an informational campaign that was unleashed against him by the Columbia County Taxpayers’ Council, whose print ads regularly appeared in the Columbia County News-Times.
According to the Secretary of State’s office in 2010, the registered agent of the nonprofit corporation was Jim Bartley, who was then a member of the Columbia County Republican Party’s executive committee.
Well, rumor has it that Bartley has decided to come out of the shadows and is seriously considering a run against Cross.
If that happens, it could prove to be an extremely interesting race because Bartley doesn’t pull punches.
There are no bones about it: Bartley is anti-Cross all the way.
For example, those ads that ran in 2010, which were posted on Columbia County Taxpayers’ Council’s website, were harshly critical of Cross, particularly regarding Cross’ involvement in downsizing the original Marshall Square development.
But through it all, Cross simply remained defiant.
“I don’t apologize for trying to stop big apartment complexes,” Cross said, referring to an ad that demanded his “trial” for the commission’s decision in 2009 to scale down the Marshall Square development, which ultimately killed the original project.
As rumors of Bartley’s possible campaign are spreading across Columbia County, it is unclear whether McGuire will decide to mix things up and jump into the race again.
It seems unlikely he will if Bartley is serious about his run for the chairmanship because those two candidates would likely split their group of voters.
After all, their supporters are pretty much one and the same.
But if McGuire does decide to run, he also could stir things up.
During the last campaign, McGuire let accusations fly against Cross, no matter how small the claim.
For instance, McGuire accused Cross of using the monthly water bill insert, which had been mailed to residents along with their water bills since 2004, as campaign material. Cross couldn’t help but just chuckle at the accusation.
“If this is the biggest complaint about a county with growth like ours — they ain’t got much to complain about,” Cross told the Metro Spirit in 2010.
The original one-page insert started at a cost of approximately 8 cents per copy but, by 2010, the insert expanded and it was about 15 cents a copy or almost $4,000 a month.
For some, it was a ludicrous complaint to allege against Cross, but McGuire ran with it.
McGuire also loved to pit Cross’ upscale vision against his fiscal conservatism.
During the campaign, McGuire would harp on Columbia County’s approach to spending cuts.
“They’re asking for a 5-percent, across-the-board decrease in country spending, and I think that’s the easy way to do it,” McGuire told the Metro Spirit in 2010. “Some programs might need to be beefed up while some of them might need to be cut 20 percent.”
Cross, however, defended Columbia County by saying that the county had entered the top tier of Georgia counties and, as such, its residents had come to expect more.
“I just personally think we need a higher standard,” he said in 2010. “I’m not satisfied with being a mediocre county. Our developments in Evans, the Gateway project out where the new Walmart is, the Riverwood section with the new Publix — we said we were going to have those overlays and those architectural standards to make sure the public is happy with what they see.”
Columbia County residents will have to wait and see if Bartley is serious about a run and, if so, will he let the mud fly if he becomes a legitimate candidate.
Only time will tell.