“Bad officials are elected by good citizens who do not vote.”
— American writer George Jean Nathan
Going to the polls this May won’t be as easy as simply selecting one or two candidates in a few local races.
In many cases, voters will be choosing from dozens of candidates competing in races for the Augusta Commission, the Richmond County Board of Education, the Georgia House, U.S. Congress, State Court judgeships, the Georgia Senate, Superior Court judgeships and Richmond County Marshal.
And that’s just the primary.
Come November, citizens will have a chance to cast their votes in the general election for candidates running for Richmond County sheriff all the way up to politicians vying for the White House.
This year’s election could drastically change the current political landscape, so it’s time for local voters to begin doing their homework on each race.
In Richmond County alone, there are five Augusta Commission seats that will be decided on May 24, including Districts 1, 3, 5, 7 and 9.
Those seats are currently held by commissioners Bill Fennoy, Mary Davis, Bill Lockett, Sean Frantom and Marion Williams. However, Lockett will not be allowed to run for another term in the District 5 seat because he is term-limited.
While incumbents Mary Davis in District 3 and Sean Frantom in District 7 are running unopposed and will automatically be re-elected to their seats, others on the commission aren’t so lucky.
They’ll have to earn their seats on the commission once again.
In District 1, Commissioner Bill Fennoy is facing competition from two challengers: community activist Denice Traina and political newcomer Michael Thurman.
Some Augustans might recall that Traina has run for the District 1 seat before and lost. Let’s just say Traina is definitely a candidate that is hard to forget.
While she has served on both the Richmond County Planning Commission and the Transit Advisory Panel, she is probably best known as the highly enthusiastic “certified beekeeper” who has been a resident of the Harrisburg neighborhood for more than 20 years.
Although Thurman is new to politics, he’s a local businessman from Augusta who has invested throughout the city.
He is the president of McGillicuddy Rental Properties in Augusta and currently owns more than 100 properties in central Augusta and the Summerville area.
In fact, one look at the company’s website will clearly show the wide variety of rental properties that Thurman manages, including the beautifully renovated Victorian home on Hickman Street once known as Johnnyville.
It also sounds like Thurman is going into the race with his eyes wide open.
“I have been called crazy, brave, and honorable, all on the same night,” Thurman posted on his Facebook page after announcing he intended to run for the District 1 commission seat.
Over in District 5, there are two candidates running to replace Lockett: Andrew Jefferson and Kelby Walker.
Jefferson, who was the director of continuing education at Augusta Tech, had worked at the college since 1991.
Kelby Walker is a local businessman who operates Sweets on Broad at 956 Broad Street.
His campaign flyers state, “It takes a village… and a man who cares!”
If elected, Walker insists that he will concentrate on strengthening the economy in Augusta-Richmond County.
“Columbia County is growing leaps and bound and we’re over here in Augusta arguing about pet fees and basketball goals in cul-de-sac,” Walker recently posed on his campaign’s Facebook page. “(Meanwhile) they’re investing $65 million dollars into a Plaza that will serve as the new city center for Evans and will be located on Evans Town Center Blvd. The new development will include retail and office space, residential living and a cultural art center.”
Those are developments that should be happening in Richmond County, Walker said.
“Stores like Talbots, men’s stores, specialty shops, Apple Store etc. Sounds like they’re building up like Atlantic Station,” he wrote. “Augusta we better get on the good foot before it’s too late. This old establishment politics is out dated. Creating wealth, empowerment, and getting our young adults involved in the process should be our goals.”
But the commission seat that is probably attracting the most attention is the District 9 race.
The highly outspoken and controversial incumbent, Augusta Commissioner Marion Williams, will be facing opposition this May.
Ronnie Battle, who served almost 25 years in the U.S. Air Force before retiring to the Augusta area in 1998, has decided to run in District 9.
While Williams is extremely unpopular among many voters throughout Augusta-Richmond County, he won’t be easy to unseat.
For a politician who has been called everything from a loose cannon to a “maniacal micro-manager,” Williams eagerly embraces the negative attention.
There is not a week that goes by that Augustans don’t hear some kind of news coming from Williams.
“Criticism is no problem,” Williams once joked. “I welcome it because that means I don’t have to spend as much money advertising.”
Ever since he was first elected to the Augusta Commission back in 1999, Williams’ main mission has been to stir things up in the Marble Palace.
“I promised the people when I ran for office that I would do one thing: I would make some noise,” Williams told the Metro Spirit. “I said that I would let voters know what was going on.”
But as soon as he began to question some of the Augusta Commission’s actions, Williams said he was heavily criticized.
“People would tell me that I need to behave myself, that I ought to do better, that I’m just causing trouble,” Williams said. “But if it’s right, it’s right. If it’s wrong, it’s wrong.”
That is one quote in which voters have heard Williams say so many times that he should make campaign T-shirts bearing that slogan.
But many of Williams‘ critics wonder if he even knows the difference between right and wrong anymore.
Some voters are definitely looking for a change in District 9.
Battle, who is originally from the Atlanta area, is hoping to bring fresh, new ideas to the Augusta Commission.
However, when Battle announced his campaign for District 9, it surprised many people in Augusta that one of the aspects of his life featured in an article in The Augusta Chronicle addressed his religious beliefs.
“Battle formed a prayer group this fall at which speaking in tongues, rather than one’s ‘native language,’ is required,” stated a Jan. 8 article in the Chronicle. “He also posts videos of demons being cast out and links to the site demonfreetoday.com.”
While such religious practices are not exactly mainstream beliefs, some Augustans wondered why such information was listed in a news story.
For Battle, he may be facing an uphill battle in the District 9 race.
Along with the Augusta Commission races, there are a number positions on the Richmond County Board of Education up for grabs.
One race attracting a lot of attention is the campaign for the District 4 seat on the school board.
Former Richmond County principal Wayne Frazier has decided to challenge long-time Board trustee Barbara Pulliam.
Many Augustans will remember that the highly outspoken Frazier submitted his resignation after being demoted from a principal to a classroom teacher in 2014.
The rumor was that Frazier was demoted after clashing with former Richmond County Superintendent Frank Roberson and several board members.
Since that time, Frazier has served as the full-time president of Southern Barber College.
But now, apparently, he wants to become a Richmond County Board member.
So, why are so many people interested in this race?
Well, Frazier was never your average principal.
At 6-foot-5, this retired U.S. Army first sergeant with 23 years of military service, was a no-nonsense principal.
When he was a principal at Glenn Hills High School and Bungalow Road Alternative School, students were not allowed to walk the halls with their shirts untucked and their pants hanging down below their underwear.
Frazier wouldn’t tolerate it.
But when some of the students brought with them a long history of fighting, drug possession or even prior jail time for criminal offenses, Frazier gave everyone a fair shake because he understood what many of those kids were going through.
His own background began in a poverty-stricken home in Shreveport, La.
It was a history that Frazier never shied away from.
“I grew up in a house of 11 children with alcoholic parents,” Frazier once told the Metro Spirit. “My brother shot my dad. You know, violence in the house; drugs in the house.”
When he was a young man, Frazier’s teachers quickly realized that he was having issues at home.
“They knew I wasn’t prepared to learn, but they gave me the things that I needed that helped me be prepared because they knew I wouldn’t get it at my house,” Frazier said. “I slept on a mattress on the floor until I was 17. The first time I slept on a bed by myself I was in the United States Army. I thought I had hit the jackpot.”
Frazier was always willing to share those kinds of stories with his students and he was also known as a principal with great compassion.
In fact, one of this towering man’s favorite tunes was Barney’s theme song, “I love you.”
Frazier could often be heard singing, “I love you. You love me,” as he walked the halls before class.
During his time as principal at Glenn Hills High School, Frazier was hailed by many parents as being the leader who vastly improved the school by increasing the graduation rate to 78.2 percent in 2010.
But near the end of the 2009-2010 school year, Frazier made headlines after he was charged with DUI and failure to maintain lane only days before Glenn Hills’ graduation.
While the charges were later reduced to reckless driving, the arrest tarnished his image. A few days after his arrest, Glenn Hills High School was also criticized for its yearbook which depicted some of the senior class members as criminals in a section called “The Jail Report.”
Only weeks later, the high school also discovered its former bookkeeper had taken approximately $14,400 in student activity funds.
Frazier, who also happens to be the husband of state Rep. Gloria Frazier, never fully recovered from those controversies.
But now all eyes are on him as he challenges retired educator and long-time school board member Barbara Pulliam.
Augustans will be watching.
Another familiar face competing for a spot on the Richmond County Board of Education is “career candidate” and frequent guest column writer in The Augusta Chronicle, Brian Green.
As a former U.S. Marine and youth counselor, Green has run for a number of political seats since the mid-1990s including the Augusta Commission and a race mayor, but he has never been elected to office.
Once again, Green has thrown his hat into the ring against a seasoned politician, District 1 Board Member Marion Barnes.
Chances are Green will find himself on the short end of the stick once again.
Meanwhile, District 5 board member Patsy Scott is facing a challenger in candidate Douglas Jackson and District 10 incumbent and Board President Helen Minchew is opposed by Realtor Tony Whiteside in May.
Judging the best candidate
In the race for the State Court judgeship being vacated by Judge John Flythe so that he can run for the Superior Court bench, there are some highly political candidates running including Kellie McIntyre, Monique Walker and Robert “Bo” Hunter III.
Kellie McIntyre, who is the current Richmond County State Court solicitor general, is the daughter-in-law of former Augusta Mayor Ed McIntyre.
Monique Walker, who is the current chief operating officer and general counsel for Global Personnel Solutions, is the daughter of former state Sen. Charles Walker.
And local attorney Robert “Bo” Hunter III, who served as the former solicitor general of Richmond County State Court for almost 10 years starting back in 1988, is also known for his former ties with the once very powerful political group known as the “Southside Mafia.”
For those who might be new to Augusta, it’s funny to have both McIntyre and Walker competing in the same race.
After all, there is a long legacy of mixed feelings between former Sen. Charles Walker and the late Mayor Ed McIntyre.
Being a fourth generation Georgian and a native Augustan, McIntyre was known throughout the community as a powerful political player.
He was the first black candidate elected to the Richmond County Board of Commissioners back in 1970.
Ten years later, McIntyre became the city’s first black mayor in 1981.
McIntyre was often described as a visionary, a statesman and a builder of bridges with the ultimate goal of economically strengthening the city.
Of course, by December of 1983, McIntyre’s legacy hit a brick wall. He was arrested by the FBI and charged with conspiring and attempting to extort money from a local real estate developer.
By spring of 1984, McIntyre was forced to resign as mayor and ended up serving about 14 months in prison.
But before people start pointing fingers, Kellie McIntyre is the daughter-in-law of Ed McIntyre. She’s not even blood related.
Her service to the community as solicitor general should stand on its own.
Then, there is Monique Walker, daughter of former state Sen. Charles Walker.
Most Augustans won’t soon forget that summer day back in 2005 when the once highly powerful state senator was found guilty of 127 felony counts of conspiracy, mail fraud and filing false tax returns.
Walker was eventually sentenced to a decade in federal prison and ordered to pay a $150,000 fine and $698,000 in restitution.
The man who many thought would one day become the first black governor of the state of Georgia was all of a sudden sent to the Federal Correctional Institution in Estill, S.C., to face 10 years in a medium-security prison.
Many people will ask, what does that have to do with Monique Walker and her race for State Court judge?
When the federal government went after the former Sen. Walker, it didn’t spare his daughter.
Initially, Monique Walker also was indicted with him on several criminal counts in 2005.
Fortunately for Monique Walker, all of the charges against her were dismissed after she pleaded guilty to a single misdemeanor count of filing a false tax return and was forced to serve probation.
But because she has decided to run for State Court judge, some people are already bringing up her past.
It will be interesting to see how this race for judgeship plays out.
Earlier this year, Augusta Superior Court Judge Carlisle Overstreet surprised local voters by announcing that he didn’t plan to seek re-election this May.
Overstreet succeeded William Fleming as chief judge back in 2008 and has served honorably ever since.
Richmond County State Court Judge John Flythe and local attorney Evita Paschall
will be competing for the Superior Court judgeship seat.
Flythe, who graduated from the University of Georgia School of Law in 1999 and was an assistant district attorney in the Augusta Judicial Circuit from 1999 to 2001 under former District Attorney Danny Craig, is heavily favored in this race.
Flythe was first tapped as the Associate Court Judge in Grovetown in 2008 and has served as a Richmond County State Court judge since 2010.
He was appointed as a State Court Judge by former Gov. Sonny Perdue in 2010 after former Judge Gayle Hamrick stepped down to accept a senior judge status that same year.
“Born and raised in Augusta, Judge Flythe learned at an early age the importance of integrity, hard work, and fairness,” his campaign’s Facebook page states. “Like his father and grandfather, Flythe was called into the legal field.”
After working for the District Attorney’s office, Flythe opened up his own practice where he focused on resolving complex domestic disputes for families in this region.
As a sitting judge, he has become known for his commitment to service and extensive knowledge of the law.
“Over the last five years, Judge Flythe has earned unmatched experience by handling a wide array of criminal and civil cases,” his campaign’s Facebook page states. “From high dollar civil matters to traffic tickets, theft, and family violence, Flythe is tough on crime, empathic when dealing with difficult family matters, and willing to listen before taking swift action. After 50 jury trails, Judge Flythe has the knowledge, experience, and judicial temperament we can trust.”
But one of the biggest surprises to come out of this year’s political races was the announcement that local attorney Chris Nicholson is going to run for the Superior Court judgeship currently held by Judge Carl Brown.
While Chris Nicholson has more than 40 years of experience practicing law in Augusta and has handled hundreds of civil and criminal cases in his career — including more than 20 appeals to the Supreme Court of Georgia and the Court of Appeals of Georgia — his reputation has taken some serious hits over the past few months.
Specifically, Richmond County Superior Court Judge Daniel Craig had to recess a hearing in his courtroom pending Chris Nicholson’s admission to an inpatient “facility” to undergo evaluation, The Augusta Chronicle reported in December.
One day later, Superior Court Judge Wade Padgett, who was assigned to preside over a contempt-of-court case against attorney Chris Nicholson, ordered Nicholson to an “involuntary commitment” to a state mental hospital, according to the Chronicle.
This wasn’t the first time Chris Nicholson had trouble in court.
Back in August 2011, Nicholson was also cited for contempt after he walked out on a client in the middle of his trial, the Chronicle reported. Judge David Watkins ultimately decided to waive any jail time after Nicholson apologized in court and made a $500 charitable donation.
And now Chris Nicholson wants to be a Superior Court judge?
It’s a bizarre scenario.
But it appears as if Nicholson is hoping his “hometown” reputation will earn him the judgeship.
His campaign’s website is filled with descriptions of his local connections, including the fact that he was born at University Hospital and grew up on Reynolds Street where the Augusta Convention Center sits today.
“In 1951 his family moved into Slusky home at the corner of Walton Way and Monte Santo,” the website states. “At the age of five, he attended Ms. Clark’s Kindergarten school which was located on William Street across from William Robinson School. After Kindergarten he went to William Robinson School from the 1st through the 7th grade and then attended Langford High School. In 10th grade, he attended the Academy of Richmond County until graduation in 1965.”
Well, you can’t get much more local than naming your kindergarten teacher, eh?
But apparently even Chris Nicholson was a little worried about his chances in the May election because last week he just happened to drop by the WGAC radio station, requesting to discuss his campaign on air with radio host Austin Rhodes.
“Well that was interesting,” Rhodes wrote on his Facebook page last week. “Local attorney Chris Nicholson showed up unannounced. As a legally qualified candidate for Superior Court Judge, and someone who we were discussing quite frankly yesterday, I was hard pressed to find a reason to keep him off the air. He was entitled to say his peace, and he did. He says he is mentally fit and capable of running his law practice and running for Judge. He said he believes he is being singled out for standing up to the ‘powers that be,’ and he wanted the world to know that was why he was running.”
That will definitely be a wild race.
Over in local law enforcement, long-time Richmond County Marshal Steve Smith will face challenger Ramone Lamkin, who is currently the head of the Traffic Safety Division of the Richmond County Sheriff’s Office. Lamkin is also said to have close ties to Richmond County Sheriff Richard Roundtree.
As for Roundtree, he isn’t currently facing any competition as a Democrat in May, but former Richmond County Sheriff’s Deputy Brian McDuffie is running for sheriff as a Republican.
McDuffie, who will face Roundtree in the November general election, is a former Richmond County sheriff’s deputy who was fired by Roundtree more than two years ago after he was accused of assaulting a 15-year-old boy in the side of the head with a flashlight during an arrest.
Folks, you can’t make this stuff up.
The State and Beyond
When it comes to the state of Georgia, there are also a lot of political changes ahead.
The state Senate District 24 seat currently held by Sen. Bill Jackson, who recently announced he is retiring, has a list of candidates vying for that position including former state Rep. Lee Anderson; former chairwoman of the Columbia County Republican Party, Pat Goodwin; President of Sherman & Hemstreet Real Estate Company, Joe Edge; former District 3 candidate on Columbia County Commission, Greg Grzybowski; Realtor Peter Gibbons; and Democratic candidate Brenda Jordan.
Talk about a cast of characters.
Voters couldn’t go anywhere this week without hearing jokes about poor Lee Anderson, the return of his tractor and his incredibly thick Southern accent.
It was as if everyone was suddenly channeling Realtor Gwen Fulcher Young.
Most people will remember back in 2012 when Fulcher Young, the wife of former Augusta Mayor Bob Young, boldly campaigned for Congressman John Barrow, a Democrat.
Republicans were shocked that the wife of Bob Young, who was appointed by then- President George W. Bush as the Atlanta Regional Director for HUD’s Region IV, would have the gall to support Barrow over Republican candidate Lee Anderson.
But Fulcher Young let her feelings be known — loud and clear.
“Sending Lee Anderson to Washington would be like sending Honey Boo Boo up there,” Fulcher Young reportedly said, referring to the former reality TV star known for her Southern sass. “It just seems to me that he represents the ignorance that people used to think of when they think of Southerners.”
Well, Fulcher Young was never known to bite her tongue.
Then, of course there is candidate Joe Edge, who found himself entangled in gossip and rumors surrounding last year’s House District 122 race.
A supporter for Joe Mullins, the local entertainment promoter and former candidate for the House District 122 seat, filed a formal complaint against his then- opponent Mack Taylor.
Columbia County resident Otis Williams made an official complaint with the state Ethics Commission claiming that Taylor filed a false campaign disclosure.
Basically, the Mullins camp was accusing Taylor and his campaign of helping to coordinate the hiring of a private investigator to look into Mullins’ residency status.
What happened was questions had been raised during the campaign as to whether Mullins even met Georgia’s residency standards to qualify to run for the House District 122 seat previously held by state Rep. Ben Harbin.
The Columbia County News-Times reported that Mullins might have held valid driver’s licenses in the past two years in three different states: Florida, North Carolina and Georgia.
Mullins tried to brush off the accusations that he did not meet the state’s residency standards to run by saying he maintained a primary address in Columbia County.
However, this was the same man who argued with the West Lake Country Club that he qualified for “non-resident status” because he lived in Florida.
Of course, Taylor completely denied any wrongdoings.
But that’s where Joe Edge came into the picture.
Edge came forward last year and insisted that he paid for the private investigator to look into Mullins’ background.
And now Edge wants to run for the Senate District 24 seat?
Politics is a weird business.
Over in the House District 123 seat, which is currently held by retiring Rep. Barbara Sims, local attorney Wright McLeod, physician Mark Newton and nurse Lori Greenhill all qualified to run in that race.
Of course, McLeod is the candidate who was recently booked on a charge of false imprisonment after a former employee of the Augusta Warrior Project, Janice Jamison, claimed he and Amy Palowitch, the director of staff and operations at AWP, refused to allow her to leave the office on Dec. 28 until they searched her purse and backpack.
The only reason that McLeod, who serves as a volunteer board member for the Augusta Warrior Project, was at the AWP office that day was that the staff had requested he assist in the termination of Jamison.
“I have been asked to assist in the terminating of employees before and have done so,” McLeod recently told the Metro Spirit. “I was asked to assist in the terminating of this employee and did so. I always have a witness and, all I can say is, this employee was terminated for cause.”
It is a bizarre accusation by Jamison that McLeod is hoping won’t hurt his chances at the polls.
In the House District 124 race, state Rep. Wayne Howard is being challenged for his seat by Gregory Hill, who was once the son-in-law of former state Sen. Charles Walker. Hill is the former husband of Monique Walker, who is running for the State Court judgeship.
Again, these are strange competitors in this House race.
Wayne Howard is the son of the late state Rep. Henry Howard, who served as a legislator for more than 15 years until his sudden death in 2005.
Both Henry Howard and Charles Walker served side by side in the local legislative delegation for many years in Atlanta.
An odd coincidence? We’ll see what will happens.
Over in the Senate District 23 race, Republican incumbent Sen. Jesse Stone is being challenged by Sylvania, Ga., resident Stephen Hammond.
And, then of course, there is the race for the House District 125 seat.
State Rep. Ernie Smith has opposition from retired postal employee and community activist Sheila Clark Nelson.
But Nelson isn’t Smith’s biggest concern.
The state’s ethics commission, formally known as the Georgia Government Transparency and Campaign Finance Commission, recently found probable cause that Smith had violated various state laws in his handling of campaign cash.
How many possible violations?
Exactly 88, according to a recent article in The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.
The ethics commission’s staff recommended that Smith’s alleged violations be referred to the state Attorney General’s Office. That means a criminal investigation of Smith’s actions may soon be in his future.
So, what exactly is Smith being accused of?
“A commission investigation found Smith committed 88 violations of campaign finance laws,” The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported. “Among them: Smith allegedly failed to disclose property he owned on personal financial disclosure reports and failed to report $7,503 in campaign contributions and $25,297 in campaign expenditures since December 2010.”
Commission attorney Robert Lane also told the newspaper that more than $19,250 of the unreported expenditures were checks made out to “cash.”
To make matters worse, Lane said that Smith has provided no receipts showing how the money was spent.
The ethics commission’s staff is basically accusing Smith of using that money for personal uses instead of for his campaign.
Of course, Smith absolutely denies any wrongdoings.
“At no time has there ever been a misappropriation of campaign funds,” Smith reportedly told the ethics commission. “I’ve never spent one nickel for my personal use.”
Let’s hope not because if Smith did use any of that money for personal uses, it could result in prison time.
While the ethics commission voted 3-1 to find “probable cause of violations,” it gave Smith until April to produce sufficient receipts before referring the matter to the Attorney General’s Office, according to the Atlanta paper.
Whether Smith faces criminal charges or not, such accusations don’t bode well for his re-election campaign.
Allen will face his former rival, Republican challenger and Augusta businessman Eugene Yu, this May.
Democratic candidates Tricia Carpenter McCracken and retired educator Joyce Nolin are also running for Allen’s seat.
While a victory over Allen seems like a long shot for any of his challengers, Yu says he is particularly passionate about making a difference in Washington D.C.
“These career politicians are like bad salesmen,” Yu told the Metro Spirit during his 2014 campaign. “They are smooth talking, selling a bad product to folks.”
This Korean-born Republican candidate with deep roots in Augusta is trying to hammer Allen hard on his record.
“Congressman Rick Allen promised that he would not support John Boehner to continue as Speaker of the House. Rick broke that promise and voted for Boehner, and the voters of the 12th District called him on it, literally,” Yu posted to his campaign’s Facebook page. “We called, emailed, sent letters, everything and it seems that he got the message.”
Yu claimed Allen is not keeping his promises to Republicans.
“Are you starting to see the pattern with Rick Allen?” Yu asked. “He casts conservative votes when it doesn’t count, like the voice vote against Boehner and the (doomed from the start) House Bill to repeal Obamacare, but when it really counts he votes for Boehner and he votes to fund Obamacare.”
Yu pledged he would stand up for conservatives in Georgia.
“Rick Allen votes the other way when it counts to appease the Washington Establishment. It’s politicians with no principles like Rick (the RINO) Allen who go along to get along in Washington, that make it seem like nothing ever changes for the better no matter who we vote for,” Yu wrote. “I promise you that I am a different kind of politician.”
So, folks, that’s your overview of the major races this election season in both Richmond and Columbia counties.
What’s the best advice?
Keep your eyes on the campaigns and good luck making a decision at the polls.