If you’re out there driving around Columbia County, chances are you’re starting to see the newest crop of campaign signs popping out of the fertile ground in front of a few businesses and some vacant lots.
Wayne Bridges’ tax commissioner signs came out so early, in fact, that there was a little confusion over just when that special election for tax commissioner might be, which might not have been a bad strategy, considering the short attention span the public continues to display and the perception that the campaign season never actually ends. Come November, many might just figure he’s the incumbent and give him the edge.
Of course, he’s not the incumbent. Far from it. He’s running in the special election because the previous tax commissioner, Kay Allen, resigned in March after allegations that she improperly profited from tax collection contracts with Harlem and Grovetown.
Her husband, District 3 commissioner Charles Allen, resigned at the same time, opening up that commission seat to a special election of its own.
Signs for that race have begun appearing a little more regularly now.
Running for the seat are Evans attorney Mack Taylor, Columbia County Democratic Party Chairman Floyd Everett, business owner Trip Derryberry and retired businessman Brett McGuire, who is no stranger to Columbia County voters.
Now that McGuire’s signs are starting to appear, you can figure things are about to get interesting, because long shot Everett aside, there’s nothing Columbia County Republicans seem to like more than beating up on each other.
“The only people they can debate or fight with is themselves,” is how then-10th District Republican Chairman Dave Barbee characterized things to the Metro Spirit back in 2010. “It’s a family. It’s brothers against sisters.”
You’ll remember in 2010 that McGuire was running against Ron Cross for Commission Chair and the local party had just gone through a period of embarrassing – and very public – infighting.
“They’re fighting for something they don’t have,” Barbee continued. “They don’t have genuine respect – as a unit or a group. Period.”
Back then, McGuire was a vocal opponent of Cross’ leadership, including the $12,000 contract the commission approved to hire a public affairs firm to support the local delegation in Atlanta, a move that threw the local party into turmoil.
The party’s executive committee was so against the contract they drafted a resolution condemning the decision. They eventually tabled it, but the party chair at the time, Lawrence Hammond, distributed the resolution among the commissioners and was eventually removed as party chair. He appealed, was reinstated, but soon resigned.
That wasn’t McGuire’s only issue with Cross and Columbia County government, however. Calling himself a “business guy,” he was against 311, the customer service and information line, saying that his review of the numbers showed the program averaged around $13 per call, while director Pam Tucker’s numbers showed $6 per call.
He was also against the 5-percent across-the-board decrease in county spending that was proposed at the time and was particularly critical of the county’s high bond rating.
“The county is proud to say we have a AA+ bond rating, but do you know how you get a good bond rating?” he asked at the time. “It’s just like your credit score – the more money you borrow and pay back, the higher credit score you get.”
And, like everyone else who tries to run against Cross and the Columbia County establishment created by him, McGuire was critical of the now-infamous water bill insert, claiming along with all the rest that it is taxpayer funded campaign material.
With that history, you wonder just how effectively he’s going to campaign against others in the race, who aren’t incumbents and who aren’t necessarily intimately associated with the establishment.
He does seem to once again have the backing on local businessman George Snelling, which could make things interesting.
Given Jim Bartley’s substantially weaker showing in this year’s Republican primary against Cross (he garnered just 40.13 percent of the vote versus the 47.28 that McGuire got in 2010), it’s possible voters are growing tired of the grim drumbeat of fiscal conservatism. Or maybe they just didn’t like Bartley. Either way, handicappers will do well to remember that District 3 is not a cross section of the county. It’s no District 4, where McGuire beat Cross in 2010 by 364 votes, but it’s still from an establishment stronghold.
Given the disappointment many in the district feel in Charles Allen, who was, through his wife, about as much of an insider as you could be while never really fitting in with the rest of the commission, it’ll be interesting to see whether McGuire’s contrary ways can get traction, because if they can, those Tuesday evening commission meetings will get a whole lot more interesting.