A series of bills have been introduced in the state Senate that would allow communities to decide whether or not to allow many local elections to be nonpartisan. The city of Rome’s school board and City Commission elections are already nonpartisan.
The proposals include elections for sheriff, district attorney, coroner, tax commissioner and clerk of superior court as well as county commissioner.
State Sen. Chuck Hufstetler, R-Rome, a former Floyd County commissioner, said he doesn’t support the proposal, stating that the party system is a way to infuse new blood in an election and foster competition for elected positions.
“More competition in government and in business helps,” Hufstetler said.
Nonpartisan elections gives the incumbent a “bigger edge” and leads to those in power staying in power, he speculated.
“I do like the challenges the parties help bring,” Hufstetler said. “It would be nice if we had more active political parties here.”
Similar bills have been introduced for the past three years, but have gone nowhere during the General Assembly.
“It would make my job easier, but I have skepticism that it will ever pass,” said Floyd County Sheriff Tim Burkhalter, a Democrat. “I’m not 100 percent loyal to either party,” Burkhalter added. “I’m loyal to the position.”
In last week’s committee hearing, lobbyists for the state’s prosecutors, sheriffs and tax commissioners testified in favor of nonpartisan elections.
“The DA’s association has been in favor of it passing for years,” said District Attorney Leigh Patterson, also a Democrat.
Local law enforcement and prosecutors don’t have a say in state policy, she said, and shouldn’t be subject to party politics.
“We enforce the law — we don’t make it,” Patterson said. “To me it makes sense for elections to be nonpartisan.”
At least one local GOP elected official disagrees — stating it gives voters an measure of the candidate.
“I’ve always felt partisan politics let voters know where your values are,” said County Commission Chairman Irwin Bagwell, a Republican.
Attaching your name to a party gives voters an idea about how a candidate will vote and “paints a pretty good picture” about where a politician stands.
“I’d hate to see it change,” Bagwell said.
The bills will now head to the Senate Rules Committee.