Dems uneasy about primary
By LOUIE BROGDON
The Brunswick News
Gary Cook is a Democrat, but if he wasn't running for political office, he might consider voting in a different primary on July 31.
"If it was me and I wasn't running, I kind of think I would probably pick up a Republican ballot," said Cook, who is seeking the District 5 Glynn County Commission seat that will be vacated at the end of the year by Commissioner Jerome Clark.
There's a reason Cook feels that way. The majority of contested races - including a number of ones Democrats will likely not get an opportunity to decide - will be on the Republican ballot.
Glynn County voters who pick up a Democratic ballot during the July 31 general primary will have no say in who becomes the next Glynn County sheriff.
Democrat voters will also have no input on who becomes the Brunswick Judicial Circuit District Attorney, the next Glynn County Superior Court Clerk, or who will sit in 14 other elected offices.
That's because those offices are among 17 races in the 2012 election cycle that will likely be determined solely by Republicans in the primary, unless independent candidates jump through a few hurdles to qualify for the November elections.
Those posts are without Democratic opposition.
Democrats will vote in only seven races, three of which are nonpartisan and involve uncontested incumbents.
In addition to selecting candidates to face Republicans in the District 5 Glynn County Commission and Board of Education races, Democrats will choose between two candidates who are attempting to oust 20-year incumbent U.S. Rep. Jack Kingston, R-1.
Situations like this, where one political party dominates the county's political terrain, are why more elective offices should be nonpartisan, said Glynn County Democratic Party Chair Audrey Stewart.
She said voters would be better served if they were nonpartisan contests.
"We continue to raise the issue asking if county commission and board of education members (should) be nonpartisan," Stewart said. "Yes, it is a big concern that we will not be able to vote on the sheriff nor district attorney and other Glynn County offices. We feel that not enough races are nonpartisan for full participation."
Stewart urges fellow Democrats to resist the temptation to pick up a Republican primary ballot.
In Georgia, voters do not register by political party. They simply ask for either a Democratic or Republican ballot at the voting precinct on election day.
"We will always urge strong Democrats to choose a Democratic ballot," Stewart said. "We will be pointing out to our folks that we do have some things on our ballot."
Stewart highlighted the Democratic primary race between Nathan Russo of St. Simons Island and Lesli Rae Messinger of Savannah. The winner will face Kingston.
Democrats, just like the Republicans, also will vote for the next Glynn County State Court Judge, where five attorneys are running. The post is nonpartisan.
Stewart said Democrats are also including straw poll questions concerning school tax exemptions, gambling and alternative energy, for voter feedback.
Commission District 5 candidate Cook said he believes more of the non-fiscal positions ¬-- particularly those in law enforcement and the judiciary -- which he referred to as "the important stuff," should be nonpartisan.
Political leanings have no bearing on the prosecution or enforcement of the law, Cook said.
Cook is frustrated with the lack of choices Democrats will have on the ballot and urged Democratic residents not to feel stuck to party lines.
"No doubt about it, I encourage people to get involved and vote on things that affect you most," Cook said.
The best solution is for the Democratic party to be more inclusive and more active, Cook said.
"They really have to change their officers. They need to be active not just during election years. They need to be vocal all year-round," Cook said.
Allen Booker, another Democrat who is running for the District 5 commission seat, said little can be done now about the ballot issue, but he wants to help move the local Democrats in a new direction for future elections.
"Yeah, I'm a little concerned about (the ballot), because some people may decide to pick up the other ballot for more participation, and that's their right," Booker said. "What we have to do as Democrats is recruit more candidates in the future to participate in other races."
Booker believes there is a growing population of liberal independents that can be tapped by the party.
District 5 board of education incumbent candidate Venus Holmes said she expressed concerns about what she said were needlessly partisan races with state Rep. Alex Atwood, R-St. Simons Island.
"Republicans are going to choose the sheriff, and the sheriff serves everybody. That's not right," Holmes said.
Regardless of the limited choices on the Democratic primary ballot, Holmes said Democrats need to stick to their guns.
"By all means, do not pick up a Republican ballot. The only time I have ever taken a Republican ballot here is one time when we had no Democrats running," Holmes said.
U.S. Congress candidate Russo said he's not too worried. He said there are not many Democrats in Brunswick and the Golden Isles anyway.
"I have to attract as many independent and Republican votes as I can," he said.