On 09-26-2012 I attended a political forum offered by the Barrow County Chamber of Commerce. It was a chance to meet some of the the candidates running for office in Barrow County, and hear their political goals. Featured for the evening were the two candidates for Sheriff, Jud Smith (R - Incumbent) and James Scott (D), the two candidates for County Commission District 3, Steve Worley (R - Incumbent) and Johnny Smith (D), and the two candidates for State Senator of District 47, Frank Ginn (R - Incumbent) and Tim Riley (D).
First off, I have to say that I was disappointed by the low turnout. There were only about 30 people total in the audience (the room could have held a couple hundred at least), and I could count on one hand the number of people who weren't the family and friends of the candidates, media, or a part of the Chamber of Commerce, and therefore obligated to be there for some reason. People will sit online and argue about politics all day long, but when it comes to actually getting involved in local politics, where your vote most definitely does make a difference, and where the people running have a direct effect on the everyday lives of the citizen, few show up.
The Sheriff candidates were the first to debate. The incumbent Sheriff, Jud Smith, was elected in 2008. I gather from the underlying rumblings that there may have been some sort of shakeup or controversy at the time that he took over, but I have no facts to confirm this. My initial impression of the Sheriff is that he was very well spoken. He clearly articulated what he had accomplished in his term, and what he hoped to accomplish going forward.
The challenger, James Scott, was not as articulate. His speeches tended to wander, and he didn't seem to articulate a cohesive goal. In my notes, I have written, "man of strange cliches." He kept coming back to the point of "Knowledge, Training and Experience" (he worked in the Barrow County Sheriffs Office for over 22 years), but as a fellow law enforcement officer, to me these are buzz words that are used in promotional exams and interviews, not exactly a campaign slogan. Still, that a person is not an excellent public speaker doesn't mean they might not be a good leader, and when he was able to relax, you could better see his sense of humor and his passion for the safety of the community.
The questions were fairly generic, and both candidates answered them without any major mishap. Each candidate was asked the same three prepared questions, and then was given questions from the audience (which were written down and given to the moderator). They had two minutes to respond to each question.
Again, Sheriff Smith was more succinct and focused, though less elegant on the questions from the audience (for which I assume he was not able to predict or prepare). He was careful to point out his commitment to ethics, which I gather is an issue on which he has been attacked, and announced his campaign slogan as "Character Counts and Integrity Matters." I felt that his answer to the question on rogue deputies was somewhat wishy-washy, and could have been more definite. However, I liked that he was clearly more conversant with technology and its application to investigations than his opponent, and that he brought in the idea of community education and involvement on the Domestic Violence question.
Mr. Scott grew more comfortable as time went on, but still remained unfocused in his answers. He articulated concerns for the safety of children and the elderly, but didn't clearly state how he would address those issues. He probably should have avoided the use of more common vernacular (at one point, he actually used the phrase "balls down"), but I thought his response to the Domestic Violence question was excellent, and clearly showed the he had experience in this realm.
I focus on the Domestic Violence question because it was the question that I submitted. It was phrased something like this: Given the frequency that deputies respond to Domestic Violence calls, and the scope and severity of the problem of Domestic Violence in Barrow County, how will you address the issue of Domestic Violence in your tenure? After seven years as a Domestic Violence Detective, this is naturally an issue close to me.
After the Sheriffs spoke, we were supposed to hear from both candidates for County Commission District 3. However, the challenger could not make it (there was some suggestion that he might have been hospitalized). So only the incumbent was able to speak. This was not my district, but I was interested to see what he had to say, none-the-less.
I felt that Mr. Worley was the most sincere candidate of the evening. He was not the most polished or political, but he made up for it with amazing spirit. He came across as humble, hard-working, and truly committed to making Barrow County the best it could be. He stressed a goal of cooperation and togetherness, and a commitment to education (noting that excellent schools attract excellent citizens and excellent businesses). He was nervous, but funny, and very educated on the specific issues which fall within the purview of the commission. His wrap-up speech was touching and heart-felt, and left you feeling like this person is an ally for the citizens. I'm sorry we did not also get to hear from his opponent.
The final candidates of the evening were for State Senator for District 47 however, again, the challenger was unable to make it. In this case, he did send written answers to the questions, but it simply doesn't have the same impact as someone speaking directly to an audience.
The incumbent, Frank Ginn, was a decent speaker, though he had a distracting affectation of saying "huh-uh" at odd points within his speech. In some respects, he seemed to talk down to the audience more than any of the other candidates, and was a bit overly effusive regarding Nathan Deal. I wish that he had more direct answers on how he was going to help with the significant budget issues facing Barrow County (especially regarding schools), but I'm not entirely certain that anyone has a good answer beyond, "hope and pray that the economy improves soon." The one thing he said that I really appreciated was that he wants to, "minimize the impact the government has in our lives." How I hope this is true!
Both candidates agreed (judging from the speaking response of Senator Ginn and the submitted response of his challenger) that the location of Barrow County along the 316 corridor is its biggest asset. I think that Barrow County is going to continue to experience growing pains related to its important position between Metro Atlanta and Athens. This will be a benefit to the economy economically, but will undoubtedly cause some unrest in the small community desires of the citizens. There were some definite murmurs in the audience when one of the candidates announced, "we are a suburb of Atlanta, whether we like it or not."
Again, I wish that more people had been there to hear the candidates speak. I found it to be an excellent chance to get to know the people running for office, and hear their vision for the future of my community.