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Tuesday September 1st, 2015 8:12AM

Macon state's only city with partisan primaries

By The Associated Press
MACON - When Macon holds its primary elections in July, it will be the only municipality in Georgia doing so for city elections.

Of Georgia's 534 municipalities, only Macon holds partisan city elections, according to the Georgia Secretary of State's office, which oversees elections.

The news had politicians and political observers alike shocked.

"That doesn't sound right," said Macon City Councilman James Timley, who said he was nearly certain that Atlanta or Savannah held partisan elections. Neither does, according to the Secretary of State and clerk offices in both cities.

Macon is "on an island by ourselves," said state Sen. Cecil Staton, R-Macon.

Critics say the result is greater election costs _ an extra $35,000 or so for a primary election, plus roughly that same cost again if there's a primary runoff.

Across the state, most county commissions have partisan elections _ in which candidates qualify and run under a party banner _ but not cities.

Some political leaders say the situation is unlikely to change in middle Georgia's largest city.

Macon's delegation in the state Legislature would have to change city election rules, which would be unlikely to move forward without a vote from the Macon City Council.

Macon's entire legislative delegation also would have to agree.

"I'm not going to be one to vote against it," state Rep. David Lucas, D-Macon, said of the current system. "Nothing wrong with partisan elections."

Lucas asserts that "nonpartisan elections have never been anything but a Republican scheme to get more Republicans elected."

On that, Lucas is "not far from being correct," said Mike Digby, who grew up in Macon and now is chairman of the government department at Georgia College & State University in Milledgeville.

Nonpartisan elections largely evolved from a progressive movement at the start of the 20th century. And it just so happens, Digby said, that the advocates of that system were often Republicans who found that their own partisan interests dovetailed with the new strategy "nicely."

Still, some Macon leaders hold to the old political catchphrase _ there's no Republican or Democratic way to pick up garbage or fill potholes.

Mayor Jack Ellis, who is term-limited and steps down at the end of this year, leaned on that one last week and said Macon's partisan practice should end.

"I think it's a waste of time and money, really," Ellis said. "I don't know why we are still holding onto them when everybody else has changed."
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