Birney Imes: Local politics: Why you should care

June 11, 2011 9:49:00 PM

Birney Imes - [email protected]


Take away family, friends and candidates and you might have had a handful of people at Thursday''s political forum put on by the Columbus-Lowndes Voters League. Why there weren''t more folks there, I haven''t a clue. 


It''s not Broadway, or for that matter off-off-Broadway; it''s not even a respectable senior play, but it''s entertaining enough. It''s real people, auditioning for a real job hoping somehow that by their eloquence or despite their lack of it, they can convince you to vote for them. To state the obvious, it''s important; these are the people who will run our county government and schools these next four years. 


Chances are you know some of them. As for me, there is a high school classmate challenging an incumbent with whom I used to play handball at the Y. There is a father with whom I took our sons and a group of Boy Scouts camping at Lake Lowndes years ago. There is the husband of a woman with whom I worked with back in the 70s. There is the former owner of a weekly newspaper, who used to write scathing things about me. And there is the crusty, acidic incumbent, who I consider a friend and who approaches every political battle as though it were Armageddon. 


You see people''s names on signs and you wonder about them, Allison Pritchard Kiser and Shane Thompkins, to name two. Thursday we saw them in action; both seem bright and energetic. They''re vying to be county prosecutor, the job Tim Hudson is relinquishing. Former State Supreme Court Justice Chuck Easley wants it too. 


Especially important is the county school superintendent''s race. As a member of the Mike Halford cabinet, Republican Edna McGill is touting continuity, presumably a continuation of Alford''s policies. She faces a strong group of challengers in the primary with New Hope Middle School principal Sam Allison (who has married into the Fashion Barn Beattys) and Lynn Wright, who by most accounts got a bad deal on the Stacy Hester lawnmower matter (as did Hester). The winner of this three-way contest will face the lone Democrat, Cliff Reynolds, the precise, articulate principal of West Lowndes and independents, Columbus High A.D. Rusty Greene and Caledonia principal Roger Hill. The winner will be paid $125,000 to manage an enterprise with a $55 million budget. 


Political junkies are watching with particular interest the District 5 supervisor''s race in which independent Roger Larsen, formerly of the Columbus Packet, is challenging longtime incumbent Leroy Brooks. For years Larsen hammered away at Brooks in the pages of his publication, providing cover for Supervisor Harry Sanders as Sanders whittled down Brooks'' expansive fiefdom ceded to him by previous supervisors. Democrat Kenneth McFarland, a protégé of Claude Simpson, is in the mix. Simpson is a Lowndes native who made his mark in computer software elsewhere and in retirement has returned to Columbus. Simpson has taken as a project the rejuvenation of a stagnant Democratic party. 


Larsen, a Kansan, is the most unlikely of candidates. He''s plainspoken, not given to chitchat, yet, other than Sanders and a few courthouse lifers, probably understands the intricacies of county government as well as anyone. In The Packet, Larsen advanced solutions to county problems -- many of them plausible, others preposterous, all of them worthy of consideration. 


He and Brooks couldn''t have more different oratorical styles. Thursday Larsen mumbled a few sentences about his past and sat down. McFarland, a fluid speaker, touted his work with kids at the Boys and Girls Club and with the city schools. Brooks came out firing; his first point was that he is the only Lowndes County native in the race. (McFarland is from Quitman.) I haven''t seen such bombast since I saw Bill Burgin speak from a flatbed trailer at a Caledonia political rally 35 years ago. Brooks is a political juggernaut; it will be interesting to see what approach the Packet-less Larsen takes, assuming Brooks dispatches McFarland in the primary. 


For me the best part of these political hoedowns is the conversations that take place on the sidewalks and in the parking lots afterward. Some hurry away while others linger to talk. The office seekers have an eagerness and a vulnerability about them. For now they''re interested in what you have to say; how will they be, you wonder, after the voters bestow them with power? 


A reporter and I joined Lynn Wright and sheriff hopeful Anthony Nelson, who were standing near their cars talking. Both men shook their heads, saying they are spending a lot more money than they had anticipated. Nelson has a county job; he runs the youth detention center. Wright is unemployed and has taken out a loan to finance his campaign. He nervously joked about campaigning on a riding lawnmower -- turning a perceived negative into a positive -- then asked the reporter if she wanted a pen or a refrigerator magnet (She took both.). 


In the weeks ahead these people will be putting up signs and knocking on doors. As a voter you need to do your part. Start educating yourself now. Find out what you can about these people, who, come November, will be in charge of the county''s checkbook and the enforcement of its laws. Talk to friends; listen to the candidates at upcoming events or when they knock on your door; read the paper. Here''s your chance to make a difference.

Birney Imes III is the immediate past publisher of The Dispatch.