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Let's force candidates to stick to issues

Carlton Fletcher

Carlton Fletcher

I think a change would do you good.

-- Sheryl Crow

A Georgia lawmaker -- state Rep. Allen Peake, a Macon Republican -- plans to push legislation during the 2012 General Assembly that would allow counties to hold nonpartisan elections. No more "R," "D," "I" or any other such designation required.

While I applaud a move that would perhaps eliminate some of the party-based gridlock and power brokering that is inherent under the current system, I don't think Peake's proposed bill goes far enough.

How many of us have heard voters proclaim that they voted for candidate A or B because "he has nice hair" or "she looked me in the eye while she was talking to me" or "he had a nice, firm handshake" or "she has relatives who go to my church"?

How many of us have questioned the validity of our elections process after we've seen an obviously more qualified candidate suffer defeat at the hands of a candidate who rode his or her significant connections into office?

Sadly, in Southwest Georgia we're more likely to see candidates elected to office primarily because of their race, whether it be in a "majority this" or "majority that" district. Perhaps Smithville candidate David Bady's brutally honest take on why he decided to withdraw from the tiny Lee County municipality's recent mayoral race -- "I didn't want to split the black vote" -- should be adapted as the rallying cry for continued election reform in the state.

(It should be noted that Bady's statement, though shocking, is nothing new. The sentiment he expressed has been a political strategy employed by candidates of all races as far back as there has been politics. It's just that few have been willing to publicly make such a statement.)

When Peake's prefiled House Bill 682 actually comes up for discussion in the Legislature, I suggest our esteemed representatives and senators take the bill a step further. I propose that anyone who plans to run for office -- local, state or national -- be required to go into seclusion until the election is over. He or she should not be allowed to show his or her face to the public until the votes are counted.

Elections officials can take on the responsibility of contacting the 8 to 23 percent of voters who actually intend to cast ballots and provide them with information about the candidates. Said information can include only candidates' platform and answers to questions submitted by concerned citizens about issues that are pertinent to the campaign. Any candidate who leaks pictures -- or anything else that suggests race, gender, hairstyle, bank account figures, or fashion sense -- is automatically disqualified.

Any debates among candidates will be conducted in some type of online forum so that voters will be able to learn the candidates' qualifications through pointed questions but will not be swayed by such details as eye color, voice inflection, shoe size or entourage. Stupid TV campaign ads will be eliminated, as candidates will be allowed only to talk about the issues. Any candidate who chooses to attack his opponent rather than sell his own virtues will be disqualified.

And, since there will no longer be a party affiliation requirement, candidates will not feel an obligation to ignore their constituents' concerns in an effort to curry favor from special interest groups or to get in line for any of the political action committee brib ... err ... donations currently handed out freely to anyone who has a vote and no conscience.

If voters lack the intelligence to realize these slick candidates who prey on their fears and prejudices have nothing but their own -- and their party's -- selfish interests at heart, perhaps our Legislature can get them back on track by forcing them to vote for the most qualified candidate, not the one wearing the latest Halston dress. ...

Obviously, this proposal is not something that can be seriously considered. In addition to the fact that information about any candidate is readily available, there are about 27 Constitutional guarantees that would be violated by such action. And that's not a good thing. But wouldn't it be a nice change? How many of these political freeloaders who have turned public service into self-service would be able to stand up to such scrutiny?

Sadly, though, I think when it comes to politics in the 21st century, we can expect plenty more of the same. The only way for politicians to keep from biting the hand that feeds them, it seems, is to know what color that hand is and how much money is in it.

Email Carlton Fletcher at carlton.fletcheralbanyherald.com.