published Sunday, May 18th, 2014

Georgia voters go to polls Tuesday

READY TO VOTE?

Polling precincts across Georgia will be open to voters from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. on Tuesday for the 2014 primary election. Voters should bring with them any valid state or federal government-issued photo ID.

Types of valid photo ID:

• A Georgia’s driver’s license, even if expired

• Valid employee photo ID from any branch, department, agency, or entity of the U.S. government, Georgia, or any county, municipality, board, authority or other entity of this state

• Valid U.S. passport

• Valid U.S. military photo ID

• Valid tribal photo ID

Individuals can verify their polling location by visiting the secretary of state’s My Voter Page at www.mvp.sos.ga.gov. A free mobile app can be downloaded on the Apple and Android smart phone platforms. Search for “GA Votes” in the app store.

— Source: Georgia secretary of state

Will Georgia make history and elect a woman to serve in the U.S. Senate for the first time?

Can the Democratic Party retake the governor’s office?

Should recreational marijuana be legal in Whitfield County, putting the Dalton area, the “carpet capital of the world,” in the same category as Colorado where residents can legally buy an ounce of pot?

Those are some questions that will begin to be answered Tuesday, when Georgia voters take to the polls for the earliest primary in the state’s history.

The suspense should only build, since no clear winner is likely to emerge in the seven-way Republican primary race for U.S. Senate to fill the seat vacated by retiring Republican U.S. Sen. Saxby Chambliss. The GOP primary is likely to produce a July 22 run-off between the top two Republican vote-getters, since none of the seven is expected to garner more than 50 percent of the vote.

The front-runners are thought to be David Perdue, the former CEO of Dollar General and a cousin of former Gov. Sonny Perdue; Karen Handel, a former secretary of state and 2010 gubernatorial candidate; and Jack Kingston, who has served since 1993 representing Georgia’s 1st U.S. Congressional District that includes Savannah, according to a poll conducted last week for Handel’s campaign.

A large win is expected Tuesday for Democrat Michelle Nunn, the daughter of former Democratic U.S. Sen. Sam Nunn, who represented Georgia for 24 years. She leads her three opponents in fundraising and polling.

The Georgia race for U.S. Senate has drawn national media attention, as pundits try to predict whether the Senate will slip from the Democrats’ control.

“We’ve considered Georgia to be the best opportunity for the Democrats to pick up a Republican seat, and over the past several weeks, it has been looking like less of a long shot,” Josh Katz, a writer for the New York Times’ website UpShot, wrote last week.

If Nunn wins, she’d be the first Georgia woman elected to the U.S. Senate. Rebecca Latimer Felton was Georgia’s first and only female senator. She was appointed to the Senate for 24 hours in 1922, by then-Gov. Thomas Hardwick, who sought to curry the favor of women voters who had just won the right to vote two years earlier.

The Democratic Party also has high hopes for Democratic gubernatorial candidate state Sen. Jason Carter, the grandson of former President and Georgia Gov. Jimmy Carter. Polls show Carter, who’s running unopposed, in a tight race with incumbent Gov. Nathan Deal.

Deal has to fend off Republican challengers David Pennington, the former mayor of Dalton, Ga., and Georgia Superintendent of Schools John Barge.

Deal has statewide name recognition, and he had about $4 million in his campaign war chest at the end of March, compared to Pennington’s $200,000 and Barge’s $15,000. But Pennington, a tea party favorite, thinks a low voter turnout Tuesday may help him get into a run-off with Deal, since conservative voters are likely to vote and back him, he said.

County races

Democrats and Republicans are allowed to put nonbinding straw poll questions on the primary ballot. Democrats in Northwest Georgia can expect to see a handful of questions that the party asked statewide, including whether Georgia should raise the state minimum wage above $5.15 an hour.

The Whitfield County Democratic Party added six questions of its own, the first of which is “Should the State of Georgia legalize the possession of less than one ounce of marijuana for adults 21 and older?”

Legalizing recreational marijuana would be a big step in Whitfield County, where blue laws prohibit Sunday sales of beer and wine in the county’s unincorporated areas.

The purpose of the straw poll questions, said party Chairman John Anthony, is to gauge the opinions of Whitfield County Democrats “to see how close they come to national Democrats.”

“We think that … they’re probably a little further to the right than the national Democratic Party,” Anthony said.

Two Whitfield County Commission seats are open. District 1 features a four-way race among Republicans Nicky Starling, Barry Robbins, Cody Holloway and Renee Davis. For County Commission District 3, Republican Roger Krossen runs unopposed. The Whitfield County school board has competitive Republican primary races. In District 2, Rodney Locke faces Jamie Johnson. For the at-large school board seat, incumbent Republican Bill Worley is being challenged by Brian Fossett.

In Catoosa County, the Republican Party is upset over the school board’s vote in July to raise property taxes. It posed straw poll questions asking if county school board races should be partisan, held in November, and whether the school superintendent should be elected directly by voters — though the latter would require a change in the state constitution.

Catoosa County voters also will choose from among four Republicans running for county commissioner. No Democrats qualified, so the primary will decide who serves. Incumbent District 4 Commissioner Dewayne Hill faces challenger Ray Johnson. Incumbent District 2 Commissioner Bobby Winters is running against Fred Loyd.

Walker County voters will be asked whether to allow liquor by the drink in restaurants and eating establishments in the county’s unincorporated areas. Voters also will be able to decide whether to levy a quarter mill of property tax to fund the operation of the public library system.

“I’m optimistic,” Cherokee Regional Library System Director Lecia Eubanks said. “I really think our library supporters and library users are going to come out in a big way Tuesday.”

The dedicated millage would roughly double the funding the library system gets from Walker County, she said, from $158,000 annually to between $300,000 to $350,000. The money would help the library do such things as restore operating hours that were cut, Eubanks said. The library would continue to seek funds from city governments and the county school system.

Dade County voters will decide whether to renew for another six years the special purpose local option sales tax (SPLOST) of 1 cent per dollar of sales, to generate $13.6 million for items such as road projects and public safety vehicles.

County Democratic straw poll questions will ask if the county should provide more funding to maintain the Dade County Library being open a full 45-hour week and whether the county, the city of Trenton, and the Dade County school board all share responsibility for funding the library.

Dade County voters also will choose between Republican candidates for County Commission. Three Republicans entered the District 1 race: Mitchell Smith, Terry Phillips and Lamar Lowery. In District 2, incumbent Republican Scottie Pittman faces a challenge from Nathan Baker. For the Dade County schools board, incumbent District 1 Republican Cindy Shaw is running unopposed but in November will face whichever Democrat wins in the race between Ronald Baldwin and Jane Dixon. The District 2 school board race has three Republicans: Summer Lawson Kelley, Jennifer Hartline and Larry G. Williams.

Regional races

In the race for District 53 state Senate, which includes all of Dade, Walker and Catoosa counties and northern Chattooga County, incumbent Republican Jeff Mullis faces a challenge from Republican Thomas Dooley. In State Senate District 54, which includes all of Whitfield and Murray counties and eastern Gordon County, incumbent Sen. Charlie Bethel will run unopposed.

Three incumbent Republican Northwest Georgia state representatives face primary challengers. In District 1, which includes all of Dade County and the western half of Walker County, first-term incumbent John Deffenbaugh faces Robert Goff and Alan Painter. The winner will face Democrat Thomas McMahan in November. District 2 state representative incumbent Steve Tarvin is being challenged by L.E. “Ebeth” Edwards and Rebecca Ann Brown to represent parts of Whitfield, Catoosa and Walker counties. In District 6, which includes the northern half of Whitfield and Murray counties, incumbent state Rep. T.S. “Tom” Dickson faces Sarah I. Fields.

In U.S. Congressional District 14, which includes 11 1/2 counties in Northwest Georgia, incumbent Republican J.T. “Tom” Graves of Ranger faces challenger Kenneth L. Herron Sr.

Contact staff writer Tim Omarzu at tomarzu@timesfreepress.com, twitter.com/TimOmarzu or 423-757-6651.

about Tim Omarzu...

Tim Omarzu covers Catoosa and Walker counties for the Times Free Press. Omarzu is a longtime journalist who has worked as a reporter and editor at daily and weekly newspapers in Michigan, Nevada and California. Stories he's covered include crime in blighted parts of metro Detroit and Reno, Nev.; environmental activists tree-sitting in California's Sierra Nevada foothills; attempts by the Michigan Militia to take over a township¹s government in northern Michigan. A native of Michigan, ...

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