News - Political hot potatoes

Seven burning election questions

As we prepare to do our small-"d" democratic duty and vote, all we know for sure is that the election will take place on a Tuesday and no chads will be left hanging. Here are the seven burning questions to be answered Nov. 5:

1. Will the profligate taxers-and-spenders lose control of the Fulton County Commission?

With Republican Mike Kenn a prohibitive favorite against perennial candidate Dean Chronopoulos for the county chairmanship, the Democrats' best hope to prevent a GOP takeover is former Atlanta City Council President Robb Pitts. The irony is that Pitts, running against Republican Karen Handel for the at-large commission seat, was painted as a closet Republican in his mayoral bid last year. On hopes a GOP majority would finally staunch the orgy of wasteful county spending. But even if Pitts wins, the fiscal conservatism that made him enemies at City Hall could still bring the Taj Mahal high rolling to an end.

2. Cathy Cox: Heroine or goat?

Our secretary of state opted to dispense with punch cards and debut new touch-screen electronic voting machines during a general election — quite a gamble, given that her very own name will be on the ballot. If things go south, as they recently did in Florida, Cox has given cranky voters an opportunity for an instant referendum on her pet project.

3. Will Democrats who sliced-and-diced during reapportionment get hoisted by their own petard?

How finely did Democrats draw the lines to maximize their numbers? Well, my parking place at home is in one state Senate district, where I sleep is in another, and I can peer into a third from my porch. Under the new U.S. House map, Democrats have a lock on four seats; Republicans, six. Thus, Democrats need to carry all three of the remaining competitive races to fulfill their plans for a 7-6 majority in the delegation.

Yet, in the 11th District, GOP state Sen. Phil Gingrey is running strongly against Roger Kahn. The 3rd District is also a horse race, and Democrats in the 12th District nominated their weakest potential candidate: Champ Walker, the son of ethically challenged Senate Majority Leader Charles Walker.

In the battle for the state House, Minority Leader Lynn Westmoreland vowed to take the Democrats' gerrymandered map and beat them with it. To make good, his forces must carry 43 of 70 contested seats, about 60 percent. Doable, but don't bet the kids' lunch money.

Republicans have a better chance on the Senate side, where they need to win 16 of 28 contested seats, many in conservative areas outside metro Atlanta. Another Democratic reapportionment strategy was creating multi-member House districts like the 42nd, a four-seat monstrosity sweeping from Sandy Springs through Buckhead to Morningside, then pooching out into DeKalb County. It was designed to smother northside GOP strength with a sea of intown Democrats.

But Republicans are contesting all four seats, and two of them, Stan Matarazzo (running against Rep. Kathy Ashe) and Mike Crifasi (running against Rep. Pat Gardner) are running ads on cable television trying to tie the incumbents to punitive taxes and the fiscal wreckage at Atlanta City Hall. The jury is still out on whether those charges will stick, but Fulton Republicans have used the tax-relief issue to attract enough Atlanta champagne liberals for a 12-year lock on the county chairmanship.

4. Will the recent spate of scandals and missteps haunt Gov. Roy Barnes?

Misdeeds at the parole board, conflicts of interest by officials making decisions on the Northern Arc and the diversion of money from Ga. 400 tolls have all reinforced the Republicans' longstanding complaint that a one-party state provides insufficient checks and balances. This argument hasn't moved voters in the past; Republicans hope recent negative headlines give it legs.

5. Will the balance finally tip in favor of Sandy Springs city-hood?

Thanks to gerrymandering, eight members of the Fulton House delegation will now represent parts of Sandy Springs, as opposed to just two under the old map. Six other members of the delegation are North Fulton Republicans who support incorporation. That's 14 potential "yes" votes, out of 22 in the delegation — enough to push incorporation to the House floor after more than two decades of trying.

6. Will House Speaker Tom Murphy finally join the rest of the dinosaurs?

If he weren't the wiliest fox in the briar patch, Murphy wouldn't have a chance to win another term in a district that's morphed into Bob Barr country. But he is the wiliest fox in the briar patch.

7. Despite copious evidence to the contrary, will: Max Cleland convince voters he's a moderate; Roy Barnes convince voters he's a reformer; Mark Taylor convince voters he's a finicky eater?

Possibly. Probably. Not a prayer.


Richard Shumate is a writer in Buckhead, where he enjoys playing three-district Frisbee.??

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