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Get ready for turnover in state offices
Election low on incumbents means voters will get change
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Like it or not, change is coming.

No matter what voters decide this election season, a majority of the statewide seats on the ballot this year won’t have the same people returning to office.

Of the 10 statewide offices on the ballot for the July 20 primary, only two — lieutenant governor and U.S. senator — have incumbents seeking re-election.

That does not include the secretary of state race, in which Brian Kemp is seeking election to a full term after he was appointed when Karen Handel stepped down early to run for governor.

According to Dick Pettys, editor of the subscription-based political website Insider Advantage Georgia, Georgia hasn’t seen a race like this since 1998.

“This is a fairly profound turnover we’re going to be seeing,” Pettys said. “This is a huge, huge turnover in terms of experience.”

Voters have gotten used to familiar names on the ballot. For instance, Agriculture Commissioner Tommy Irvin has become an institution, serving in the post since 1969. But Irvin, 80, is retiring, and three candidates, two Republicans and a Democrat, are looking to fill his shoes.

New faces in state government may be just what the public wants.

“I think that voters are angry, and they want some degree of change, so it’s as good a time as any to be a challenger or running for an open seat,” said Ross Alexander, a political science professor at North Georgia College and State University in Dahlonega. “And it’s a tough time to be an incumbent.”

However, such a high degree of change means voters need to learn about the candidates before casting their ballots.

“For those who go into the voting booth unprepared, it’s going to be a rude awakening,” Pettys said. “They won’t know a lot of the people unless they happen to hear something about them on TV or radio.”

Alexander said this lack of name recognition might lead voters to cast their votes along party lines in the general election, but he said the primary — in which all candidates are from the same party — is a different story.

“Voters don’t know who these people are,” Alexander said. “If they’re all the same party, that makes it pretty tough.”

Despite lacking experience in the positions they are seeking, the candidates don’t come to the table without familiarity with government, said Douglas Young, a political science professor at Gainesville State College in Oakwood.

“The people we’re talking about here have long public service records,” he said.

And after the fresh faces take office?

According to Pettys, it might take some time for the newcomers to get into the groove of their new positions.

“They’ll make mistakes that folks who have held office before wouldn’t have made,” he said. “But that’s par for the course in any office, whether it’s political or private.”