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Editorial: Governor's race sidetracked by primary diversions
Statewide candidates pander to voters’ emotions on issues that aren’t affected by offices they seek
0903 At-Large Voting
Voters enter the Gainesville Civic Center to cast their ballot at the Gainesville I precinct on Nov. 5, 2013. - photo by Scott Rogers

Good news: Primary day is Tuesday, so the robocalls, yard signs and political ads are just a few days away from going back into mothballs.

Bad news: That’s a long two days, and if there’s a runoff, it’ll all crank up again through July.

Another long primary season comes to a head as Georgians go to the polls Tuesday to select party nominees for national, statewide and local offices for the Nov. 6 ballot. As always, the rhetoric has been harsh and imaginary lines of civility have long since been crossed.

The current Republican contest for governor may be an all-timer when it comes to jumping the shark. Whether it’s “Deportation Bus” fiascos, leveling shotguns at young men or crawling through obstacle courses, the antics and ads have one-upped each other for wackiness.

It’s not new that politicians are eager to get voters’ attention with entertaining messages. What is a bit more disconcerting is what seems to be a lack of serious debate over issues that matter at the state level.

Candidates are often guilty of throwing smoke and discussing aspects of their character, personal life and beliefs and issues that aren’t directly tied to their jobs. With their emphasis on entertaining stunts and showy ads, campaigns seem to show what candidates think of voters and what inspires them. 

Specifically, in an effort to mirror Donald Trump’s populist pitch and cast “career politicians” as the enemy of reform, they stoke up the flames over red-flag, red meat topics that aren’t the main focus of state government.

At a debate Thursday in Atlanta, GOP candidates hardly touched on such key issues as education or economic expansion. Instead, it was all about guns, immigration and which of them is most closely aligned with the president.

No doubt many hard-line Republican voters are strongly motivated by those topics, but they are best addressed at the national level by Congress, the White House and the courts. The legislature and governor can only tinker around the edges, not solve those issues for good.

For instance, when a candidate for governor says, “I won’t take your guns,” it’s true, but only because no governor is able to do so.

What most Georgians expect from state leaders are good schools, a growing economy, safe communities, effective transportation and a budget that balances taxes and spending. 

While those may seem mundane compared to cocking a shotgun or crawling up a rope wall, the day-to-day needs of basic governance are vastly underrated at campaign time but sorely missed when they are not addressed.

Gov. Nathan Deal, a professional career politician himself, is leaving office after eight years of attracting industries and jobs to Georgia that have pumped up the state’s economy. In recent legislative sessions, overdue attention was given to fully funding schools, creating new transit options and setting budget priorities. 

Those subjects may not sizzle in a TV ad or lend themselves to clever metaphors with props, but it’s what makes the state’s engine hum. In that sense, being “professional” is a compliment no one should refuse.

For their part, the Democratic gubernatorial candidates are sniping at each other just as hard as the GOP crowd, often through the strain of a racial divide, though they’re mostly discussing issues a governor can affect: Education, the HOPE Scholarship and Medicaid. Agree or disagree, at least they’re on point. 

Yet their party seems more tuned to how the statewide races will play nationally, based on their obsession with everything Trump, which has led to endorsements and money flowing in from outside the state.

Georgia needs a strong governor, not a preacher, not a showboat, not a national figure. If the people seeking that job are more focused on immigration, guns and the White House than Georgia’s substantive issues, they should run for another office and leave the statehouse to people who understand what work needs to be done there.

Beyond the hype from the statewide races are more substantive races close to home for U.S. Congress, state legislature, county commissioner (North Hall and South Hall posts) and school board. Candidates for these posts don’t live in mansions or ride in limos, but their actions affect local taxes, budgets, growth policies and education. Their feet are on the ground, and they run not for glory but to serve, and deserve as much or more attention as given to those seeking higher office.

In all races, voters need to cut through the hype, put aside identity politics and realize what each job they’re filling on the ballot entails, then select people qualified for that job. If you’re hiring someone to fix your roof, you don’t care what a roofer thinks about plumbing, nor what church they attend, how many dogs they have, how fast they can swim or crawl through mud or how cute their kids are. You want someone who knows how to fix a roof for a decent price, period. 

In other words, a professional. Flashy amateurs may put stars in some voters’ eyes, but can they get the job done right?

Elections are job interviews for government posts; you’re the employer and the candidates are the applicants. When someone applies for a job, they need to focus on what they plan to do in that job, not a different one they may seek years down the road.

It’s a shame national politics has veered away from serious debate in recent elections, and that has set the tone for state races to now do the same. It’s up to voters to reclaim some sanity by choosing candidates who appeal to our better angels, not our worst instincts.

Share your thoughts on this or any other topic in a letter to the editor; you can use this form or send email to The Times editorial board includes General Manager Norman Baggs, Editor Keith Albertson and Managing Editor Shannon Casas, plus community members Susan DeCrescenzo, Cathy Drerup and Brent Hoffman.