We wish we could report that the state primary ballot this July will be filled with contested races, a field of diverse and talented candidates and a slew of choices for voters to pick from.
We wish we could observe that the excitement about election-year politics at the local level matches what we're seeing in the nation's compelling presidential campaign.
We'd like to see a ballot with candidates and races that will spark record turnout at the polls, both on July 15 when the nominees in state and local races are decided, and again Nov. 4 when the final outcomes will be settled.
We want to see voters who are engaged and excited, asking tough questions at forums and debates and poring over the candidates' backgrounds and qualifications. We want young voters and other novice participants to be caught up in the thrill of our democratic process as they cast ballots for the first time.
We wish we could. But we can't.
Truth is, the local ballot we'll get in July offers limited choices, a scant handful of contested races and a free pass back into office for most incumbents. Voters are left to send the same folks back into office and hope for a better result.
That's not just the case here in Hall County, either, but in many areas of Georgia. More than half of the members of the General Assembly face no opposition this year, either from their own party or from across the aisle, in their re-election bids. This despite the fact that many Georgians have expressed their dissatisfaction with the legislature's performance in recent years.
Republican voters have seen leaders of their party squabble among themselves in a bitter, public debate over tax cuts and other issues, undermining their claim as the majority party that offers a departure from the state's history of political wrangling.
And Democrats find themselves entrenched in the minority with little power or influence and no end to that status in sight, despite the fact that their party's presidential race has stirred up interest and that Democratic voters in the March presidential primary outnumbered GOP voters statewide.
For whatever reason, whether it's bottom up or top down, our state can't get enough qualified people to run for local office. This is a shame. A spirited campaign is what makes an election worth our time and effort. Candidates who are engaged in a meaningful debate on the issues will make themselves better-known to voters. They are more accessible, more in tune with the needs of their constituents and ultimately become better public servants.
Conversely, those who breeze back into office without a care might feel less of a need to stay in touch with the folks at home. They are more likely to put their own political ambitions and the needs of special interests ahead of regular folks, whose support they no longer need to hold office. If you only need to show up and vote for yourself to win, why bother reaching out to voters?
It says something that in Hall County the most contested race is for a job that has seldom received much interest: clerk of courts. Three candidates (Charles Baker, Jennifer Gibbs and Bob Vass) are seeking to replace Dwight Wood, who chose not to run again after 24 years in office. That office became newsworthy over public concerns about passport fees Wood legally was keeping for himself. Without that revelation, that post likely wouldn't have been on anyone's radar.
Other than that, the list of red-hot races is pretty short. There are two contested races on the Hall County Board of Commissioners: Chris Masters facing incumbent Billy Powell for the Post 2 seat, and Ashley Bell taking on District 4 Commissioner Deborah Mack. Both are intraparty battles: Masters and Powell both are Republicans, Mack and Bell both Democrats. So while voters will have choices on the July ballot in those races, they won't have them in November.
What's also a shame is the lack of diversity on the ballot. The only nonwhite candidates running for local office are Bell and Mack, and they seek the same seat. And of the 27 candidates seeking local office, only four are women.
Sheriff Steve Cronic is unopposed for a third term. Also running with no opposition are Hall Commission Chairman Tom Oliver and school board members Nath Morris and Craig Herrington.
In the legislature races, only Rep. James Mills drew an opponent, Democrat Christopher Strickland. Republican Reps. Carl Rogers, Tommy Benton and Doug Collins and Sen. Lee Hawkins only need one vote apiece to head back to the Capitol next January.
U.S. Rep. Nathan Deal will face an opponent in November, Democrat Jeff Scott. And there are a handful of Democrats vying for the right to face incumbent Republican Sen. Saxby Chambliss in November.
It's not to say any of these officeholders has done a poor job. Each earned the respect of voters to gain office in the first place, and all work hard to represent their constituents. But each of them could serve more effectively if they faced strong election challenges from qualified rivals in a tough, substantive campaign.
Most importantly, voters need a choice. If we want more of our neighbors to turn out and take part in the process, we need to give them a reason to do so. Voting takes time; doing it right means investing an effort to learn about the candidates so we can make the proper choice.
But when so few candidates are running, why bother? It's like going to a restaurant that offers only one entree; pretty soon, you'll get tired of it and just stay home.
We urge local Republican and Democratic party leaders to work harder to recruit new candidates for office at all levels. Our businesses, schools and community organizations are chock full of smart, successful, strong-willed leaders who can meet a budget, solve problems and express their ideas capably. If we could persuade a few more of them to bring their talents to the public sector, it would make our elections more meaningful and offer a chance to pump fresh new blood into the halls of government.
Until that happens, we're left to cast votes for one lone ranger after another in jobs that decide the future of our neighborhoods, our schools, our economic and tax policy and our nation's security. That's not what our representative democracy is supposed to be about.