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Tom Crawford: Elected officials should fill their terms or pay a price
09282017 STATE CAPITOL
Georgia's state Capitol in Atlanta. - photo by Associated Press

On Nov. 7, elections will be held in Atlanta and many other cities across Georgia as voters elect such local officials as a mayor and city council members.

That is as it should be. Municipal elections in Georgia are usually held in odd-numbered years like this one.

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But on that same day in November, there will also be special elections held in at least nine legislative districts to elect new members to the Georgia Senate and House of Representatives.

That is not as it should be. The Georgia Constitution provides that legislative elections will be held in even-numbered years; it also states that the members of the House and Senate will be elected “for a term of two years.”

For a growing number of lawmakers, the constitution is something that can be ignored. The new trend in Georgia politics is to get elected to the legislature and then quit halfway through your term so that you can run for something else or get a cushy job in state government. 

That’s why we have the unprecedented spectacle of nine legislative elections being held in November of this odd-numbered year.

In Forsyth County’s House District 26, Geoff Duncan said goodbye to his constituents because he decided he’d rather campaign full time for the Republican nomination for lieutenant governor.

In Atlanta’s House District 60, Keisha Waites quit so that she could run for chair of the Fulton County Commission. That office is vacant because John Eaves also quit midway through his term to run for mayor of Atlanta.

In Cobb County’s House District 42, Stacey Evans resigned so that she could campaign full time for the Democratic nomination for governor. In DeKalb County’s House District 89, Stacey Abrams also resigned to run full time for the Democratic nomination for governor.

In Clarke County’s House District 117, Regina Quick resigned after Gov. Nathan Deal appointed her to a judgeship.

In Oconee County’s House District 119, Chuck Williams quit because Deal appointed him head of the Georgia Forestry Commission.

In Senate District 6, Hunter Hill resigned so that he could run full time in the GOP primary for governor.

In Senate District 39, Vincent Fort quit to run for mayor of Atlanta.

The one lawmaker with a valid reason to resign his legislative seat was Bruce Broadrick in Northwest Georgia’s House District 4. Broadrick recently stepped down because he is dealing with some serious medical issues, so he alone doesn’t have to apologize about resigning early. The other incumbents, however, have left their constituents without representation and holding the bag to pay the costs of holding special elections.

In next year’s General Assembly session, each of these districts will be represented by newcomers who won’t have time to learn how things really work until the session is practically over. Their constituents will be deprived of the experience and seniority that the former incumbents had accumulated.

As an old lawmaker once remarked, “It took me my whole first term to even figure out where the men’s room was.”

There is nothing wrong with wanting to run for higher office. Ambition is part of every politician’s mental makeup.

But here’s the problem: Each of those incumbents knew they were running for a two-year term when they qualified to run last year. In each of their campaigns, the implicit promise was that they would serve that full term if they were elected.

Clearly, most of them knew they wanted to run for another office in 2017 or 2018. That being the case, they should have declined to run in 2016 if they couldn’t guarantee their constituents that they would serve out the full term. It’s just not fair to the people who voted for them.

I know this will never happen, but if I could pass one law, it would be this: Any incumbent officeholder who quits before their term has expired — with exceptions for medical issues — would be required to pay the entire cost of staging the special election to replace them.

It typically costs $100,000 or more to hold a legislative election. Let’s require the incumbent who leaves early to pay that amount out of their personal funds.

That would persuade people to stick around and keep the promises they make to their constituents. 

Tom Crawford is editor of The Georgia Report, email.

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