On Nov. 7, elections will be held in Atlanta and many other cities across Georgia as voters elect a mayor and city council members. That is as it should be. Municipal elections in Georgia are usually held in odd-numbered years.
But on that same day, there will also be special elections held in nine legislative districts to elect new members to the Georgia Senate and House of Representatives. That is not as it should be. The Constitution of Georgia provides that legislative elections will be held in even-numbered years. It also states and that members of the House and Senate will be elected “for a term of two years.”
The new trend in Georgia politics is to get elected to office and then quit halfway through your term so that you can run for something else. 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 quit because he decided he’d rather spend his full time campaigning in the Republican primary for lieutenant governor.
In Atlanta’s House District 60, Keisha Waites quit to 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 and DeKalb County’s House District 89, Stacey Evans and Stacey Abrams resigned to run full-time in the Democratic primary 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 to 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 give up their legislative seat was Bruce Broadrick in northwest Georgia’s House District 4. Broadrick is dealing with some serious medical issues, so he has a legitimate excuse to resign early. The other incumbents, however, have left their constituents holding the bag to pay the costs of holding a special election to replace them.
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. 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. The implicit promise was that they would serve that full term if they were elected.
I suspect that 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 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 political office-holder who quits early to run for another office or accept a government job should be required to pay the entire cost of staging the special election to replace them. That cost typically amounts to $100,000 or more for a legislative election. Make them pay it out of their personal funds. Perhaps that would persuade people to keep the promises they make to their constituents.