County Chairman Tim Lee, who is fighting for his political career against three challengers in Tuesday’s Republican primary, may also be affected by his ties to the TSPLOST referendum, which will also be on the ballot that day.
Kennesaw Mayor Mark Mathews, who served on the 21-member Atlanta Regional Roundtable with Lee to develop the project list in October, doesn’t believe the TSPLOST will play much of a role in Lee’s re-election chances.
“The competition that he has, they’re all pretty extreme in their positions, whether it be on TSPLOST or taxes or anything else,” said Mathews, who has endorsed Lee. “Most voters are kind of beyond extreme candidates.”
While he easily won re-election in November, Mathews said the TSPLOST opposition had not yet crystallized.
“It was much less of a factor in my race because the sides — for and against — had not gotten organized at that time,” he said. “It was still very early.”
Former Cobb GOP Chairman Scott Johnson, who has not endorsed anyone in the race, also doesn’t believe TSPLOST will prevent Lee’s re-election.
“There were people that were predicting it was going to be doom and gloom for (Mathews), and he was overwhelmingly re-elected,” Johnson said.
But state Rep. Sharon Cooper (R-east Cobb), who is not endorsing a candidate, believes the TSPLOST will hurt Lee.
“The people that are against it are so adamantly against it, and with some very good reasons,” Cooper said. “They were led to believe that the majority of the projects would help with traffic congestion, and instead money was diverted to light rail or bus transit, and they’ve lost their trust.”
Cooper said while some believe the anti-Lee vote will be diluted because of a split between Byrne, Mike Boyce and Larry Savage, she believes Lee and Boyce will face each other in a run-off.
“My feeling is that, although (Larry Savage) is a very knowledge candidate, he doesn’t seem to have gotten any traction, and I think that Chairman Lee has done everything possible to discredit Bill Byrne, and that that could certainly hurt our former commissioner, and it actually could come down to just two candidates, and that would be Mike Boyce, who has an excellent, excellent background and record of leadership, and the commissioner,” Cooper said.
And the traditional belief is that anytime an incumbent has a runoff, he is in trouble, she said.
“Certainly if Bill Byrne doesn’t make the runoff because of what Tim Lee has done to him, his voters are never going to go to Tim Lee,” Cooper said. “In fact, they are probably going to be so motivated to go out and vote for whoever the opponent is, it will be unbelievable.”
Former Cobb Board of Education chairwoman Betty Gray of Mableton, who also is not endorsing anyone, also believes the TSPLOST will play a role in the election
“There’s the connection with the TSPLOST and how each of (the four candidates) has defined their position on that, and for seniors in my area, that’s going to define it,” Gray said. “If you divided it out, the seniors in this area are going to be ‘no’ for the TSPLOST. I think it’s hard to see what a penny does when there are a number of people without jobs.”
Like Cooper and Gray, former county chairman Earl Smith, who is voting for Lee, believes the TSPLOST will hurt Lee at the ballot box.
“I don’t think it will help him, especially in the western district,” Smith said.
For one, it’s a tax increase, Smith said.
“It’s kind of like Obama healthcare,” Smith said of the TSPLOST. “We passed the legislation, and then we’ll decide what’s in it once you passed it. I do believe some of people have a little bit of difficulty that the people in Cobb County are not going to have control of how the money is going to be spent and what projects will ultimately be built, and I think that’s still loose.”
Brian Noyes, a lobbyist with Brock Clay Government and Public Affairs, said endorsements and connections are not always in people’s thoughts when they vote.
“There’s a universe of voters who are going there who are specifically Tim Lee voters or specifically Bill Byrne voters who are not going to be connecting the TSPLOST to any of this stuff,” said Noyes, who is supporting Lee.
An unknown factor is what the daily commuter ends up deciding, he said.
“We all know the local activists and where they stand,” Noyes said. “I just don’t know if the commuter voice is going to be heard at this level or not.”
Noyes said there is a high probability of a runoff between Lee and Byrne.
“Ronald Reagan used to say you have the principle of three in elections, and that is a voter remembers three things about you … and one of those has to be your name,” he said. “That’s why an incumbent usually has an advantage.”
Smith also said that while Lee has the edge in the race, a runoff is likely.
“I thought Bill Byrne was going to be the strongest of the other candidates because he has the county-wide connection, and of course the western part of the county is prone to vote for some of the issues he supported, but I don’t know, you get signs of Mike Boyce, a lot of people like him,” Smith said.
Cobb GOP Chairman Joe Dendy, who is not taking a position on the four Republican candidates or the TSPLOST so as not to divide the Republican Party, believes the TSPLOST will play a significant role in determining the next county chairman, although whether it ends up helping or hurting Lee isn’t clear.
“It’s hard to tell with the kind of money that’s being spent on promoting the acceptance of the TSPLOST,” Dendy said. “Many of the electors wait until the last two weeks to make up their mind on who they’re going to vote for and what they’re going to vote for and base their decision a lot on TV commercials. That’s an unfortunate thing, but that’s how so many Americans base their decision on TV commercials, but they do, and that’s why you see heavy money being spent. … Yet the grassroots efforts of the anti-TSPLOST folks is extremely strong. We’ve seen here in Georgia many times that the grassroots wins out over the big money.”
Lee’s own position on the TSPLOST subject has been somewhat complicated.
After voting in favor of the TSPLOST list in October, he said, “I did the right thing.” Also in October, Commissioner Bob Ott said in a talk to the Madison Forum that Lee had blocked the Board of Commissioners from taking a position on or even discussing the 10-year transportation tax or the list of proposed projects.
Earlier this month, the Journal asked the five commissioners how each would vote on the subject. Ott and JoAnn Birrell said they were voting no, Woody Thompson didn’t respond to the question, Helen Goreham said to list her in the “undecided/no answer” category, while Lee answered the question this way: “Chairman Lee felt that his vote, how he voted was one he didn’t want to share, but he supports the referendum and the people’s choice to decide their future.”
Then on Tuesday, Lee sat on the front row for a “Get out the Vote” TSPLOST rally in Smyrna in which Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed and former Gov. Roy Barnes urged voters to vote for the tax hike. But Lee didn’t speak at the lectern with Reed, Barnes, Mathews and Smyrna Mayor Max Bacon.
(Reprinted from the Marietta Daily Journal, July 28, 2012. Written by Jon Gillooly. Read more: The Marietta Daily Journal – Will TSPLOST torpedo Tim )