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Taking partisan out of elections
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One of my favorite television shows of all time is “The Andy Griffith Show.”  

How could you not love that show? Everything seemed so genuine in Mayberry with Sheriff Andy Taylor, Deputy Barney Fife, Aunt Bee, Opie, Gomer, Otis,  the whole gang.  

But lately I’ve been bothered by something — was Sheriff Andy Taylor a Republican or a Democrat?

As I remember, Mayberry was in North Carolina, where, like Georgia and 38 other states, sheriffs’ elections are partisan races.  

That’s right — 40 states that elect sheriffs have partisan races meaning that the candidates have to run as a Republican or a Democrat.

In fact, only six states have non-partisan elections for sheriff.  Interestingly, the only state to appoint their sheriffs is Rhode Island, where the governor has that responsibility.

Three states — Alaska, Connecticut and Hawaii — don’t have sheriffs. (One can easily understand Alaska not needing a sheriff since they have Gov. Sarah Palin)

But why are sheriffs’ races required to run in partisan races?  

If a sheriff’s responsibility is to enforce the laws of the state or county in which he or she is elected, does it really matter what their political preferences are? One could understand if they were policy makers or law makers, but their responsibility is to enforce laws, not make laws.

In a few states, such as Arkansas and Texas, the sheriff also serves as the tax commissioner.   

Here in Georgia, we elect our tax commissioners separately. Their responsibility is to collect taxes such as ad valorem taxes for the state of Georgia, the county governing authority, the school system and some city taxes.  

Like sheriffs, they are charged with the responsibility of carrying out the laws and not making the laws. But in Georgia, like sheriffs, they are required to declare a party before they run for office.  

Is a Republican tax commissioner less likely to aggressively pursue a delinquent taxpayer than a Democratic tax commissioner?  Does one presume that taxes will be more in their county if they vote for a Democratic tax commissioner as opposed to the Republican candidate?   

Sound ludicrous? Maybe it is.

Currently Georgia law does not allow counties to vote to make their sheriff or tax commissioner races non-partisan.   

School boards, city councils and unified county-city governments can be elected non–partisan if a county so chooses, yet county commissioners must declare a party.

One can certainly make the argument that county commissioners should declare parties since they set millage rates and make policy decisions, but what about city councils and unified county-city governments?  They have the same powers and responsibilities as county commissions yet they don’t have to run in partisan races.

In 2004, during our first year in the legislature, Rep. Bob Bryant (a Democrat) and myself (a Republican) introduced and passed local legislation changing the Savannah-Chatham County school system to a non-partisan body. Many business leaders in the Savannah area felt that qualified candidates were hesitant to run because of having to declare a political party. Evidently they were right since the next election cycle saw 16 candidates running for five seats.

During the upcoming 2009 legislative session, I will be sponsoring legislation to allow counties to make sheriffs, tax commissioners and county commissioners non-partisan positions if they so choose. While I realize the necessity of party affiliation at the state and federal levels and while I remain committed to the ideals of my own party, I recognize that some offices may be better served in a non-partisan position.

However, I’m still looking for the answer — was Sheriff Andy Taylor a Republican or a Democrat?