ELECTION NOTEBOOK; Sheriff, D.A. running unopposed: Mr. Chandler retiring from School Board


Two o'clock rolled around Friday afternoon, and that was a wrap on qualifying for the 2024 election.

The local Democrat party had a folding table at the courthouse all week, as did the Baldwin County Republican Party.

Three candidates, however, chose to qualify as independents, wanting no part of the present-day political polarization of the parties.

Sheriff W.C "Bill" Massee, Jr. will run unopposed for the seventh straight election. Massee is poised to become the longest-serving active sheriff in Georgia beginning next year. The current holder of that title – Houston County Sheriff Cullen Talton – previously announced that he wouldn't seek a 14th term in 2024. Massee was first elected in 1988, defeating incumbent Louie Arrington with 58 percent of the vote. In the past, challenging Massee has not exactly been a great idea or a winning proposition. In 2004, Republican challenger Bob Williams received a mere 22 percent of the vote against Massee. In 2000, which was Williams' first try, he tallied 19 percent. Also that year, Massee had a challenger in the general election. That challenger – Bruce Specht – garnered only 21 percent against Massee. Finally, in 1996, Stann Lynn recorded 16 percent of the vote against Massee in the primary, while Allen Martin, Jr. managed a mere 14 percent in the general election.

Tax Commissioner Cathy Freeman Settle also is running without oppossition. Settle, who's been on the job since 1995, more recently oversaw the Tax Commissioner's Office's transition from the downtown courthouse to the new Carrington Woods annex.

Interim Clerk of Superior Court Wanda Paul was the third candidate to qualify as an independent. Paul previously worked in the Clerk's office between 1981 to 2004. She then came back after Mitch Longino was suspended and ultimately decided to retire. Paul also is running unopposed.

Also without competition are three incumbent county commissioners – District 1's Emily Davis, District 2's Kendrick Butts and District 3's Sammy Hall. Butts and Davis are Democrats and Hall a Republican.

This means that a "Davis" will have represented District 1 for more than 40 years. Oscar Davis became the first African-American county commissioner in Baldwin County in 1984 after serving as the plaintiff in a prior civil rights/voting rights lawsuit. Davis' wife – Geneva Bell Davis – then began representing the district following her husband's death. Emily Davis, meanwhile, was first elected in 2008 and is poised to serve a fifth term.

Butts, meanwhile, was first elected in 2020 after then-incumbent Tommy French decided to get out of politics. After a relatively rocky start, Butts has become a consensus builder and effective commissioner.

The county commission election in the two "northside districts" will be more interesting, however. Three names emerged in District 4 – Carol Bellew, Andrew Strickland and Jack "Jay" Wright. Each is looking to replace Henry Craig, who is not running for re-election. All three are Republicans, and no Democrats qualified in District 4. In other words, District 4's next commissioner will come from the pool of Bellew, Strickland and Wright.

Three Republicans and zero Democrats also qualified in District 5, including incumbent Johnny Westmoreland. Challenging Westmoreland in the May primary will be Scott Little and Pam Peacock.

Despite not being extremely popular with defense attorneys in Milledgeville and generally being viewed as "stern," Solicitor General Skye Gess is guaranteed a second term after no challengers emerged. Gess has been Baldwin County's solicitor general since December 2018, and she was appointed by Gov. Brian Kemp following the death of longtime officeholder Maxine Blackwell.

Also ensured of a second term is District Attorney T. Wright Barksdale. Barksdale was 33 when he became the youngest D.A. in Georgia back in 2020. Then-District Attorney Steve Bradley announced in January of that year that he would not seek re-election, instead opting to run for Superior Court judge. Bradley was first appointed to District Attorney after Bright became sick in 2015. Bradley then ran unopposed in 2016. Bright was first elected during a special election in 2003, defeating Jim Cline, who'd been the interim District Attorney for three months following the resignation of Joe Briley, a man who'd served as D.A. of the Ocmulgee Judicial Circuit for more than 20 years.

In the nonpartisan elections, meanwhile, School Board member Lyn "Mr. Chandler" Chandler is not running for re-election. Chandler was the longtime principal at Baldwin High and has served multiple terms on the School Board since retiring as principal. Two candidates are attempting to replace Chandler – Dylan Amerson and Beverly Rayford. Meanwhile, incumbents Shannon B. Hill and John Noah Jackson will not face opposition.

Probate Judge Todd Blackwell also will run unopposed. The probate judge in Baldwin County also doubles as elections superintendent, which was a relatively obscure job around Georgia until 2020, when all of a sudden it wasn't anymore.

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