MARIETTA — Former county chairman candidate Larry Savage said he would campaign for Bill Byrne in the Aug. 21 runoff that will decide the next chairman if asked, while former candidate Mike Boyce said he would not be making an endorsement.
Voters sent Byrne and incumbent Tim Lee into the runoff in the Tuesday Republican primary race for county chairman. Lee led the pack with 29,024 votes, followed by Byrne, who received 19,388 votes, Boyce, who received 17,025 votes, and Savage, who received 7,662 votes. About 60 percent of all voters cast a ballot against Chairman Lee.
Savage said he would work to help Byrne get elected if Byrne wanted.
“Bill sees the same thing that I saw starting more than two years ago — that we have lost our direction, we have gone adrift to the left, we’ve become decidedly more liberal in our approach to local government, and we just can’t continue that unless we want to turn out like everybody else that’s ever tried it,” Savage said Thursday. “That’s a natural thing that governments do over time is tilt to the left. They provide more and more services to more and more people and ever smaller groups, and it never works in the long run, and the only way it seems that people get over that is they go all the way to the end and to failure, and then they get to reset and start over, and I think we ought to be smart enough to be able not to do that.”
Were it to come down to picking a next-door neighbor, Savage said he might choose Lee because, on a personal level, Lee is likable.
“But Tim, I don’t know if Tim even has a personal view about government or if he has any philosophy about government,” Savage said. “He gets his direction from other people, and those other people, they may be upstanding citizens and successful business people and all that sort of thing, but they are not tuned in or obligated or committed in any way to the best interests of the county at large. They’ve got other interests that are a lot more parochial, and that’s the direction that the county follows.”
However, Savage said this is not about electing a next-door neighbor.
“We’re not electing a homecoming queen,” Savage said. “We’re not electing someone to be nice. We’re electing someone to deal with issues. … We’re picking someone to run this local government, and it’s going to take somebody strong because we’ve got a Board of Commissioners that’s kind of been sitting back, taking it easy.”
Meanwhile, Boyce said he was staying out of the endorsement business.
“There’s no way I can support Chairman Lee because of his position on taxes, and … Bill Byrne from day one never had any consideration for our campaign, never gave it any value, so why would any endorsement from me mean anything to him?” Boyce said.
Boyce said the residents who voted for him will have to make up their own minds.
“Both these gentlemen (Byrne and Lee) are so divergent from what I was trying to campaign for,” Boyce said. “I was campaigning for a civilized, respectable, reasonable, mature approach to leading government. I didn’t believe in name-calling. That’s not who I represent, that’s not who I typify, and so I have some issues with that in regard with Bill.”
Lee had little to say about Savage supporting Byrne.
“They deserve each other,” Lee said.
As for Boyce not endorsing either Byrne or Lee, Lee said he respected that decision.
“Michael is one of those guys that actually had some integrity and character that I respect,” Lee said. “We disagree on some of the decisions I made, and I understand that, and I appreciate his point of view, and I appreciate his honesty in that regard. I would have preferred to have his endorsement, but I totally respect the fact that he won’t be endorsing either one of us.”
Lee wouldn’t reveal how much he intended to raise for the runoff, but said it wouldn’t need to be as much as the $360,000 he raised for the primary.
Lee also said he would continue to frame the race as Byrne being the candidate who wants to return Cobb to the past, while he wants to move Cobb into the future.
“I want to move the county forward with economic development, job growth, increased home values and a balanced budget that is sustainable and maintains our triple-AAA (bond rating) while providing quality services at a level citizens have come to expect, versus looking in the rear view mirror, getting stuck in the mud,” Lee said.
Byrne said Boyce was a terrific guy who was on his campaign committee for a brief period before deciding to run for the same position.
“He came to me and said he had made a decision to run for office, and I patted him on the back and wished him well, and I meant it then, I mean it now,” Byrne said. “He worked very hard. He and his wife, Judy, did a terrific job, and they had a campaign plan, a campaign focus, and did everything they could to make it happen. I have been there. I know where he is right now. This is his first campaign, and it’s very difficult to accept rejection.”
At the same time, Byrne said he was a little disappointed that Boyce didn’t want to continue his efforts to defeat Lee.
“He’s very passionate about that — that’s why he got into the race,” Byrne said. “If you are a conservative Republican — and Mike is — then Tim Lee is the enemy of the party when you have a commission chairman who in a 15-month period of time either raised or tried to raise taxes six times. That’s not the kind of person we need to be running Cobb County, so I’m disappointed Mike does not want to continue the battle.”
Byrne listed off the six taxes he referenced. First was the March 2011 SPLOST. Second was the 16 percent property tax hike. Third was the 12 percent water rate hike.
“The reason I say that’s a tax increase is it’s a fee increase, but it’s the same damn thing because it generated $20 million to the water system, and then they transferred that to the general fund to balance the budget,” Byrne said.
Fourth was the CCT rate increase by 25 percent in some cases. Fifth was Lee’s vote to approve the TSPLOST project list. And sixth is Lee’s latest call to permanently raise the sales tax by 1 percent to pay for the county’s general fund, Byrne said.
Byrne said that when Lee talks about preserving the triple-AAA credit rating, he neglects to mention that it was Byrne who obtained the rating in 1997. And don’t forget, Byrne said, that he was the one that authored the legislation that eliminated property taxes for education on residents 62 years of age and older. Byrne said he also got the floating homestead exemption to protect homeowners from increased appraisals and saw the construction of Johnson Ferry Road, the East West Connector and Atlanta Road.
“My position has been clear,” Byrne said. “Cobb County’s future is not tied to the city of Atlanta, Fulton or DeKalb County. Our future growth is tied far more to growing and working on growth issues with Douglas County, Paulding County, Bartow County and Cherokee County, and that’s the region that we should be focusing on, not the city of Atlanta. Their growth is vertical and high-density. Our growth is horizontal and low-density, being a suburban community, and that’s the difference. We do have regional issues that need regional solutions, but not the ones that have been proposed.”
As for Savage’s support, Byrne said he got to know Savage when he ran against Lee a few years ago.
“The guy is a person who is just filled with credibility,” Byrne said. “Before he says anything about any issue, he researches it to the nth degree, and when he starts talking about something, there is no question that you can ask of him because he’s got all the facts and details before he makes an opinion, let alone a viewpoint.”
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