COLUMN: A Finger on the Pulse, Not In The Wind 

The following article is an opinion piece.

May 21st was an ugly day to be an incumbent in Bulloch County. Many people were stunned by the results, but it seems those people are just out of touch with the wants and needs of regular Bulloch County citizens. 

Robert Busbee blew the courthouse roof off with his win over District Attorney Daphne Totten. 

Lisha Nevil defeated Incumbent Heather Mims in the District 7 Board of Education race.

David Bennett ousted Roy Thompson for County Commission Chairman. 

Ray Davis toppled Curt Deal in District 2A. 

And in District 2C, while Nick Newkirk and Incumbent Jappy Stringer will head to runoff, it’s worth pointing out that the majority of voters picked someone other than Stringer. Newkirk and Brian Pfund garnered more votes combined than Jappy Stringer did in the primary. 

Some were surprised. Others said it was the margins that knocked their socks off. 

To me, the mere victories said what many of us believed all along: while elected officials had their finger in the wind, vocal opponents kept it right on the pulse. 

In terms of county commission races, Tuesday’s election results are a product of months of groundwork propelled by citizens who were not only dissatisfied with their elected officials, but had been challenged to rise up to make a change themselves if they were so very displeased. 

And that’s exactly what they did. 

It wasn’t some fluke plagued by voter apathy and low participation either. Voter turnout in Bulloch County was 20.9% with 9,639 of Bulloch County’s 46,092 registered voters casting a ballot. 7,635 Republicans voted in the county commission chairman race – one that hadn’t been contested in decades. 

The voter turnout mirrored that of May 2022 when turnout in Bulloch was 20.69% and that was with a gubernatorial primary on the ballot. 

2020 is not comparable because the presidential preference primary was combined with a five-way special election to fill the vacancy of State Senator Jack Hill. It also was during the pandemic and absentee ballot applications were mailed to everyone, propelling voter turnout. 

But the numbers nearly doubled the turnout of primary election races in 2018 and matched the county commission voter participation in 2016 when a hotly contested Sheriff’s race was on the ballot as well. 

This year, voters showed up with a purpose and the purpose was to execute step one of the solution to their gripes, their criticisms, and their lifestyle preferences. 

The proposed solution was constructed after individuals polled their friends and neighbors to see if they were on the same page. When they realized they were, they united over shared hardships and small town nostalgia. They began meeting regularly, they doorknocked, and they made phone calls to further gauge the opinions on growth and the rate of that growth in Bulloch County. 

The proposed solution was data driven and based on a large cross section of people in the county. The election results show that. 

While citizens were busy collecting data, doing research, and networking, the incumbents did nothing. They isolated themselves – figuratively and literally – from the people they represent by admonishing them for disagreeing with their decisions. They griped about the criticism, they opined on their own greatness, and they shamed people for not falling in line. 

To further peddle the optics of an ivory tower, they refused to do interviews, they declined to attend forums, and they held an “incumbents only” gathering on their turf, with their friends, on their own terms. They were wholly inaccessible and relied on almost exclusively on what had always been.  

Some people say they never saw Tuesday coming, but a blind squirrel could have found the nut. 

When the county became littered with “Higher Taxes” signs, that should have been Clue #1 that something was brewing. The inordinate number of signs on private property, the mailers, the door hangers, and other public initiatives aren’t paid for with wishful thinking. It’s donors that fund those causes and not the ones of the George Soros, big developers, or Super PAC variety. 

The movement organized, strategized, and monetized quickly because the finger was right on the pulse: The community didn’t feel heard or valued and decided it would unite for change. 

The truth is, incumbent county commissioners didn’t see the coup coming because they were so disconnected from their own community that they didn’t even know what kind of web was being woven around them. 

As for the movement to oust District Attorney Daphne Totten, that finger had been steady on the pulse by opposition for quite some time.

Her story is different but also the same. Had she done any type of community engagement over the last four years or displayed any semblance of self-awareness about *some* of the poor decisions she made early on, she might’ve been able to stop the train from barreling down the tracks. 

But instead, after being elected in 2020 in an unopposed race, she opted for the path of least resistance.  She made no effort over the last 3 1/2 years to know her community, explain things to her community, or just be seen in general. The office didn’t have even have a Facebook page and the first ever press release was sent out a week before Election Day. Despite going zero extra miles during her tenure, she still could not be bothered to file her campaign finance reports as required by law…for THREE YEARS. 

Her bad decisions impacted people of every socioeconomic class, crossed all racial boundaries, impacted women and men, old and young, and left no demographic untouched. By the time election season rolled around, the cake was already baked. 

She underestimated how many people really knew about all of the destruction caused by her office. Her tone deafness allowed Robert Busbee to strike like a ninja in the night – equipped with facts, free of personal attacks, and with a humanity component of real stories about real people.

Busbee talked about her record and she retaliated with the worst possible option: attacking him for representing the rights of people accused of crimes, as if that is not some constitutionally enshrined necessity that we hold so dear, that in the event someone cannot afford said representation, WE THE TAXPAYERS collectively give it to them. 

The fact that anyone was surprised that that “attack” didn’t land is still remarkable to me. 

And while she flailed in the wind like those tube flags at a used car dealership, she put her desperation for victory on display for all of us by tastelessly using the mugshots of people she sent to prison on campaign paraphernalia, including a domestic violence victim. Her promotion of “success” resembled the teardrops that gangsters tattoo under their eyes: ugly and costly with no return on investment. 

Totten’s narrative all along was completely devoid of repudiations of the things said about her because all of the things said about her are true. She’s made every decision and she had no game plan for re-election other than damage control. It’s why even the minuscule amendment to her conviction rate monologue to include “when you also consider convictions on lesser included charges” proved that the public knew more about her tenure than she did.

The takeaway from Tuesday is that the public is always talking – whether it’s to elected officials or each other. And nothing mobilizes the public more quickly than elected officials who don’t listen. 

Jessica Szilagyi

Jessica Szilagyi is Publisher of TGV News. She focuses primarily on state and local politics as well as issues in law enforcement and corrections. She has a background in Political Science with a focus in local government and has a Master of Public Administration from the University of Georgia.

Jessica is a "Like It Or Not" contributor for Fox5 in Atlanta and co-creator of of the Peabody Award-nominated podcast 'Prison Town.'

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  1. WOW! Just WOW!!! This is an excellent article!!!! ❤️Thank YOU for being a “voice” for “the people “! Thank you for being a voice of TRUTH!!!!

  2. Excellent article! I think that voters on either side will appreciate your account of how things played out in the county commission races.

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