The race for the Elbert County District 1 Commissioner seat added a new contender in the past few weeks when James Whistler announced his candidacy for the job in mid-February.
A late addition to the race, Whistler is challenging fellow Republican Chris Richardson, first in a contest for delegates at the Elbert County Assembly on March 13 and possibly again in June, provided they both receive a minimum of the 30 percent support required to put their names on the primary ballot.
The primary winner will face the Democratic contender in November.
Whistler said that it was not just one thing that prompted him to toss his hat in the ring.
“I've been mulling this over during the winter,” he said. “I've been seeing the direction that the county's been going.”
Whistler described himself as a former “Blue Dog Democrat” who was left behind by the party, and though he ran for treasurer as a Democrat in 2010, he changed his party affiliation to Republican in May of last year.
“I'm following the footsteps of Ronald Reagan,” he said. “He was a Democrat at one time, and he became a Republican as his political thinking matured.”
Whistler views himself as financially conservative, and holds three degrees from Temple University in Philadelphia: a bachelor's degree in criminal justice, an MBA in health care administration, and a bachelor's degree in health care finance.
“My concern has always been finances,” he said, and he has outlined a point-by-point plan that squeezes “every dollar until the eagle screams,” which includes scrutinizing expenses, using statistical analysis to maximize efficiencies, and reviewing the costs and effectiveness of outside contracts.
Whistler's primary concern is the management style within county government, especially as it pertains to costs, and one of the biggest “red flags” he sees is the projected increase in legal expenses from around $106,000 in 2014 to just over $545,000 in 2016, a 414 percent increase.
“If you don't run the government in a professional way, a measured and competent way … you are opening yourself up to people who may sue you for transgressions of law,” he said. “The finances of this county drive everything else. The money we are spending on legal fees is money we are not spending on social services, not spending on roads, not spending on the basic needs of this county.”
In addition to changing how the county does business, Whistler would also like to see a change in when the county does business, and hopes to reach a point where county offices can be open five days per week.
“We all want government to stay out of our way, but when government does intersect with our lives … we want that government to be efficient. We want the process to be quick and painless, and we want it to be accessible and available,” he said.