THE CIRCUS-LIKE atmosphere currently dominating the Trump White House seems to be getting some local competition, if last week’s wild and woolly political news at home is any indication.
Savannah politics has a seedy and ugly underbelly. That we already knew.
The ongoing chaos surrounding Alderman Tony Thomas, for example, is just one episode of the long and messy reality TV series we call local politics.
Tensions over the 2018 Congressional midterm elections — still a year and a half away! — have been running high here since last February’s town hall meeting with Congressman Buddy Carter.
That event at the Armstrong Center garnered national coverage for the raucous intensity of opposition to the Republican incumbent, who represents Chatham County in Georgia’s First Congressional District.
But turns out that wild affair was just a prologue.
The latest round of recrimination doesn’t involve Buddy Carter so much as it does bizarre internal strife in the Democratic Party ranks.
Or maybe not so much in the actual party ranks after all?
In this issue you will find Jessica Leigh Lebos’s interview with Lisa Ring, one of the candidates who has announced a bid for the Democratic nomination in order to challenge Carter in November 2018.
As of this writing, Lisa could have one less opponent to worry about.
In the prior issue we ran my interview with another Democratic candidate, Steve Jarvis, whose campaign immediately melted down in ugly fashion even by Savannah standards.
The trouble had already begun before Jarvis’s official announcement last Thursday (which perhaps symbolically took place during a heavy thunderstorm).
Jarvis’s admittedly quite conservative positions, as he openly stated in our interview, immediately drew fire from local Democratic activists, who wondered why someone who echoes Donald Trump on some issues would bother running as a Democrat.
Unflattering interactions from campaign staff with people who showed up at the Thursday announcement triggered further hard feelings.
By this past Saturday, things had reached a fever pitch, as internet sleuths discovered that Jarvis had apparently flirted with political runs in his home of Bryan County before, only as a Republican, and seemingly under a slightly different name.
Jarvis’s former campaign manager Michael Shortt was defending the candidate as late as Saturday afternoon against charges he had run as a Republican.
On Jarvis’s now-defunct Facebook page, the candidate issued a statement containing the following garbled response:
“Several years ago, friends in Bryan County (which is 92% Republican) did try to draft me to run, I declined. If they filled out any forms, it’s news to me. But even if they did, and if I had, which I didn’t, and even if I had been an R instead of a D. So what?”
The statement then went on to try and make the case that many folks with Republican leanings — citing Hillary Clinton and Elizabeth Warren as examples — went on to run as Democrats.
As you might expect, the campaign’s response only added fuel to the fire, and made a bad situation that much worse.
Negative comments on Jarvis’s Facebook page came in fast and furious, with many deleted as fast as they were posted, some with parting shots to the commenters calling them “socialists.”
By Monday morning the Facebook page was no more.
About an hour later the campaign website itself followed it into oblivion, and was then back up.
By noon Monday, Shortt had officially jumped ship, and he issued this terse statement to the media:
“I and my businesses (Tandem, Carbon Media) are no longer representing or affiliated with the Congressional campaign of Steve Jarvis (Bernard Stefan Jarvis) for philosophical and professional reasons.”
Meanwhile, I found myself on the receiving end of various personal attacks from a few local political types just for running the Jarvis interview at all — though we made it clear that we would be interviewing as many candidates in the race as possible in order to keep things fair.
There seems to be a minor misconception among some that we are only "supposed" to talk to certain types of candidates. (We are endeavoring to interview another candidate for the First District, Adam Bridges, as soon as we can. So get your poison pens ready!)
Savannah’s unofficial motto seems to be, “No good deed goes unpunished.” But we don’t apologize for doing our jobs and interviewing people running for office as much and as often as we can.
An interview isn’t the same as an endorsement, though apparently some folks don’t agree.
The way I see it, our interview was a public service in that it gave readers a chance to see Jarvis’s policy positions, in his own words, for what they were — basically conservative.
Jarvis may have misrepresented a few things, but apparently he was telling the truth about his conservative positions.
It’s a free country, and what you do with that information is up to you. Which I guess includes coming up with unhinged conspiracy theories about the hidden evil agenda of the local alt-weekly editor.
All that said, the First District is a very conservative one, and running on a conservative platform is far from the craziest idea if you want to represent it in Congress.
In the meantime, Buddy Carter is planning to hold another town hall meeting, this one on Thursday, Aug. 10, at Bible Baptist School in Savannah.
Except this time, it is a ticketed event. Free to attend, but you have to sign up first.
“We are using a ticketing system to ensure constituents of the First District are able to attend town hall meetings in an orderly fashion,” says Congressman Carter’s office.
Will limiting admission make things more orderly?
Or will it invite even more opposition?
Will the next Buddy Carter Town Hall be a circus like the last one?
And will the media be blamed for everything that goes wrong?
Stay tuned for the next episode!
It’s must-see stuff, even though some players so far have clearly not been ready for prime time.