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03 August 2008

MARTA: The Raging Bull in the Gwinnett County Republican China Shop

Last month, the Democratic and Republican parties in Gwinnett County submitted a non-binding question to voters asking them if they were willing to tax themselves in order to bring MARTA into their community.

On the Republican side, 63% of primary voters said no to MARTA and in the Democratic primary, 70% said yes [Source: Atlanta Journal Constitution, "Gwinnett County Election Results", July 15, 2008]. When the Democratic and Republican primary results are combined, the MARTA referendum failed with 53% of Gwinnettians voting no and 47% voting yes.

Although the 2008 results were much closer than the 40-point defeat voters haned to MARTA in 1990, the signs still say that as long as Republicans represent a significant majority in one of the state's fastest growing counties, it's going to take some work to get a rapid transit referendum --binding or not-- approved by the voters there.

The sad thing is that as long as Gwinnett County has GOP activists such as Joe Newton scaring people into thinking MARTA is a bad thing for their community, Gwinnett County may continue to see two-thirds (or more) of Republicans voting against easing traffic gridlock and curtailing air pollution in their area.

In the August 2nd edition of the Gwinnett Daily Post, Norcross resident Joe Newton ran an ad in the paper (pictured at left) alleging that Bruce LeVell, Gwinnett County's representative on the MARTA board and a Republican candidate for Gwinnett County Commissioner, is a lobbyist for MARTA, wants to bring the rapid transit system into Gwinnett County and wants the taxpayers to assume MARTA's $1.6 billion debt.

LeVell's camp, in response, calls Newton's claims absurd, unfounded and false.

"I have never said that MARTA should be the rail operator for Gwinnett - I have only said that Gwinnett needs rail transit. This plan will show us how to get there," LeVell said. [Source: Gwinnett Daily Post, "Political notebook: Commissioner candidate announces plan for transit", July 31, 2008]

It is quite unfortunate that a candidate for public office has to defend himself from attacks and accusations of supporting a forward-thinking idea such as rapid transit.

However, if the July 15th referendum results or the Joe Newton ad are any guide, Gwinnett Republicans seem to think MARTA in their county would be equivalent to a plague of locusts o'er the land.

And that is a very discouraging thought for those who want to ease traffic congestion, reduce air pollution and lower Georgia's dependency on oil.