According to reports in the Savannah Morning News, Chatham County Republican candidates, including District Attorney hopeful Meg Daly Heap, have had strong fundraising numbers.
Heap is challenging one-term incumbent Democrat Larry Chisolm, who was elected in 2008 to the position vacated by longtime D.A. Spencer Lawton.
Even Chisolm supporters would have to acknowledge that he’s had a rocky four years. A recent Savannah Morning News article detailed the high staff turnover, employee complaints of harassment and retaliation (one resulted in a $270,000 judgement against Chisolm), and concerns over prosecution of major cases. In particular, there was considerable outrage when a judge dismissed murder charges against Bobby Buckner in the 2003 slaying of 12-year old Ashleigh Moore because his right to a speedy trial had been violated. There are more details at the link above; Buckner remains in jail on other charges and the D.A.’s office has appealed that decision.
On the surface, things look bad for Chisolm, but there’s a counter-narrative out there that shouldn’t be completely dismissed.
It goes something like this: Well, of course there would be significant turnover when a new D.A. replaced Spencer Lawton, who had served 28 years. And the Buckner case was troubled before Chisolm was even elected: the suspect wasn’t indicted for almost five years after the horrific crime. Despite the lawsuits from staff members, the office has obviously handled many cases just fine.
Many local voters aren’t buying those lines of argument, however. The Savannah Morning News gave a ringing endorsement of Heap, whose high-energy campaign has been pretty upbeat.
As I noted in a post last week, thousands of voters here in Chatham County are going to be splitting their tickets this year. Chisolm got 54.3 percent of the vote in 2008 against a less compelling component. Given the complexities, Heap would seem to have the edge in this race, even though Obama will likely carry the county as he did four years ago.