Gwinnett Republicans oppose transit referendum, in split vote

Commuters board Gwinnett County Transit express buses departing for downtown Atlanta at the Express Bus Park and Ride lot at Sugarloaf Mills in Lawrenceville. BOB ANDRES /BANDRES@AJC.COM AJC FILE PHOTO
Commuters board Gwinnett County Transit express buses departing for downtown Atlanta at the Express Bus Park and Ride lot at Sugarloaf Mills in Lawrenceville. BOB ANDRES /BANDRES@AJC.COM AJC FILE PHOTO

In a resolution last month, Gwinnett County Republicans urged residents to vote against a transit referendum on the Nov. 3 ballot.

But the decision to wade into the transit debate was a contentious one, and the resolution was passed with only 17 votes at a sparsely attended special meeting called for that purpose.

Just 34 people came to the Sept. 22 meeting, with 15 voting against proposal. Edward Muldrow, chair of the county’s Republican party, said there are nearly 200 paid members, but only 10% are needed for a voting quorum. He said any paid member can call a special meeting.

While the statement is titled “Resolution Against MARTA Expansion,” Muldrow said it was misleading for voters.

“Let’s be clear,” he said. “This isn’t a MARTA referendum. This is a transportation referendum in which MARTA will play a small part.”

If the referendum is approved next month, it will greatly expand Gwinnett’s transit system, adding four bus rapid transit lines and and seven bus routes along major corridors. It will add local bus service and expand paratransit availability, as well as hours for transit services. And it will extend MARTA heavy rail from the Doraville transit station to Jimmy Carter Boulevard.

Charlotte Nash, the Republican chairman of the county commission, championed the plan after voters rejected a 2019 proposal that would have allowed the county system to join MARTA. All three Republican commission candidates are opposed to the new plan, while the Democratic candidates all support it.

Muldrow said he thought this transit referendum looked “a lot different” than the one that failed last year. Pat Quigley, who voted against the resolution, said he though it was “a really dumb idea” for the party to take a position on the referendum.

“They didn’t really think it through, I don’t think,” Quigley said. “If the whole body had been involved, that would not be the decision, I’m quite confident.”

Alice O’Lenick, a Republican appointee to the election board, also voted against it. She said if the party wanted to take a stand, they should have done so before the primaries.

Joe Newton, who led last year’s push to defeat the referendum, voted for the resolution. He said MARTA is “astronomically expensive” and called it a health hazard as long as the pandemic is ongoing.

“I’m against bringing it up here,” he said. “It needs to be cut instead of expanded.”

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