What may be the most remarkable continuing development in this years political arena is not the people who are running, but those who are choosing not to run at all.
Jack Connells decision to step down as a Richmond County state representative and No. 2 man in the Georgia House is the biggest domino to fall, increasing speculation that House Speaker Tom Murphy also will quit.
Connells departure opens the door wide for Republican Sue Burmeister, who is alone in seeking the seat. Not for long, though: Democrat David Bell is waiting.
Attorney Bell had already been stunt-doubling for the frail Connell at some public events, so its no surprise he would be interested. Even though it is a Democrat-leaning district, Bur-meister will be hard to beat - especially since voters will recognize that she already had the courage to take on Connell.
Connells seat isnt the only one Georgia Democrats are giving up. Reps. Tom Shanahan of Calhoun County and Roger Byrd Hazelhurst have announced their retirements, even though both are relatively young. And the newest bombshell is the departure of Rep. Charlie Smith of St. Marys, Gov. Roy Barnes floor leader in the state House.
Were talking about men who could have stayed and moved up into serious leadership positions, says state Rep. Ben Harbin, R-Evans. I think the dynamics are going to change.
Those dynamics are the Democrats 17-seat majority in the House. Reapportion-ment, rammed through by Barnes and intended to prolong the Democrats dominance, has also left many lawmakers disillusioned - especially those, like Smith and Byrd, who had been taking heat because they supported Barnes ramrod effort to change the states flag.
Will the Republicans take over the state House? Every year, theyve boldly predicted rosy scenarios that put them in charge and topple Murphy. The difference this time is that Murphy, Connell, Smith and other Democratic leaders seem to be toppling themselves first.
Another unlikely candidate is Mike Popplewell, who ran two years ago against state Sen. Joey Brush, R-Appling and lost in the Republican Primary.
That race taught him a lot of things about campaigning. He probably wont use those lessons in a race against County Commission Chair-man Barry Fleming, who is running for the seat being vacated by retiring state Rep. Bill Jackson.
Fleming already dodged a race against Lee Anderson when the former school board member dropped out.
The question since Flemings announcement was whether hed have opposition. Remember: Flem-ing ran twice for County Commis-sion and never had an opponent. He first filed for the vacated seat of Lee Brooks, and when no one else qualified, commissioners brought him on board. Fleming was later unopposed for a full term.
Rumors to the contrary, Popplewell says hes 99.9 percent sure he wont challenge Fleming.
Devoti is in
One candidate who is running: former Grovetown City Councilman Mark Devoti, who will seek Flemings seat on the County Commission when Fleming steps down to run for Jacksons post.
There is little buzz about a possible opponent for Devoti, who is seen as taking Grovetowns turn at controlling the district seat. Because its a special election - and, therefore, non-partisan - the candidates wont have to declare a party affiliation. That could help Democrats if they decide to field a stealth candidate.
Even without having to declare a party, Devoti does so. Im a Republican, he laughs. My mother would kill me if I ran as a Democrat.
(Barry L. Paschal is publisher of The Columbia County News-Times. E-mail comments to barrypaschal@ yahoo.com, or call 863-6165, extension 106.)
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