You know, folks, we don't vote in Richmond County. I suppose we probably could under certain circumstances, along with dead people and prison inmates. But generally Columbia County residents don't get a choice in who runs our region's biggest city.
Too bad. All we can do is watch from a safe distance as the city erodes and implodes, like a reverse, slow-motion version of warnings on fireworks: light fuse, get away.
Randy Hall has certainly lit a fuse in Augusta politics. He's the Republican candidate for the 22nd District state Senate seat, currently held by Democrat Charles Walker.
Hall and Walker haven't debated the issues of the 22nd District in a public forum, and I'll be amazed if they do. So lately the two of them have battled through surrogates among Augusta's black ministers.
The first rhetorical shots were fired when a group of black preachers endorsed Hall, who not only is white but is a Republican. In the language of racial politics, those men had wandered off the plantation. So Walker soon had a group of black ministers of his own parading in front of TV cameras to announce their loyalty to a man sometimes called "The Boss."
We've heard all this out here in Columbia County, of course. But what most people may have missed is the outright war this race, and particularly these dueling pulpits, has sparked in Augusta's two black newspapers.
Charles Walker owns one of those papers, the Augusta Focus. The other is the Metro Courier, owned by Barbara Gordon. It's pretty safe to say that the Focus is propped up with Walker's political heft - safe to say, especially, since it's figured into ethics complaints in which the paper's advertising provides a conduit from Walker's campaign contributions to his pocket. The Courier, on the other hand, has to compete for every dime it gets, yet has managed to survive in a tough marketplace.
Gordon often is hailed as a strong, independent voice. Mind you, there is virtually nothing she says politically that people in Columbia County would agree with; but at least her views come without strings attached.
The Courier has been almost gleeful in noting the crumbling of support for Walker, and a recent editorial dryly noted how unimpressive it was to see a lockstep group of ministers shuffling to Walker's defense.
This came on the heels of other commentary from the Courier praising the ministers who boldly backed Hall, while the Focus raved about how great Walker's men were to stand with their champion.
Well, oops. Now the Focus has eaten some of its words. It isn't quite as prominent as the panoramic photo the paper proudly published of the ministerial lineup a few days earlier, but it practically glares from page 3: "CORRECTION: Reverends Nathaniel Irvin, James Williams Jr. and Dr. Charles E. Smith were mistakenly listed as supporters of Senator Charles Walker. We regret the error."
Those ministers made it clear they aren't happy about an ambush endorsement: You see, not all of the ministers on the stage that day were told beforehand why they were asked to be there. They were too polite to leave the stage in protest when the group's spokesmen declared them all as Walker's soldiers.
On second thought, I suppose many Columbia Countians have already voted in this race. Unlike those ministers, they've already walked off. Many who otherwise would have voted in Augusta Nov. 5 instead will cast their ballot in Columbia County, having moved to a saner climate rather than wait for the explosion.
(Barry L. Paschal is publisher of The Columbia County News-Times. E-mail comments to email@example.com, or call 863-6165, extension 106.)
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