While Augusta's government seems to always produce the controversy du jour, and Columbia County sleepily rolls along, there is a common thread running through the meetings that lawmakers are holding in each county with the Chamber of Commerce.
Whether it was the session in Augusta last week or the breakfast in Evans Monday morning, all eyes are on the man who is a member of both the Richmond and Columbia County legislative delegations: state Sen. Don Cheeks.
Its been an eventful month for Cheeks, who switched from the Democratic to Republican Party after Sonny Perdue beat Roy Barnes for governor. Then, ignoring catcalls from the sour-grapes chorus, Cheeks outmaneuvered Democrats to win the chairmanship of the Richmond delegation.
Cheeks' win demonstrates that Augusta's lawmakers now must build coalitions and work together. There no longer is a 50-50 split mirroring the divided city; instead, there are now three Republicans and four Democrats, four whites and three blacks, five men and two women.
Leading the way to building those coalitions is Cheeks, who had to re-cross party lines to find the support to win the delegations chairmanship. If his fellow lawmakers had maintained party loyalty, Democrat Henry Howard would have be-come chairman. Instead, Pete Warren, the south Augusta Democrat who unseated Re-publican state Rep. George DeLoach, swung to Cheeks.
That split is worrisome, because it means all the white lawmakers voted on one side, all the blacks on the other. Racial solidarity of this kind just looks bad.
Fortunately, the racial split is unlikely to be permanent. In fact, as Augustas lawmakers ponder the future of the citys government, newly elected Rep. Quincy Murphy, who is black, could well be a swing vote to allow government revision. Conversely, state Sen.-elect Randy Hall, who is white, has to tread lightly in deference to the coalitions he built in the black community to defeat Walker.
But there is a way out if the delegation just changes the current vote requirements for the Augusta Commission to one in which action can be taken by a majority of a quorum present.
Such a simple change - much more streamlined than state Rep. Sue Burmeisters complicated bill that failed last year - wouldnt require altering the mayors powers. And it would force the kind of coalition-building that Au-gustas abstainers have mostly avoided.
Fortunately for Cheeks, he doesnt have to worry much about building coalitions in Co-lumbia County. Hes a member of both delegations because a sliver of Harlem is in his district, and hell find Columbia County far less likely to bicker itself into the headlines.
Four white Republicans now represent all or part of Columbia County, and at the Columbia County Cham-bers breakfast Monday morning (7:30, at Savannah Rapids Pavilion), they will be less likely to hear grumbling about racial gridlock. In-stead, theyll hear the usual stuff of polite questions at Chamber sessions: when will the big highways be built, is Atlanta going to take our water, what can we do about economic development.
It might be boring, and the perpetual questions may never really get answered. But at least we understand that no one needs to go to Atlanta to fix our local government. Unlike our neighbor to the east, were not stalled by bickering politicians fighting turf battles and ignoring the business of government.
Sometimes, boring is good.
(Barry L. Paschal is publisher of The Columbia County News-Times. E-mail comments to bpaschal@ newstimesonline.com, or call 863-6165, extension 106.)
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