Today is the big day when Columbia County Sheriff Clay Whittle climbs the Justice Center steps and announces his re-election.
Next door, Richmond County Sheriff Ronnie Strength is taking his campaign a few notches higher. A billboard featuring a squad car and Strengths name hovers over Washington Road near Interstate 20.
Most observers think Whittles re-election will be a cakewalk. Perhaps the best symbol of potential success is that among the heavyweights lining up to support Whittle is Superior Court Judge Jim Blanchard, uncle of Whittles likely opponent Lewis Blanchard. Thats gotta hurt.
This is expected to be one of those races where those not supporting the likely victor are the exception. In a sane world that should also be the case in Richmond County, but since when was Augusta politics sane?
Sheriff Strength potentially has a tough fight on his hands. He was elected as a Democrat, and would be vulnerable to a minority opponent in a party primary. In Augusta, votes are polarized along racial lines; black candidates draw 90 percent of black votes, and white candidates get 90 percent of white votes. (Thats pretty close to the actual breakdown in the Bob Young vs. Ed McIntyre race for mayor.)
Because Democratic primaries draw a higher percentage of black voters, if a black candidate for sheriff appeared, Strength could be hurt unless white Republicans cross over to vote in the Democratic primary.
Theres little talk of anyone of any race running against Strength yet. Maybe that billboard, and a few others, will have the same deterrent effect Whittles supporters hope to gain from Wednesdays show-of-force announcement.
One big truck
Speaking of a show of force, the Emergency Man-agement Agency grant to Columbia County for an Interoperable Mobile Com-munications Vehicle is downright gaudy.
It is an incredible coup for Columbia County to get the $448,620 in federal homeland security funds, funneled through Georgias EMA. Columbia Countys EMA director, Pam Tucker, says the grant is for a custom-designed, 40-foot Bluebird motorcoach equipped with high-tech communications equipment. The mobile command center will be able to ride to the rescue after a disaster in our region.
The vehicle doesnt belong to Columbia County. While it will be housed here full-time, it has to be available for use in any of the 25 counties of Area 3. But the fact that Columbia County will order it and keep it here is a good sign of the high regard in which Tucker and her staff are held by state emergency officials.
The shiny new vehicle is a quantum leap up from the tired old RV that the sheriffs office uses as a mobile command center. Those guys have to be jealous; the sheriff tried to get the county to buy a new one a couple of years ago and got turned down during budget negotiations.
Maybe Pam will let them borrow hers sometime.
Qualifying starts tomorrow for candidates who want to fill the vacancy on the Columbia County Com-mission left when Mark Devoti resigned. Theres now another seat vacant, with George James resignation from Grovetown City Council to seek Devotis seat.
Grovetown Mayor Dennis Trudeau had earlier told me City Council could appoint James replacement. But it turns out theres too much time left on James term for an appointment, so Council members are hastily convening today to call for an election to be held along with the Commission election Nov. 4.
Just two weeks ago, when no one signed up to run against Trudeau and two Council members, we thought wed have no local elections this year. To paraphrase the orc in The Two Towers, it looks like politics is back on the menu, boys.
(Barry L. Paschal is publisher of The Columbia County News-Times. E-mail comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.)
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