Rarely has the linkage between the fortunes of Columbia and Richmond counties been as glaring as that outlined by this past week's General Election.
Voters in Columbia County refused to grant school board posts to two Richmond County school system employees. And Richmond County voters ousted three of their own school board members.
Taken together, those two events express the public's unease with the direction of Richmond County schools, especially in the wake of a huge vacation-time buyout for Superintendent Charles Larke, and the revelation that Richmond County artificially inflates SAT scores.
Voters in both counties said clearly that they want nothing to do with such shenanigans.
But that's not the only link the elections drew between the two counties. When Augusta voters shot down their commissioners' bloated sales tax referendum, they also boosted efforts to build a civic arena in Columbia County. Augusta commissioners will likely put their sales tax back before the public next year, and even then the arena may not make it on the list. That will kick the door open just a little further for a Columbia County proposal.
The biggest connection between the two counties' fortunes, however, started four years ago and took a giant step forward with the 2004 election.
In 2000, Sue Burmeister defeated veteran Republican Robin Williams for a seat in the state House. Drawn out of her district during reapportionment, she decided to take on veteran Jack Connell -- and Connell retired. Burmeister then beat Connell's hand-picked successor, David Bell, in the same year that the state elected its first Republican governor and Republicans took control of the state Senate.
The Republicans used their growing power to redraw legislative districts in Georgia. Burmeister was moved into a district that includes the eastern tip of Columbia County, making her the only local lawmaker who serves on the delegations of both Columbia and Richmond counties.
On Tuesday, while the rest of the state was putting the Republican Party in full control of Georgia government, Augusta voters were replacing Republican state senators with two Democrats. As the only Republican on the Augusta delegation, Burmeister is now Augusta's legislative gatekeeper. Burmeister also enjoys expanded clout from being a member of Columbia County's all-Republican delegation -- which itself now gains unprecedented influence over the region's direction.
Expect, as a result, the long-delayed technical college for Columbia County to move to the top of the state's funding list, and for the county's badly overloaded transportation needs to enjoy renewed attention. And look for an end to Augusta's long history of bringing in bucketloads of money for questionable projects.
Our two counties have always been inextricably linked, though Columbia County has often struggled to be recognized as an equal partner. Thanks to Tuesday's election, Columbia County just became more equal than Augusta.
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