Among the lessons in the indictment of Columbia County resident and former state school superintendent Linda Schrenko is one that current local elected officials will do well to learn: With power comes temptation -- and increased scrutiny.
Hubris, an overwhelming pride, is suddenly a possibility for Columbia County. We have a lot to be proud of: The county had one of the highest voter turnout levels in the state, at 82 percent, and election results cemented the dominance of the Republican Party in local politics.
When Republicans gained a majority in the state House of Representatives, joining the governor and state Senate in the GOP ranks, that also meant Columbia County's leadership for the first time in nearly two decades is in the same party as the state's leadership.
This is where party affiliation really does make a difference. At the Chamber of Commerce Pre-Legislative Forum Thursday, state Rep. Ben Harbin pointed out that one likely reason we don't have a tech-school campus yet is that the county was "punished" by former Gov. Roy Barnes, a Democrat, because of Columbia County's Republican voting history.
Now, however, the county's voters are on the side of the recent election's winning team. "We're going to get our fair share, especially when the money is there to have it," asserts state Rep. Barry Fleming, who assumed a top leadership post in the state House when the GOP took over.
Fleming, along with state Rep. Sue Burmeister, are on the important committee that will pick the rest of the House leadership, and Harbin is in line for a top chairmanship. For the first time, then, the three House members will be driving the state's legislative train -- not just riding in the caboose. And Columbia County's future is riding with them.
Lest everyone let the new-found power go to their heads, however, Schrenko's 18-count federal indictment should provide a dose of sobriety. And it's just the latest bitter pill: the federal indictments of former state Rep. Robin Williams and past-and-future state Sen. Charles Walker also are strong medicine for anyone falling ill to symptoms of the corrupting influence of power.
Columbia County rightly has high hopes for its local legislative delegation, and its members -- Harbin, Fleming, Burmeister and newly elected state Sen. Jim Whitehead -- certainly have been above reproach in their past service.
But local constituents would do them -- and themselves -- a favor by reminding their newly empowered lawmakers to remain humble.
The influence our local lawmakers gained in the recent election will benefit Columbia County, but any missteps will blacken our eyes, too. Schrenko's indictment will help keep us all from forgetting it.
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