One of the better things to happen in the opening of this year's session of the Georgia General Assembly was that some former local lawmakers were among those invited to return to the state Capitol to witness completion of the structure whose foundation they built decades ago.
Former state Reps. Bob Beckham and Bill Sams, who served as lonely Republicans back in the 1970s, were among legislative alumni invited up for the opening session in Atlanta. Sams says the two were thrilled at finally seeing their work come to fruition - even if it took the next generation to finish the job.
The two men, along with Bootsie Calhoun and David Swann, were Richmond County Republicans; Beckham and Sams long ago moved to Columbia County and continue to influence local politics.
It was the work such pioneers performed years ago, for example, that enabled state Rep. Ben Harbin, R-Evans, to become the chairman of the budget-writing House Appropriations Committee. Make no mistake: Harbin himself labored in the minority trenches for years before patiently working his way to the top, and positioned himself perfectly in the path to power for the day the Republicans would become a majority.
But while that majority seemed to happen all at once in the 2004 election, the reality is that the groundwork for the takeover came a few baby-steps at a time with against-the-grain service from such men as Beckham and Sams. Former Columbia County state Rep. Bill Jackson, who first served as a Democrat and later switched to the Republican Party to finish his service in the state House, provided a bridge between those eras before his retirement three years ago.
As has often been said lately in political circles, the car that those old-guard politicians chased has now been caught by young Republicans like Harbin and state Reps. Barry Fleming and Sue Burmeister. It's their turn to drive.
They should never forget, however, who got them the keys in the first place.
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