From the traffic jams of Martinez to the commercial building boom in Evans, much of our image of Columbia County is portrayed as a fast-growing suburban-to-urban center.
But Columbia County (at least, for the moment) still has plenty of wide-open spaces to the south and west of the asphalt jungle. In fact, those places are some of the best in America.
Don't take my word for it, though: Progressive Farmer Magazine's editors, in the February issue, rate Columbia County as No. 10 in the South among its "Best Places to Live in Rural America"
With the fourth-highest average income ($59,729) and population (100,062) among the South's Top 10, Columbia County gets high marks for its low crime rate, availability of health care and top ranking in air quality (maybe that smoking ban is paying off!). But the county takes a hit for its tax burden, tied for highest among the South's top 10.
The county's rating is a pretty good honor, especially coming on the heels of the "blue ribbon" designation just over a month ago from Expansion Management magazine. But if it attracts more people here to enjoy the benefits that won the awards, pretty soon there won't be any "rural" left to live in.
Incidentally, Columbia County is ranked third in Georgia; Oconee County and Forsyth County came in at No. 2 and No. 9, respectively. Oconee County is also No. 2 in the country, with Fauquier Co., Va., coming in No. 1 in the South and in the nation.
Augusta outranked Columbia County, by the way -- not our next-door neighbor, but Augusta County, Va., coming in at No. 8 in the South. And Columbia County, Wis., at No. 30 in the magazine's nationwide top 100, came in way ahead of our county at No. 66.
Strategic Vision, LLC, a public relations and public affairs agency owned by our paper's parent company, released some ratings of its own this week with a poll of Georgians.
The poll shows 56 percent of Georgians favor tort reform, with 32 percent opposed and 12 percent unsure (and probably not understanding the issue).
The same poll also has potentially troubling news for Gov. Sonny Perdue. While he's shown with a comfortable lead over one of his expected Democrat opponents in the 2006 gubernatorial election, Lt. Gov. Mark Taylor, he's registering a statistical dead heat against the other: Secretary of State Cathy Cox.
In general, an incumbent is perceived to be in trouble when he or she polls less than 50 percent vs. a challenger. Cox holds Perdue to 49 percent, with poll respondents preferring her at 45 percent.
Cox, at 56 percent, also has a slightly higher approval rating than Perdue, at 54 percent.
But both do better than lawyers: The poll finds 67 percent of those polled have an unfavorable opinion of attorneys.
If he wins, so what?
With Taylor giving up re-election to seek the governorship, candidates are starting to emerge for Georgia's powerless lieutenant governor's post.
One of the first is former Christian Coalition executive director Ralph Reed, which makes me feel old: Reed was at the University of Georgia when I was there, and generally was regarded as a right-wing nut.
He's come a long way since then, learning to moderate his tone if not his views. Reed has a good shot at winning one of the state's least-important posts whose only real function is to position someone for office somewhere else.
An old joke says a man with a remote control doesn't want to see what is on TV; he wants to see what else is on. Candidates for lieutenant governor don't want to hold that office; they just want to get noticed so they can seek a real office.
(Barry L. Paschal is publisher of The Columbia County News-Times. E-mail comments to barry.paschal at newstimesonline.com.)
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