It's probably just a coincidence, but the day after Georgia's lawmakers called it quits for the year, the first formal candidate announcement in Columbia County took place in front of the courthouse.
Lawrence Hammond announced his intention March 30 to seek the school board chairmanship. He is the second announced candidate for the job; trustee Regina Buccafusco in January also said she'll run.
The two are the first candidates to seek a position that didn't exist a year ago. When the Legislature came home in 2005, one of their accomplishments was the creation of the countywide elected school board chairman position.
Prior to that change, the district-elected members of the school board chose one of their own each year as chairman, usually rotating the job among them.
Sometimes, when the chairman is popular, he gets more time in the seat: Ray Hicks held the post all four years that he served on the school board. Conversely, when a board member doesn't play well with other trustees, they don't give him or her a turn: Include former board members Lee Muns, Larry Ogletree and Suzanne Scott among those.
Muns, especially. During the debate over creation of the elected chairmanship, most board members opposed creation of the post. Muns, known to have his eye on the chairmanship that the other trustees wouldn't give him, was the person they had in mind when they worried out loud about the possible mischief the position could create in the wrong hands.
Also still undeclared is the man widely believed to be a favorite for the job: Gene Sullivan.
A former Columbia County principal and Richmond County assistant superintendent, Sullivan hasn't committed - although his arm is just about twisted out of its socket from supporters begging him to run.
One thing is almost certain. Four years ago, when the first County Commission chairmanship went to voters, just two candidates tossed their hats in the ring. That many have already said they'll run for the school board chairmanship, and with qualifying still two weeks away it could be a crowded (and non-partisan) race.
Speaking of that county commission chairmanship, incumbent Ron Cross says he'll announce his re-election bid next week, and the same man who faced him four years ago plans to do battle again.
Andy Kingery, a retired banker and energetic Chamber of Commerce volunteer, filed the preliminary paperwork this past week for the Republican primary rematch. Thus far, there's no word on whether a Democrat will take a stab at the post.
Whomever sits in that middle seat on the board will serve with returning commissioners Diane Ford and Tom Mercer, both of whom were re-elected in 2004 to four-year terms. But the District 1 post of departing commissioner Steve Brown is up for grabs, and Lee Anderson must face voters if he wants a full term in District 4.
Because of the staggered nature of those elections, with two commissioners elected every other year to serve four-year terms and the chairman also elected every four years, this is the year a commission majority is on the line. A new chairman and two new commissioners could entirely change the commission's direction.
"Could" isn't the same as "will," though. In spite of widespread unpopularity in some areas, Cross will be tough to beat - as will Anderson, who blew away nearly a half-dozen challengers to fill Mark Devoti's unexpired term. (We hear Devoti is back in town, by the way.)
Brown's seat, meanwhile, has already drawn two likely contenders: Republican Ron Thigpen and Democrat Scott Nichols.
Looks like a busy year for political punditry.
(Barry L. Paschal is publisher of The Columbia County News-Times. E-mail comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.)
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