As the first person, and the first woman, from Columbia County elected to statewide office in modern history, and as the first female Republican elected to a non-judicial statewide post ever, Linda Schrenko held the weight of history on her shoulders.
Thus was her fall that much harder.
Schrenko could have established a lasting legacy at the state Department of Education as someone committed to breaking up bureaucratic logjams erected by years of one-party rule. She could have shepherded a new era in which Georgia's lagging school system began to make progress in test scores.
She could have made her home county proud. Instead, the home folks this week turn a downcast eye toward Atlanta, as a federal jury is seated for a multiple-count indictment alleging that Schrenko and associates stole federal education money to fuel her overly ambitious quest for the Georgia governor's office.
The indictment is a black eye for Schrenko's friends and supporters. It's also a hard blow for Columbia County's Republicans.
In the other two recent federal corruption trials, former state Sen. Charles Walker was a hard-core Democrat; former state Rep. Robin Williams was a Republican but worked both sides of the aisle. Schrenko was a hard-core Republican, and worked as a volunteer at the Columbia County GOP headquarters in 2004 as her indictment was being prepared.
Two years earlier, 7,627 Columbia County Republican voters backed Schrenko for governor in the party's primary, giving her a nearly 3-1 margin over Sonny Perdue in her home county. Perdue, however, won big statewide, and went on to defeat Democrat Roy Barnes - largely because of the very education issues that Schrenko had raised during her eight years of fighting Democratic dominance.
Linda Schrenko, defeated, broke and beaten, now prepares for a corruption trial in which prosecutors allege she and her associates - several of whom, like Merle Temple, of Evans, have pled guilty and are expected to testify against her - stole more than $600,000 in federal education funds.
Robin Williams is serving 10 years in prison for stealing money intended for the mentally ill. Charles Walker is serving 10 years and a month in prison for stealing money intended, among other things, for college scholarships for needy black athletes. Now Linda Schrenko is going on trial, accused of stealing money intended for school children.
Citizens of Columbia County, and of the entire Augusta area, are guilty only of misplaced trust. But there's nowhere to appeal our community's sentence of cynicism that such heartless political betrayals inevitably evoke.
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