Politics is the land of what-have-you-done-for-me-lately.
That's what makes Barry Fleming's action Monday morning so noble - and risky.
As U.S. Rep. Charlie Norwood's medical condition worsened, Fleming was among those quietly laying plans for seeking the 10th District congressional seat if a vacancy occurred.
That unwanted vacancy arrived when Norwood died Feb. 13. While Fleming generally had been guarded in his preparations, others were less restrained in announcing their intention to run.
Then, on the day after Norwood's funeral, state Sen. Jim Whitehead announced that he was calling a press conference Monday morning to announce he would seek the seat. (Never mind the apparent redundancy of announcing that he would announce; that's the way things work in the land o' politics.)
That put Fleming in a tough spot. He could stay in the race for which he had already laid considerable groundwork, running against a fellow member of his own legislative delegation. This would split the county's Republican vote, potentially handing the race to a candidate from elsewhere in the 10th District.
Or, he could bow out, clear a path for Whitehead, and fight another day.
The choice Fleming made was the wiser of the two - which is what I told him Monday morning. After he finished explaining that he was preparing to stay out of the race and instead support Whitehead, I told him he'd made a noble decision.
"Yeah, and I'm going to keep telling myself that all day," said Fleming, who obviously was a little deflated at backing out.
None of that disappointment showed later when Fleming introduced Whitehead at his announcement. He described Whitehead as a father-figure and a mentor, and praised the job he's done in just more than a single term in Atlanta.
For his part, Whitehead got a little emotional when he pointed out the sacrifice Fleming made to avoid a fight among county Republicans. "When it came down to the people of Columbia County and this community, he did the right thing," Whitehead said. "Y'all remember what he did."
There's the rub. For local Republicans, Fleming is today's hero. Once memories fade, constituents will only want to know what he's done for them since.
Whitehead's GOP supporters, then, have a moral obligation to emolate the party's symbol by having the memories of elephants in remembering Fleming's decision to step aside.
Meanwhile, a little jockeying is taking place for Whitehead's soon-to-be-available state Senate seat. Among the possible contenders are Columbia County Associate Magistrate Bobby Christine, and former state Rep. Bill Jackson.
There is an obvious parallel to the Whitehead-Fleming truce. Like Whitehead, Jackson is older, a father-figure, and like Fleming, Christine is a young man with a wide-open future.
The difference, perhaps, is that Jackson has already served and left, and now seeks to return to the Legislature; this would be Christine's first shot at elected office.
If one of them doesn't blink, the 24th District might very well have a spirited campaign.
The party's party
These issues are most important to the kind of political junkies who are likely to show up Saturday for Columbia County Republican Party precinct meetings, the precursor to the county's March 24 party convention.
While Fleming took one for the team by backing out of a race with Whitehead, don't expect anything so magnanimous in the race for party chairman. Charles Allen is the current chairman, and Deborah McCord wants the job.
The two represent continually warring factions - perhaps the only place in the county's politics where memories never fade, and grudges never go away.
Barry L. Paschal is publisher of The Columbia County News-Times. E-mail comments to barry.paschal at newstimesonline.com.
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