State Rep. Ben Harbin pled guilty in Atlanta court Monday to a charge of reckless driving, receiving a sentence of a year's probation, requirements for DUI school and community service, and fines and court costs of $1,500.
So the case of his May 2007 crash into a utility pole is settled, and Harbin won re-election in July.
The end, right?
For the hard-core cynics, probably not. They will undoubtedly continue to claim, with no proof whatsoever, that Harbin received better treatment in the case than, say, Joe the Plumber would have.
The reality is that Harbin got it tougher.
Joe the Plumber, if he had hired a lawyer, would have taken much the same slow path through the court system, especially in Atlanta where long delays are common.
And ordinary Joe likely would have kept his license, too, despite refusing a blood-alcohol test, because the cops often fail to show up in court to make the suspension stick. Then, with a plea agreement to a lesser charge, Joe would probably get about the same punishment as Harbin.
So why does Harbin have it tougher? In part, for the same reason he got re-elected: name recognition.
You don't know Joe, so Joe's arrest wasn't splashed all over the news for months on end. Joe's family didn't have to put up with ignorant comments from complete strangers, most of them comfortably anonymous on Internet blogs or radio talk shows.
And Joe will likely stay out of the spotlight. We saw how the much-famed Joe the Plumber was treated by the national media just for having the audacity to question their chosen candidate. That provided a chilling preview for any would-be public servants.
We know, too, that the reaction to Harbin's arrest ensures that imperfect candidates everywhere will be discouraged from trying to serve, because the public demands only perfect people seek office.
Yet we wonder why so many candidates on the Nov. 4 ballot are unopposed - like Harbin.
One guy who isn't unopposed is Harbin's boss in the Legislature: House Speaker Glenn Richardson.
The House Republican Caucus will meet Nov. 10 to pick legislative leaders for next session, and Richardson has an opponent.
State Rep. David Ralston of Blue Ridge probably won't win. In spite of Richardson's phenomenal unpopularity, lawmakers rarely dump an incumbent from a leadership post - even one as petty and vindictive as Richardson.
I actually agreed with something Richardson said the other day. He argued that rather than lawmakers talk about raising state taxes to make up for lagging revenue, they cut spending.
Richardson, though, wants the state to impose spending and taxing limits on local governments. He should let the state take care of its coffers, and let locals take care of theirs.
If those officials spend or tax more than their communities like, those citizens are capable of removing them - and it should be their choice, not the edict of state politicians.
End of sign wars
In less than a week, the national elections will be over, and the focus will be on the riots that follow.
I'd love for that prediction to be proven wrong, but it isn't mine. It's the bet of worried public safety officers all over the country.
Around here, the good news will be the end of whining over missing campaign signs. Most vocal have been Obama supporters who squeal like knee-scraping kindergartners at every stolen sign.
Meanwhile, Springlakes resident Ricky Stokes says someone this past weekend stole his McCain-Palin sign, and all the signs from the neighborhood.
Talk about unintended consequences: The thief only beefed up donations to the local Republican Party as homeowners bought new signs, Stokes says.
(Barry L. Paschal is publisher of The Columbia County News-Times.)
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