Republicans are still safe in Columbia County. Despite all of Congress and the presidency now being held by Democrats who can pretty much ignore the GOP minority, there's little doubt that elected officials here will continue to carry the Republican banner at the local and state level.
But there seems to be a growing sense that the majority party of Georgia's state government is starting to collapse under its own weight, providing openings for critics from the opposition party - and from within.
It doesn't help when the governor, as recently revealed, comes into office and promises tough ethics reform - and then exempts himself from the rules so he can accept gifts of airplane flights and football tickets.
Meanwhile, Republicans haven't exactly made the best displays of leadership during the state budget mess. As a result, they've opened themselves up to strong ideas and strong criticism.
• The only thing keeping Republicans from trying again at major tax reform this year is the state's budget crisis. But Democrats, led by state Rep. Virgil Fludd, are proposing a relatively simple tax reform that they say brought in more than $1 billion in Alabama.
The change would transfer authority for collecting sales taxes from the state Department of Revenue to local governments, which could then contract with private companies.
While the devil is in the details, one of the more appealing aspects of such legislation is that it would represent a major decentralization of state government. That is a significant counterpoint to lawmakers like Republican House Speaker Glenn Richardson, whose failed idea of tax reform last year would have replaced county property taxes with a state-centralized sales tax system.
• One of the more compelling arguments against Republican state Sen. Eric Johnson's proposal to allow school vouchers comes from Jeff Hubbard, president of the Georgia Association of Educators.
Sure, GAE opposition to school choice is predictable. But in a time of budget crisis, he asks, how can lawmakers even think about a program that represents a "$425 million bailout for private schools"? Especially when the state's Republican governor wants to cut out bonuses for national board certified teachers and eliminate school nurses?
"Why isn't there outrage for a proposal that amounts to funding a whole other school system?" Hubbard asks.
• But an even bigger ouch comes from a fellow Republican: John Oxendine, the state insurance commissioner and a candidate for governor.
In a recent interview with the Thomasville newspaper, Oxendine said, "If I had to articulate why Republicans are doing a better job of running the state than the Democrats did, I'd be hard-pressed to find the words."
That might make it a little harder for Oxendine to win the Republican gubernatorial primary next year. But that sentiment might also give the Democrats a shot, too - even if it's still a long shot.
Iron Chef Harlem
Speaking of long shots, I'm looking forward to competing as a cook in the next round of Iron Chef Harlem.
The first competition was held Feb. 5 at Red Oak Manor in Harlem, and co-owner and county commissioner Scott Dean won. I was one of the judges, with Mike Ryan and Pat Van Hooser.
Along with Van Hooser and Dean's wife, Renee, I've been invited to cook April 2.
Everyone at the first competition had a blast, including a couple of ladies who wandered in without knowing what was going on.
I'm a huge fan of the Food Network TV show. Experiencing it from behind the stove should be interesting. To join the fun, call Red Oak at (706) 556-8222 or go to www.readoakmanor.com.
(Barry L. Paschal is publisher of The Columbia County News-Times. E-mail comments to barry.paschal at newstimesonline.com.)
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