The closest we came to political intrigue on the Columbia County Board of Education lately was the jockeying over who would be this year's vice chairman.
The gossip was that Mickie Blackburn wanted the post so the title would help her resume for re-election.
As it turned out, she was the only one nominated for the post and got the unanimous vote in January by her fellow board members.
Then, on Wednesday, she got a standing ovation from those board members and the audience when she announced she isn't running for re-election.
Early in each school board meeting there's an item on the agenda called "board comments and acknowledgements." It's the time when board members tell which schools they visited lately, congratulate winning teams and generally ladle out the happy talk.
When it was Blackburn's turn, she dispensed with the usual comments and instead said she had a statement that she needed to read.
"After a great deal of soul-searching and thoughtful introspection, I want to announce that I will not be seeking re-election to the school board this November," she read. "While I know this may come as a surprise, I feel that it is time for me to step back and allow another concerned, dedicated citizen to fill this most honorable role in our community."
Indeed, the announcement was a surprise - at least to many in the audience; the secretaries already had copies of Blackburn's statement ready to hand out afterward. The only tipoff had been that board chairman Regina Buccafusco skipped over Blackburn when going down the line of board members for their comments, saving her for last. Still, it was a jolt.
The News-Times endorsed Blackburn when she ran for re-election to a third term in 2006, but said she needed to be a more aggressive and less of a rubber stamp.
She is sweetness to the core, however, and no number of elections are going to change that. But even without the intensity that a member of an elected body spending more than $150 million in taxpayers' money each year should have, that kindness is one area in which she surpasses every other board member.
Rarely has their been a school function that Blackburn hasn't made an effort to attend. Ask any principal: They will tell you that while there might be an occasional drop-in visit from a trustee, only Blackburn has visited every school, multiple times.
That's not a big thing by itself. But it does tell the staff in those schools, especially those outside her district, that they have at least one board member who is comfortable with them at their level.
Maybe that's because she's been there herself, having served in the classroom as a middle-school teacher. That perspective gave Blackburn an occasional spark on the board in which she let educators in the system know she was their advocate.
Blackburn is perhaps too gentle a soul for this cynical era of political turmoil and upheaval. Stepping away will protect her from facing what could be one of the nastiest years yet in politics, in which public anger toward "incumbents" of all stripes threatens to be mindless and rabid.
Thus far into the fray comes Lee Benedict, a Richmond County teacher and Martinez resident, who has previously run for the state Senate and state House.
Soon after Blackburn's announcement, Benedict filed his "intent" card, serving notice that he is able to take campaign contributions.
Benedict has been deeply involved in the county's Republican Party politics. He recently endorsed Brett McGuire - one of his former state Senate race opponents - in McGuire's challenge to county commission Chairman Ron Cross. That race has gotten nasty already.
Whoever wins Blackburn's seat, I'm hoping he or she will bring just a little more aggression to service than she did. But they should do so only after taking a lesson in civility from her.
Politics doesn't have to be ugly. Mickie Blackburn is living proof.
(Barry L. Paschal is publisher of The Columbia County News-Times. E-mail email@example.com. Follow at twitter.com/barrypaschal.)
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