Jim Whitehead wasn't wrong. He was just a little ahead of his time.
Back in 2007, just after the death of U.S. Rep. Charlie Norwood, Whitehead was one of 10 candidates in the special election to fill Norwood's unexpired term.
A former state senator and Columbia County commission chairman, Whitehead was the perceived frontrunner. With so many candidates seeking the post, the hopefuls had to look for ways to break out of the pack.
At the time, the economy hadn't tanked yet, and the issue du jour seemed to be the war in Iraq. So most of the candidates tried to get attention by taking various hawkish or dovish positions.
Not Whitehead, though. He'd done some polling, and it showed most people were concerned about illegal immigration.
Huh? all the other candidates scoffed. What? said citizens, most of whom hadn't gotten the memo.
Despite the seemingly tepid reception, Whitehead stuck to the message. He came out ahead in the special election, and then lost by barely 100 votes in the runoff with now-U.S. Rep. Paul Broun.
Fast-forward three years, and Whitehead should be saying: I told you so.
Between lax border security, Arizona's battle with Mexico and our federal government, and Georgia's colleges trying to figure out how to keep aliens from getting in-state tuition, illegal immigration now is a hot topic.
And it's not just an abstract issue for faraway states. I can scarcely go a week that I don't get a local complaint about work crews that are suspected to be comprised entirely of illegals - and probably are.
Sheriff's Lt. Harvey Woods tells me that illegal aliens typically make up about 3 percent of the inmate population at the Columbia County Detention Center. The actual number could be higher, he says, but they're required to check the status only of those arrested for DUI or felonies; those locked up on minor charges typically aren't checked.
For those who are found to be illegal, the sheriff's office notifies the federal immigration service, which can send someone to interview the inmate, Woods says. But the feds will often do little more than tell the inmate to show up for a deportation hearing sometime after their release.
What a joke.
In any event, Georgia's gubernatorial candidates have picked up the growing anger over illegal immigration, too. While the Democrats seem to be almost girlishly squeamish in trying to avoid scaring off any Hispanic voters, the Republicans are trying to out-redneck each other with tough-on-illegals rhetoric.
Like Ray McBerry, for example. At a forum last week, he said he'd like to round up all the illegals, put them on school buses and "drive them up to the White House, where they belong."
Funny; all this time I thought most of the illegals were coming from Central and South America, not from Washington, D.C.
In any event, if these guys (and gal) in the crowded governor's race think the immigration issue has caught fire, we can expect them to fan the flames until the primary.
Too bad Whitehead couldn't get it to smoulder.
Let's swap hoppers
Speaking of illegal immigration, I got a belly-laugh last week from Richmond County School Board member Jimmy Atkins, who complained about the "big problem" of "students from other counties and even other states" sneaking into Augusta's magnet schools.
Tell you what, Mr. Atkins; let's make a trade. Say, two for one, or three for one, or even five for one. For every Columbia County student you round up illegally attending a Richmond County school, we'll find you two or three or five of your students zone-hopping over the county line to go to one of our schools.
And if we could weed out the phony "homeless" Augusta students abusing a federal loophole to attend Columbia County schools - with us paying for their transportation! - we could jack that ratio up toward 10-1.
Perhaps if Atkins is so worried about this bogus problem, he should look into building a border fence. We'll be happy to supply the barbed wire.
(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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