Janus, the mythological Roman god with two heads facing opposite directions, usually looks back on the old year and forward to make his predictions for the new year. But it was such an eventful year in Augusta politics he’s going to focus mainly on 2012 with only a glance toward 2013.
JANUS LOOKS BACK
ANNOUNCEMENT OF THE YEAR: University System of Georgia Chancellor Hank Huckaby and members of the Board of Regents came to town in January and announced that Augusta State University and Georgia Health Sciences would be joined into one institution of higher learning, with GHSU President Ricardo Azziz officiating.
They sprang the union on us like a shotgun wedding, and we had a lot of questions, such as “Who’s going to wear the pants in the family?” Now we know, and it won’t be ASU. In fact, there won’t even be an ASU.
There will only be GRU.
SCAM OF THE YEAR: Azziz forming a Branding Consolidation Work Team and authorizing a $45,500 local, state and national survey to find the best name for the New U when he’d already chosen Georgia Regents University and was lobbying the regents for it although it triggered a 97 percent negative response when it showed up on the list at the 11th hour. When outrage arose from students, alumni, faculty, employees and Georgians in general over the word “Augusta” not being in the name, Azziz and the Georgia Board of Regents said, “GRU You.”
MOST LOST CAUSE: “Save the A” campaign.
MOST TIMELY QUESTION OF THE YEAR: “What the hell is a regent?” – Augusta Commissioner Joe Bowles
QUOTE OF THE YEAR: “The name Regents is repulsive to me. It is not American. We don’t like rulers; we don’t like people who don’t listen to the will of the people. It’s like beating your head against that brick wall head of yours that nothing gets into.” – ASU Alumni Association member Catherine Rutland to Azziz during a forum
QUOTE THAT MADE THE WIRE: “Sending Lee Anderson to Washington would be like sending Honey Boo Boo up there.” – Former Augusta first lady Gwen Young, referring to 12th Congressional District candidate Lee Anderson
MOST VIVID QUOTE: “That’s a bunch of crap.” – Augusta Commissioner Corey Johnson when he heard that David Fry had been sentenced to five years’ probation after being charged with trying to bribe Johnson and Commissioner Alvin Mason to vote for the convention center parking deck
QUICKEST ABOUT FACE: Richmond County School Board Trustee Jack Padgett and Augusta commissioners Grady Smith and Jerry Brigham going to the state redistricting office in Atlanta to try to find an alternative to the map of commission and school board districts unanimously approved earlier by an ad hoc redistricting committee, of which they were members. Brigham, Smith and Padgett initially voted for the map with four majority white and six majority black districts, instead of one that maintained a 5-5 balance. But after getting a little feedback from their white constituents, they changed their minds.
Local legislative gridlock ensued over various proposed maps, and U.S. District Court Judge Randal Hall ended up drawing the final one.
BIGGEST LEGISLATIVE BACKFIRES: One was the state Senate Redistricting Committee’s drawing the 24th Senate District into Richmond County which added Republican Sen. Bill Jackson to the delegation. The move gave senators in the local delegation the upper hand in local legislation with two Republicans to one Democrat. Another move with unintended consequences was Rep. Barbara Sims’ bill that shifts the election date for consolidated cities and counties from November to July.
Both measures enraged Augusta’s Democrat lawmakers, who accused Sims and the Republicans of attempting to dilute the black vote in Augusta, and contributed to a big Democrat turnout and election of black candidates for sheriff, probate judge, State Court solicitor.
LUCKIEST POLITICAL CANDIDATE: Richmond County Sheriff -elect Richard Roundtree, who benefitted from a fired-up black electorate; the white vote being split between two white Democrat candidates in the primary election, Capt. Scott Peebles and Lt. Robbie Silas; and hundreds of Republican voters who’d crossed over to vote for Peebles not returning to vote in the run-off between him and Freddie Sanders.
SHERIFF RONNIE STRENGTH’S DISAPPOINTMENT AND PATTI STRENGTH’S VINDICATION: Peebles’ Endorsement of Roundtree after the run-off.
LAMEST DUCKS: The four outgoing Augusta commissioners for leaving a $4 million budget deficit for their successors to deal with.
MAYORS COALITION FOR MAKING GUNS ILLEGAL: Mayor Deke Copenhaver has taken a position for more gun control by signing a letter to President Obama from the Mayors Coalition Against Illegal Guns urging him to get high-capacity rifles and magazines off the streets.
BEST ACTOR AND ACTRESS: WGAC radio talk show host Austin Rhodes and WRDW News 12 anchor Meredith Anderson for their stunning performances in Love Letters, A.R. Gurney’s Pulitzer-nominated classic at Le Chat Noir on Dec. 21 and 22. No one, and I mean no one, could have given more captivating, funny, heart-wrenching performances than Austin as Andrew Makepeace Ladd III and Meredith as Melissa Gardner . The play raised $4,000 for the theater and was so well received, there might be a repeat performance, possibly in February. Don’t miss it.
JANUS LOOKS FORWARD
A BIG ANNOUNCEMENT: Former Mayor Bob Young will announce he’ll run for mayor again in 2014.
ANOTHER BIG ANNOUNCEMENT: Augusta Commissioner Alvin Mason will also announce for the mayor.
MOST COVETED JOURNALISTIC AWARD: Augusta Chronicle Staff Writer Steve Crawford will receive the McGregor Cleveland Award for his exposé of ineligible voters voting in Richmond County elections. As you might have read, McGregor, a West Highland terrier who died about two years ago, received a voter registration form this year. It was one of 5 million mailed in 27 states by the Voter Participation Center, which targets minorities and unmarried women for various clients, such as the NAACP.
STALEMATE: New Super District 9 Commissioner Marion Williams and Copenhaver will not come to terms over the mayor’s decision to rearrange commission seating. To ensure the seating will be fair and unbiased, the mayor will seat commissioners alphabetically, beginning with Mary Davis on the end to his far right and ending with Williams on the end to his far left. Williams will not agree to the change and will insist that the tradition of the Super District 9 commissioner sitting directly to the mayor’s left be upheld. He’ll refuse to sit on the end and will spend the next four years standing up.
THE BIGGEST LOCAL TAX INCREASE: Transportation sales tax.
ANOTHER TAX TO SOAK US: The rain tax.