A special session of the General Assembly is under way to approve new state and Congressional voting districts.
For the first time, Republicans are in charge of the process, and they’re doing many of the things they complained about from Democrats for years.
It hasn’t been a very open process. Republicans refused to get public input on their plan. They only unveiled their maps last Friday. And they broke with tradition of having independent experts from the University of Georgia do much of the redistricting work.
Their Senate plan also throws the only two remaining south Georgia Democrats into the same district. The map expands Freddie Powell Sims’ District 12 north. The lines swing over to take in half of Sumter County, the half where 30-year General Assembly veteran George Hooks happens to live.
We should point out Hooks told us he doesn’t think Republicans are targeting him. South Georgia lost population, we’re going to lose representation in Atlanta, and there are limited options for new district lines.
But Republicans have large majorities in both houses. They sit in every statewide office. Is it really necessary to pit Hooks and Sims, two lawmakers with a history of standing up for south Georgia, against each other?
Redistricting is inherently a contentious and political process. We hope the people in charge realize that doesn’t have to mean it’s unfair.
Athletes’ Safety Should Matter Most
Two Georgia high school football players died this summer following practices, including 16-year old D.J. Searcy from Fitzgerald. His parents say coaches didn’t do enough to prevent his death. We aren’t sure if that’s true. We are sure it’s time for the state to do more to keep young athletes safe.
The Georgia High School Association’s heat policy isn’t much of a policy at all. The association simply requires each school system to set its own policy about when it’s too hot for students to be on the field. That’s not good enough.
Some states go so far as to require tubs with cold water on site during hot practices so athletes can take ice baths. Many states have uniform policies that mandate water breaks and limit practices in extreme heat, rather than a hodge-podge of rules that may or may not offer protection for kids.
The GHSA is waiting for results of in-depth research by the University of Georgia on the heat’s effects on young athletes. But how many teens may be put in danger while we wait? The association should put a task force together immediately to come up with a new policy before next summer. If they won’t act, the General Assembly should. Someone must stand up to protect our young people before others die.
A bite out of crime
We are very happy to brag on local law enforcement and officers of the court. Dougherty County’s crime rate is down in every statistical category compared to last year.
The number of violent crimes has dropped drastically by 50 percent when compared to 2010 and 55 percent when compared to 2009.
Part of the reason is action like the recent multi-agency hunt for 55 suspected gang members, who may be involved in crimes dating back to 2002. Suspected Crips gangsters were locked up for a wide range of crimes, from burglary to rape to armed robbery.
Dougherty District Attorney Greg Edwards said, “Most people think about racketeering, they think about the Mafia. But, effectively, gangs are little mafias.”
And our law-abiding citizens get some credit, too. Dougherty County Police Chief Don Cheek says one main reason for the crime rate dropping is because people in the community are becoming more vigilant by watching out for criminals and cooperating better with police.
And that really DOES take a bite out of crime!
Benning’s growth has extra meaning
Columbus, Ga. and Fort Benning are being transformed in front of our own eyes. If you’ve driven down Interstate 185 lately, you may have noticed a lot of construction around Fort Benning.
That’s a major part of the $6 billion being put into, among other things the new main entrance to the Army post.
The impressive gateway boasts four large white pillars topped with four striking statues — two of eagles and two of soldiers. The new gate pays tribute to all the men and women who have served in the Armed Forces.
When the project is complete by the end of the year, including flag poles on each side with fountains shooting water 20 feet into the air, nearly 30,000 people will have arrived in Columbus almost overnight. The impact to the city is already providing a significant shot in the arm to the local economy.
The overall economic impact is forecast to go from $4.3 billion to about $6 billion. The post’s working population will blossom to about 57,000 people providing in incredible infusion of economic stimulus from those additional paychecks.
So, the next time you pass by or through the new gate at Fort Benning think about the economic help it’s providing the entire region.
But more importantly, be reminded of the service and sacrifice so many have made and still are making to allow us to enjoy those freedoms.
Written by Jim Wilcox, general manager of WALB.