For Georgia, 2008 may be a year to remember. Or forget.
· A prolonged drought finally ended, leaving in its wake a realization that many of our elected leaders had all but ignored tending to our water resources to keep apace with development. The water-use war between Georgia and Florida continued, with Florida gaining an upper hand.
· The traffic glut abated slightly as Georgians cut back on driving in the face of rising fuel prices. Traffic did not increase much, even when gasoline prices went back down.
· Public schools and universities struggled with massive budget cuts. University tuitions rose to a point that a college education suddenly exceeded the financial reach of many non-scholarship students. UGA's usually high-caliber footballers had a so-so year but still made it to a big bowl. Public schools didn't show much improvement, but our teachers remained among the highest paid in the South.
· State unemployment hit near-record levels. Real estate development slowed to a crawl. The number of bankruptcies and foreclosures hit their highest levels ever.
· Georgia's festering immigration problem all but disappeared. A shortage of jobs, not punitive legislation, sent tens of thousands of migrant laborers back to their native countries.
· A Fulton County jury refused to impose the death penalty on courthouse murderer Brian Nichols, making some wonder why we maintain legal executions when the penalty is so unevenly imposed. If Nichols had been tried in almost any other county, he certainly would have been sentenced to pay the ultimate price for a killing spree that left a judge and three other people dead.
· Despite all these elements, 2008 was not as gloomy as the above catalogue may indicate. There was hope of a new beginning on the horizon.
· Georgia experienced a record turnout of voters in the general election.
· Barack Obama demonstrated clearly that African-Americans can rise to the highest seat of power in this democracy. Pundits, including this one, overestimated racism as a factor in the elections. Some of us forgot that a new and more tolerant generation is taking over. Historians may mark 2008 as the year the civil rights struggle of the 1950s and 1960s finally came to a close, though some mopping up remains.
· Some old-timers said they had not witnessed as much political optimism across the land since John F. Kennedy was elected president in 1960. Some Georgians compared Obama's national triumph to Carl Sanders' page-turning victory as governor way back in 1962. (Sanders, the first governor elected by popular vote in modern times, became the model for a series of progressive chief executives through the remainder of the 20th century.)
· Though a majority of Georgians voted for a Republican presidential candidate and re-elected a Republican senior senator, Democrats could take comfort in a remarkable resurgence of their voting strength.
· Gov. Sonny Perdue prepared to unveil an economic revival program to get Georgia out of the ditch, even if it adds to the state's already highest-ever annual debt service of $1.25 billion.
· Parts of Atlanta-based state government prepared to move to other sections of the state to add new jobs and payrolls to those neglected areas. However, Atlanta itself faced a series of staggering fiscal problems just as the city prepared to elect a new mayor.
· House Speaker Glenn "Romeo" Richardson is reportedly taking anger management lessons. His proposed statewide sales tax plan has been trashed, possibly forever. Schools boards and county commissions can breathe easy for a while. They will not be replaced by state bureaucrats dictating their every move.
All things considered, 2008 could have been a better year for Georgia. Still, hope springs eternal, and sunny days must be just around the corner. Happy Holidays! I can hardly wait for a happier new year.
You can reach Bill Shipp at P.O. Box 2520, Kennesaw, GA 30156, e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org, or Web address: billshipponline.com.