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Do we need more farmers in the Capitol?

POSTED: January 24, 2010 1:00 a.m.

Citizens sometimes complain that Georgia’s legislature would get more done if there weren’t so many lawyers involved.

Lawyers at one time did dominate the legislature, but the current session has but 38 total for both houses. Actually many more of the legislators are business people, 110 or more who are directly connected to business. About a dozen of those are in insurance and 15 in real estate.

Fewer than 10 are in health related professions, and only eight are farmers.

This demonstrates how the makeup of the legislature has changed over time, reflecting also the makeup of Georgia’s population. Toward the turn of the 20th century, farmers dominated the legislature. While Georgia remains an agricultural state, there are far fewer farms and therefore far fewer farmers, especially in North Georgia as strip shopping centers now graze previous pastures, and cookie-cutter subdivisions sprout where cotton and corn crops once grew.

But not all has changed, as is illustrated in an 1890 editorial in the Atlanta Journal: "The next Legislature will be largely composed of farmers.

"From this fact it may be inferred that these honest, hard-working and thrifty men will give Georgia a working Legislature, and one that will not countenance junketing trips or any unnecessary absentiment and will act honestly and fairly with and for the people.

"They will not be expected to have a long session extravagantly squandering the people’s money and multiplying needless laws. They will not be expected to recklessly spend the state’s money for any purpose or in any way. They will not be expected to go to their homes or elsewhere for pleasure or for anything short of necessity, and while absent still draw or receive their per diem.

"They will not be expected to ride to and from their homes on free passes and still accept the mileage which is given them, not as a perquisite, but to pay their fare to and from Atlanta, and for nothing else.

"These seem plain matters of business and everyday morality, but there is not a strong or wide enough popular sentiment against breaches of this plain honesty to frown it down.

"Let the people, therefore, look to these matters and elect only such legislators as are industrious, honest to a scruple, and more economical with the people’s money than their own."

Amen, and well said. The words from a dozen decades ago are particularly pertinent today.

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At about the same time, momentum was stirring for women to be given the right to vote. Susan B. Anthony gets the credit for passage of the 19th amendment in 1920, but had died 14 years earlier.

One of those who had taken to the streets with her was Belva Lockwood, the first female lawyer to be admitted to practice before the U.S. Supreme Court. She also was the first woman to run for president, twice in 1884 and 1888 with the Equal Rights Party, though she could not even vote for herself.

During her campaign for women’s suffrage, she said, "We don’t expect any wonderful revolution if the women of this country are permitted to vote, as we believe they will in the near future, or any greater difference in our habits and customs than there were when the Negro was permitted to vote. We suppose the women will still wash dishes and darn stockings to a certain extent and mind the babies, and the men will plough and gather in grain.

"But we don’t expect that the men are going to hold all the offices … We believe that the world was not made for man alone, neither was it made for women alone." Mrs. Lockwood, too, died before being able to vote.

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Georgia Tech almost had a significant presence in Gainesville. After World War II, the Navy was abandoning its airport training base. It was to be turned back over to Gainesville, but Tech flirted with the idea of establishing a school with 400 to 500 students on the site.

The city and the Navy discussed the proposal with the school, but in the end the engineers stayed in Atlanta, and Gainesville since has constantly expanded what has become the valuable Lee Gilmer Memorial Airport.

Johnny Vardeman is retired editor of The Times and can be reached at 2183 Pinetree Circle N.E., Gainesville, GA 30501. His column appears Sundays and on gainesvilletimes.com.



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