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Our Views: 2012 looms as a year of decision
The coming elections offer a chance to select new leaders, settle old issues
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Members of The Times editorial board include Publisher Dennis L. Stockton; General Manager Norman Baggs; Executive Editor Mitch Clarke; and Managing Editor Keith Albertson.

As we ring out a 2011 that was memorable in some ways, forgettable in others, we flip the calendar to a new year that we already can christen.

Barring an unforeseen man-made or natural disaster on the scale of 9/11 or the Asian tsunamis, the coming year can be labeled in advance as the Year of Decision.

A year from today when we look back at 2012 — that is, unless the Mayans were right and the world ends Dec. 21 — we will have answers to pressing questions that remain unsettled on this final day of 2011.

Because 2012 is an election year, most of these mysteries revolve around politics. As columnist Charles Krauthammer points out today on the right side of this page, our political decisions have earth-shaking consequences in an age when the wrong leaders can drive us to extinction.

Even as U.S. forces leave Iraq to a wobbly future, uncertainty looms over the Middle East, new regimes replacing old leaders with agendas still shrouded in mystery. Across the globe, North Korea falls to the hands of a leader perhaps even more erratic and unsure than his father, another rogue nation bent on nuclear blackmail.

Closer to home, the U.S. economy is recovering slowly with unemployment still a worry in many industries and regions. The eight candidates for president all promise to make jobs their top priority, each with different ideas on how to employ more workers in an age when technology and global competition has vaporized many positions that provided steady paychecks a generation before.

So who will emerge from the crowded Republican field to challenge Barack Obama in the fall? That drama will play out over the next several weeks, starting Tuesday with the Iowa caucuses, then to New Hampshire and Florida, on to Super Tuesday March 6, when Georgians go to the polls, and beyond.

The GOP nominee will face a vulnerable incumbent. Obama's job approval and support among his own backers has slipped as the economy has stalled. Unless it shows a full and robust recovery in the months ahead, he will have to win back many voters to stay in the White House.

Georgians face other key votes this year. The one statewide ballot of interest is for the transportation sales tax, where voters in 11 regions will choose whether to levy a 1 percent tax toward road construction for local projects. There's no guarantee all 11 will pass, particularly at a time when any tax hike is eyed with suspicion.

All agree the state needs to upgrade its transportation infrastructure. Traffic gridlock hurts productivity and is one factor, along with good schools and safe streets, that businesses weigh when deciding whether to locate in our state. But how and where to spend money remains contentious; some prefer more public transit in urban areas while others argue for more highway lanes to handle the volume already on our roads.

The projects in Northeast Georgia face a bit less scrutiny, but the notion of taxing ourselves further stirs up critics, particularly after the state's ill-conceived and hotly opposed transition toward toll lanes for pavement that was already paid for.

Northeast Georgians will elect a new member of the U.S. House in the newly drawn 9th District. Four candidates have announced their goal of seeking the seat, which was left open when the state reworked its maps to accommodate a 14th representative.

The winner will join a select company; since the early 1950s, only four men have represented Hall County in the Capitol, three of them - Phil Landrum, Ed Jenkins and Nathan Deal - for a combined 48 years prior to current Rep. Tom Graves, who will run from a different district next year. Whoever heads to Washington as our representative in January 2013 will hope to continue that history of longevity.

The new legislative seats will split Hall into smaller pieces with more House members sharing portions of the county. That will make for a larger but perhaps less influential delegation under the Gold Dome, which is why some want to tinker with the boundaries a bit more. But because the maps were approved by the U.S. Department of Justice, such changes would have to go through the same process again.

Hall County voters will fill three spots on the Board of Commissioners next year, including the chairman's post, plus a race for sheriff that already has drawn a large field of candidates. So our national, state and local leadership all may undergo drastic changes by this time next year.

And even if the faces change, the issues will not. Water remains a top priority as long as the roller coaster of droughts threaten Lake Lanier. Georgia had a strong year in the courts, winning a federal challenge to the 2009 decision that would have limited use of the lake for water. That issue appears headed to the Supreme Court in the near future, and with it the final determination in how we can use water from the Chattahoochee River system to fuel growth.

Hall County is forging ahead with plans for the proposed Glades Reservoir, with the goal of linking it to the existing Cedar Creek lake to create not only an ample local supply but also water it can sell to other municipalities. The slow process for approval is moving forward, and we should know by the end of 2012 how close the new reservoir system may be to filling our taps.

So 2012 shapes up to be a pivotal year indeed on many fronts, a chance to determine our direction and leadership for years to come. And that decision rests in our hands, at the ballot box, starting in March. Those who register and vote will have a direct say in our region's future. And those who have not registered ... well, what better New Year's resolution could you make than to sign up and get involved?

We wish one and all a Happy New Year. May 2012 bring us the prosperity, peace and answers we seek.

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