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Our Views: Your vote is vital
New slate of Georgia leaders will face key issues, so we need to do our part
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We likely don't need to remind you of the importance of Tuesday's election. But we will anyway, so bear with us.

Midterm elections often don't carry the weight and glamour of our quadrennial presidential contests. The races are mostly local in nature, and while control of Congress carries national implications, that decision is decided in hundreds of districts in dozens of states, not one big contest.

Who leads the next Congress is important. There is a senatorial race on Georgia's ballot between incumbent Johnny Isakson and challengers Mike Thurmond and Chuck Donovan. Our U.S. House race was decided in the primary when Rep. Tom Graves, winner of a special election a month earlier, won the Republican bid with no opposition in the fall.

Beyond what happens in Washington, though, Georgians have a huge stake in the winner of Tuesday's races for governor, lieutenant governor and other statewide officers. These are the people whose decisions affect our lives most directly, even when the sparring in the nation's capital seems remote.

That's why every Georgian registered to vote should consider his or her responsibility to learn about the races, research the candidates and cast an informed vote Tuesday.

Rest assured, your vote does count. Look at the primary runoff for governor, when Nathan Deal edged Karen Handel by 2,519 votes to earn the nomination. A switch of 15 votes in each Georgia county could have changed the race.

The next governor, be it Deal, Roy Barnes or John Monds, inherits a state in a fiscal crisis. Federal stimulus money helped Georgia reach a balanced budget this year without further painful cuts, but that money isn't coming back. That means the governor and legislature will have to undertake the most severe fiscal bloodletting in state history to keep the state out of the red.

In addition, the tri-state water wars are veering toward a showdown in less than two years if the governors of Georgia, Florida and Alabama can't present an agreement to Congress on how to share water from our common river systems.

Meanwhile, transportation and education, longtime Georgia bugaboos, remain problems with few solutions in sight without extra revenue coming in.

The next governor won't have the luxury of merely kicking back in his West Paces Ferry mansion, meeting Scout troops and putting in appearances at county fairs. This is a difficult time, and our state needs a strong leader capable of bringing people together to find solutions to the difficulties we face.

The same goes for the other constitutional officers on the ballot. The lieutenant governor isn't just a figurehead standing by in case the governor gets a bad cold. In Georgia, he or she presides over the Senate with considerable power in determining who sits on what committees and which legislation reaches the floor.

Keep in mind, too, that this is a census year. Over the next couple of sessions, our leaders will be faced with redrawing the district maps for Congress and General Assembly. That process after the 2000 census was a fiasco, with Georgia forced to redraw its districts after the courts struck down its gerrymandered mess of a map. That helped lead to the ouster of the Democrats as the state's majority party after more than a century.

Georgia is likely to gain at least one U.S. House seat as a result of the nation's population shift. Where that district is drawn could affect all existing districts.

Hall County has two contested state House seats, and several nearby counties have others. These men and women also have a direct effect on the everyday lives of Georgia's communities, so choose well.

The statewide officers we'll pick also carry great power in our state to regulate the agricultural, insurance and utility industries, enact labor policies, lead our schools and oversee our elections and law enforcement. Only one of those posts on Tuesday's ballot is held by an incumbent, appointed to the post earlier this year, and none have filled a full term in a statewide position.

Amid the gloom and doom of our economy and myriad challenges we face, voting is the least we can do. As citizens of this nation and residents of Georgia, we carry the responsibility of choosing leaders who represent our best ideals by bringing competence and character to government.

We need candidates who are smart, committed, experienced and ethical. We need them to understand our problems and work effectively with other leaders to get things done. There is too much on the line to pick someone just because we'd like to go to the ballgame or share tea with them. We need serious leaders to face serious issues.

This year's elections, thankfully, gave area voters something they haven't had in recent years: Choices. Nearly all statewide posts are open seats, each with contenders from three parties. Locally, voters have contested seats for the state House and Hall County Board of Commissioners, jobs that often have gone to unopposed incumbents.

Whatever the result of Tuesday's vote, we applaud those who made the effort to seek public office. All bring something different to the table, giving voters more options. We thank them for their service, win or lose, for their presence on the ballot makes the process work better for all of us.

The candidates have done their jobs. They have worked hard and spent enormous amounts of time and money to earn your support. It's up to us now to weigh their qualifications and finish the job.

The polls are open Tuesday from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. If you have not already cast a ballot by absentee or by voting early, please go. Our state and nation need you at this crucial time in our history.

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