Going into the 2010 census, it was generally understood that Southwest Georgia, with its population stagnant, would take a political blow once the numbers from the census were used to determine the distribution of seats in the General Assembly and Congress.
With the population steadily growing in metro Atlanta, the political tilt that had once leaned heavily toward agricultural areas was expected to move even further in the Atlanta direction. And it did.
The one advantage that rural Georgia still maintained politically was the longevity of many of its legislators in a governmental system that gives some considerable benefit to seniority. That advantage is also eroding this year.
On Monday, state Sen. George Hooks, D-Americus, announced that he would not seek at 17th term in the state Senate. Hooks has served in that chamber since 1991, and came into the Senate with the seniority advantage of having been a representative in the state House for 10 years before that. His departure at the end of his term, which expires in January, means that 32 years of legislative experience departs with him.
That Hooks made this decision was no surprise, only the timing of the announcement was undetermined. Hooks, a rarity in the Gold Dome these days as a white male Democrat, had been placed in a revamped Senate district that includes Sen. Freddie Powell Sims, D-Dawson. Hooks would have been faced with the unappealing prospects of running against a senator who he had mentored in a district that would have been difficult for him to win. Having seen the exit door unlocked by the census numbers, it was opened wide for him by the Republican-drawn reapportionment map.
That comes after another longtime legislator, state Rep. Bob Hanner, R-Parrott, announced at the end of the legislative session in late March that he is leaving the Gold Dome when his term expires in January. Hanner, who left the Democratic Party two years ago to become a Republican, will mark his 37th year in the state House in September, having initially won his seat in a special election to complete the term of office of his predecessor.
So, in the span of a month and a half, Southwest Georgia has lost a combined 69 years of political experience in the Legislature at a time when -- frankly -- we need every advantage we can get. Hooks summed up the region's situation succinctly Monday during an interview with The Herald.
"One of the most difficult challenges we have here in South Georgia is a stagnant population," Hooks said. "My district alone was 30,000 to 40,000 people down, and that's significant when you look at the enormous population growth around Atlanta. There are districts up there whose population has doubled, and most of the people are transplants who have no idea about the problems of our region.
"That's tough for them with the concerns they have about water and transportation. Down here, though, our folks have to focus on making sure everyone in the state has adequate and equal education so that we can address our economic development and health care issues."
Making sure Southwest Georgia's needs and concerns are heard and acted on has not been an easy job for some years now, and it will be more difficult with fewer representatives and senators who will be heading from our region to Atlanta this January.
-- The Albany Herald Editorial Board