Published Sunday, December 30, 2012
BY PHILLIP LUCAS
ATLANTA (AP) -- A 7-year-old pageant contestant from a tiny town in middle Georgia became a worldwide celebrity, and big-name politicians from opposing parties united behind a transportation tax that fell flat with voters. From politics to pop culture, Georgia's top news stories in 2012 offered something for everyone.
• The reality show "Here Comes Honey Boo Boo" was a ratings winner in 2012. The show capitalized on southern stereotypes and the oversized personality of Alana "Honey Boo Boo" Thompson, a beauty pageant regular, her mother June Shannon and their rural Georgia family. Some critics said the show mocked small-town life while others insisted the series showed a loving family that didn't let outside opinions bother them. The show was a breakout hit for TLC, and residents of McIntyre told The Associated Press in September that it put their town on the map.
• The story of a metro Atlanta woman fighting for her life after contracting a rare, flesh-eating disease was one of the most inspirational.
Necrotizing fasciitis took the limbs of 24-year-old Aimee Copeland - and nearly took her life - but it didn't take her spirit. Much of Georgia and the nation rallied behind Copeland, a University of West Georgia student from Snellville, who contracted the infection when she suffered a deep gash to one of her legs during a zip lining accident. Her hands, left leg and right foot were amputated at a hospital in Augusta, and she spent two months in a rehabilitation center in Atlanta learning to move and care for herself again. Once the surgeries were over and she received prosthetic limbs to replace the ones she lost, Copeland appeared on the Katie Couric show and said her infection and inspirational recovery left her with a new appreciation for life.
• Baseball fans this year came to terms with the retirement of a seven-time All-Star player who spent his entire major league career with the Atlanta Braves.
After 19 years and three trips to the World Series, third baseman Chipper Jones announced plans in March to retire at the end of the season. Jones, 40, was part of the 1995 team that beat the Cleveland Indians in the World Series.
His career ended in early October during a one-game wild card playoff against the St. Louis Cardinals. Despite the Braves facing elimination from the postseason, fans gave Jones a standing ovation as he waved his helmet before his last at-bat in the ninth inning.
• In the world of politics, a failed tax referendum showed that bipartisan backing doesn't always translate to support from constituents.
Voters in July rejected a penny sales tax to pay for transportation projects in nine of 12 regions in Georgia, including in metro Atlanta. The referendum was years in the making at the legislative level and many lawmakers touted the choice as one of local control for communities.
Supporters of the measure included Republican Gov. Nathan Deal and Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed, a Democrat, who both appealed to voters in the run-up to the election. They tied the tax to Georgia's economic future and promised the infrastructure projects would ease traffic congestion for frustrated commuters. An unlikely coalition - including tea party members, the state NAACP and the Sierra Club - blasted the plan as not only the heftiest tax proposal in state history, but as a false strategy that failed to encourage smart growth.
• Former Georgia Secretary of State Karen Handel may have turned a national controversy into a political opportunity after resigning as vice president for public policy at Susan G. Komen for the Cure.
Handel found herself in a media firestorm when the organization stripped funding for Planned Parenthood. Handel resigned in February, saying the issue was consumed by politics.
In "Planned Bullyhood," a book she released in September, Handel portrayed Planned Parenthood as an aggressive, partisan organization that was willing to weaken Komen to further a liberal political agenda. The controversy could be a political boon for Handel, who is said to be considering challenging fellow Republican U.S. Sen. Saxby Chambliss in 2014. The Planned Parenthood flap may have helped bolster her conservative credentials if she does decide to run for office.
Some of the issues at the heart of Georgia's top news stories this year were left unresolved. The cliffhangers from 2012 promise to make 2013 interesting.
• The month-long trial of Hemy Neuman that ended with his conviction in March in the slaying of Russell Sneiderman attracted national attention. Sneiderman's wife, Andrea, worked for Neuman. Lawyers on both sides suggested an affair between the two, and said she manipulated Neuman into killing her husband outside a daycare in suburban Atlanta.
Sneiderman was arrested in August and spent several weeks in jail until she was released on bond. Sneiderman is under house arrest until her trial, which is expected to happen next year.
• Michael Adams, president of the University of Georgia, announced his retirement in May, and said he would continue as a faculty member with the university after June 2013. Adams will have served as university president for 16 years. Among other things, the university's enrollment grew to 35,000 students, the endowment nearly tripled and medical and engineering programs took shape under his watch.
A 21-person search committee is currently looking for candidates to replace Adams, but many say his tenure in Athens will be a tough act to follow.
• Executions in Georgia were effectively put on hold when the state Supreme Court in July stayed the execution of Warren Lee Hill, who was sentenced to death in the 1990 killing of a fellow inmate while serving a life sentence for the murder of his girlfriend. The high court gave itself time to review a challenge filed by Hill's defense lawyers, who said state corrections officials didn't follow the proper administrative procedure in switching its execution protocol from a three-drug combination to a single-drug injection.
Hill's lawyers said the change was not preceded by a 30-day notice period as required by the Georgia Administrative Procedure Act. The state argued the lethal injection protocol is part of the Department of Corrections' standing operating procedures, which can be changed by the department's commissioner without additional steps.
The Supreme Court heard arguments from both sides in November, but hasn't issued a ruling in the case.
• Several notable Georgians died in 2012.
Furman Bisher, 93, was a longtime Atlanta Journal-Constitution sports columnist. Otis Brumby, 72, was publisher the Marietta Daily Journal. Besse Cooper, 116, of Monroe, was listed as the oldest person in the world. Leila Denmark, 114, was the world's oldest practicing physician when she retired at the age of 103. Conrad Fink, 80, was a revered journalism professor in the University of Georgia. Jesse Hill Jr., 86, was a civil rights activist and Atlanta businessman. Dick Pettys, 66, was a longtime AP politics reporter. Joe South, 72, was a Grammy Award-winning singer and songwriter.
Associated Press Writer Kate Brumback contributed to this report.
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