White flight in Gwinnett?

I’m one of those guys who doesn’t actually subscribe to the AJC – choosing instead to read it online. This morning I received an email from the AJC with the subject “AM NEWS: ‘White flight’ hits Gwinnett.” Oh my!

Well, despite the sensational headline, the article by Brian Feagans explains that the growth among Gwinnett’s white population has leveled off and the total white population of Gwinnett actually dropped last year:

One year doesn’t make a trend. And some observers question the census estimates. But the figures offer more evidence that the number of whites in Gwinnett is, at the very least, leveling off, adding a new dimension to a lightning-fast demographic shift that has transformed a once-uniform suburb into what one Washington think tank has called a “mini-Ellis Island.” Another indicator: White enrollment in Gwinnett schools has declined in each of the past five years.

In some ways, Gwinnett is behaving like Clayton, Cobb, DeKalb and Fulton counties, whose non-Hispanic white populations have been dropping. But those counties aren’t growing nearly as fast as Gwinnett, already Georgia’s second-most populous county.

But is a leveling off of the white population really “white flight?” I don’t think so and this gentleman agrees:

Bart Lewis, chief of the research division at the Atlanta Regional Commission, said that any “white flight” from Gwinnett is limited. It’s a far cry, he said, from what happened a generation ago in parts of Atlanta and DeKalb County, where neighborhoods changed practically overnight as white families moved to outlying areas such as Gwinnett.

In fact, Lewis finds it hard to believe that the number of non-Hispanic whites isn’t still rising in Gwinnett. Accurate racial breakdowns are hard to estimate, especially at the county level, he said.

In any case, Lewis sees the shift in Gwinnett as driven more by economics than race. Lower-income families scouring metro Atlanta for an affordable house or apartment are landing in the aging neighborhoods of western Gwinnett, he said. Most of them happen to be minorities.

“What I think you’re really seeing is an evacuation of more affluent households of one race replaced by less affluent people of another race,” Lewis said.

Being a political junkie, I’d like to discuss the political implication of this trend. How much of a problem is this for the GOP?

Gwinnett is now Georgia’s 2nd largest County and has been a GOP stronghold. In last November’s election, Bush received 160,445 votes to Kerry’s 81,708, a margin of 78,737. Governor Perdue and the GOP’s other Statewide Candidates will want a similar margin from Gwinnett in 2006 to help offset the big margins Democrats will get in Dekalb and Fulton.

Last year, Gwinnett’s Democrats hired a demographer who predicted that in six years, Democrats will compete with the GOP in County-wide elections. Gwinnett’s Democrat Chairman went on to predict they would knock off a number of GOP incumbents in the 2004 elections. That did not happen, not by a long shot, but the Democrats are making gains in Gwinnett, and the GOP would be foolish to ignore this situation.

In my mind, the GOP needs to redouble it’s effort to attract more minority voters. Gwinnett has elected a Hispanic Republican State Rep. in David Casas and an African-American Republican State Rep. in Melvin Everson. More needs to be done to take the GOP message to those communities – not water down or change the message – but inform the voters as to what our message is. Both Casas and Everson ran as Conservatives and won as Conservatives. The GOP also must not ignore the Asian population, which is growing rapidly in Gwinnett. The Asian community is not yet politically active, but one day they will be.

One note of caution: The GOP must be careful how it approaches the issue of illegal immigration. If we appear to be on a witch hunt against Hispanics, many of whom risked life and limb to come here legally and are contributing much to Georgia, the GOP will lose this voting base for a generation or longer. Enforce the law, but enforce it with the compassion Americans are known for.

8 comments

  1. The GOP needs 50%+1 of the statewide vote to win regardless of where it comes from. If voters that used to live in Gwinnett move to Barrow, Forsyth, Jackson etc and keep voting Republican, who cares what the Gwinnett total is since it all just adds up.

    Democrats win Fulton, DeKalb, Clayton etc by margins that are huge compared to 10 years ago. But the other counties in the state have gotten more Republican, therefor it all evens out. And one of the reasons we win Fulton and DeKalb bigger now is because the Republican voters went to the other counties. It’s zero sum.

    My guess is that the real white flight is from western Gwinnett to Eastern Gwinnett.

  2. Chris says:

    Illegal immigration is the sticky point for the GOP to attract hispanic votes. I think we should make note of the last time we lost a key racial demographic to the Dems. The migration of the segregationists from the Democrats to the Dixiecrats and into the GOP lost us the African American vote when it came time for the civil rights movement. While the position of states rights might have been the correct one from a legal/constitutional standpoint, it was disasterous in the PR realm. Lets not make that mistake again – because if we lose the Hispanic vote we will eventually lose the nation.

    That said, there isn’t much Gwinnett or even Georgia elected republicans can do about this issue. Reforming the immigration laws and beefing up enforcement are federal issues. The solution is out of our hands so now we have to look at how we balance the competing interests of our core supporters.

    There is a large faction within the party that wants us to strictly enforce the law, deny citizenship to children of illegals, crack down on employers, etc. There is a smaller and less vocal faction that says: “Good for them, they are here, they want to work and improve their lives and the lives of their families. As long as they can pay their way let them stay”. Finally there are the Hispanics themselves who tend to be family and values oriented, and would make a good fit into our party.

    I’ve got very few ideas on how to pull that off, and the one idea I do have won’t be popular.

  3. buzzbrockway says:

    What you say is true to a point. Are the people moving to Gwinnett Republicans or Democrats? We can say that up to the last election most folks moving in were Republicans, but what about now? Local Democrats maintain Gwinnett is moving in their favor, so what’s the GOP going to do about it?

  4. Karla Stuckey says:

    How does this impact the districts of David Shafer, erstwhile enemy of Ralph Reed, and Don Balfour, one of my favorites.

  5. I would guess that for the past 5 or 6 years more Dems have been moving into Gwinnett than Republicans. Curt Thompson’s Senate district was very recently considered a toss-up and now Democratic candidate routinely win it by 10 points or more.

    Balfour’s district would definitely be a tossup eventually, the question is will it happen before 2011’s redistricting.

  6. Harry says:

    Some wishful thinking going on here. It may a shock to Democrats to realize that younger blacks and Hispanics moving to Gwinnett are in many cases Republicans and independents. Black flight is occurring from corrupt, disfunctional Dekalb – they’ve seen with their own eyes what Democrats have done to that paradise. I spoke with one just yesterday. He’s interested in becoming involved in GOP politics!

    Don’t count your chickens, yet.

  7. OK Harry, but I’m not going to hold my breath for the minority exodus to the GOP since like with killer bees we have been on the cusp of it happening for about 30 years now.

    Clearly black “flight” to Gwinnett and Rockdale has been making the counties more Democratic. Kerry did marginally better in Gwinnett than Gore did, while Kerry did about 5% better than Gore did in Rockdale.

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