Today’s Courier Herald Column:
“Two Georgias” has been the longest running theme in Georgia politics. It has always been us verses them when trolling for votes, rather at the ballot box or at the legislature. Usually it is rural versus urban. Sometimes it is rich versus poor. At times, black versus white.
On Monday, the AJC’s Jim Galloway brought us photographic evidence of the new two Georgias. In side by side pictures, he showed shots of back to back press conferences. The first was the power structure of Georgia. The Governor, Lt. Governor, Atlanta Mayor, Legislators, civic and business leaders had all crowded the capital in a strong show of institutional support for T-SPLOST. As soon as they were done, a sparse crowd from the Transportation Leadership Council gave their rebuttal.
The imagery was obvious, as it has become common over the last decade. When politicians and the well connected VIPs who feast on government unite, the game is over. Those in power or who want power know which side to be on. The other side is ridiculed and ignored. The two Georgias are now those who govern us, and those who are governed.
At the Capitol Monday, those who govern dominated the frame. On Tuesday, the governed spoke up.
The powerful side, branded as “Untie Atlanta” for the capitol region, had $8M to spend, with another $2 million to be spent statewide. Slight dyslexia has had me reading their signs as “Unite Atlanta”, and ironically, that is exactly what happened. In all ten individual counties in the Atlanta region, T-SPLOST was defeated.
All but three regions in the state rejected the measure. The loss was stunning in scope and scale. This was about much more than transportation. This was a rebuke of leadership on the transportation issue, and to some extent, governance in general. After 10 years of inaction and abdication of responsibility for improving transportation, the issue that was punted to the voters by Republicans was returned with a vote of “no confidence”.
Polling by the groups promoting the issue demonstrated that “trust” was a major issue with voters being asked to give a state government even more of their income. As evidence of the public’s understanding of the trust issue, 87% of Republicans and 72% of Democrats favor capping the amount of gratuities that government officials take from lobbyists.
Those supporters whose numbers are great at the capitol but short at the ballot box want things. Arthur Blank, who headlined a fundraiser to raise the funds for the TSPLOST PR campaign, is still awaiting nearly a half billion dollars for a new stadium. Atlanta’s Mayor spent last week telling radio stations that MARTA’s expansion was critical for our convention industry. Will he now insist that we proceed to build a duplicative stadium when federal matching funds combined with hotel tax monies earmarked for a stadium could build the beltline? It would seem a more responsible use of a tax on hotels to help hotels.
Likewise, Governor Deal spent Tuesday quietly sending out word that he would be taking a much more central role in transportation planning and has no stomach to go back to the voters for another referendum. He’ll have to pinch pennies to fund the most needed projects. That’s quaint. It’s also what opponents have been urging to this tone deaf administration who kept insisting on pursing a fatally flawed plan left on his doorstep by a former Governor. Had the public any confidence that this step had already been taken, then perhaps the “need” for a 16% increase in sales taxes paid would have been considered more favorably.
Republican legislative leaders, however, deserve the biggest criticism of those that govern us for their substitution of doublespeak for leadership. Faced with the need to “do something” in 2010 as a runup to elections, they created an unworkable regional plan to kick the can down the road two more years. When it came time for the public to raise their own taxes because the legislators don’t want to violate a pledge, many ran from the bill of their own creation. This is not leadership, but rather cowardice of the first order.
While many of these “leaders” retained their seats in Tuesday’s primaries, more than expected of their peers did not, with a couple of others barely surviving or in runoffs. The Senate, in particular, needs wholesale leadership changes.
The powerful will no doubt react to these criticisms as is now their custom. They will accuse conservatives of aligning with “liberal interest groups” in order to harm the party. There is only one party in Georgia right now. The Democratic party that ruled Georgia for over a century no longer exists. Many of them are now Republicans, maintaining the status quo of a system of patronage that is by insiders, and for insiders.
The insiders lost Tuesday. The next step isn’t Plan B. For Georgia to excel, the next step is to remember that when the capitol is crowded, it better have room for the voters. For as long as the divide for the two Georgias are the governing and the governed, Georgia is ungovernable.