Today’s Courier Herald Column:
When this column first moved from Peach Pundit and began running on the pages of Courier Herald Publishing’s newspapers, I thought it important to explain to the readers a bit about where I was from, and why I, as someone from “Atlanta” had been added to the editorial pages to talk about state politics.
The 2010 election capped a sea change in Georgia politics. It established the Republican Party as the “permanent majority” in Georgia politics, at least for the next decade. It also demonstrated that the power base of Georgia had shifted from rural central Georgia to the Atlanta suburbs and points northward. With that, the outlook and leadership perspective would be changing along with the geography of that leadership. This has remained a recurring theme here during the two years since.
It had not occurred to me until speaking to a group of East Cobb Republicans on Wednesday evening that the same charge may need to be given to those in the Atlanta suburbs. This revelation came from the final question of the evening, which asked how those in suburban Atlanta could keep from being controlled by those folks who were inside the perimeter.
The city of Atlanta contains less than a half million residents. Even with the other folks outside the city limits there are less than 1 million people who are “ITP”, or inside the perimeter as we like to refer to them. Depending on how it is measured, the metro Atlanta area has between 4.5 and 5.5 million people living in it. Most of them OTP, most of them Republican.
These folks from “Atlanta” like myself are really from Marietta, and Lawrenceville, Cumming, Woodstock, Peachtree City, Douglasville, Conyers, and places nearby. This area composes roughly half the state’s population, and in effect now controls the state.
Yet this area has grown almost five fold in population over the past five decades. This was not organic growth. Many new Georgians weren’t born here. They moved here. And they moved to suburbs, where fewer and fewer have real roots in the community.
Suburban transplants came in search of career opportunities and good quality of life, and the area around Atlanta offers much of that. But those climbing the career ladder with a stop in the area for a few years also often do not understand the local politics of the area. Thus, they do not know what they do control, or what they could.
These suburbanites, coupled with rural Georgia’s social conservatives, transitioned the state from majority Democratic to majority Republican in less than a decade. But many still have the perspective that someone else is in control. Such is the case when those places mentioned above – Marietta, Cumming, Lawrenceville et al – act independently of each other without proper understanding that they are really a part of a much larger, largely homogenous group.
In recent political terms we would call this a region. Based on July’s primary results, don’t look for too many politicians to be using that word too terribly often in the Atlanta area.
Yet many of my suburban Atlanta neighbors are still voting against “Atlanta” when they approach the ballot box, without full understanding or appreciation that Atlanta is now them. The political control of the area is not within the city, but within its Republican suburbs.
With power comes responsibility. Republicans now have that power, yet many within the party’s base neither understand the power they have attained –or, more troubling – how to effectively use it.
The problems the state faces – economic growth, traffic, education, and all others – are now in the hands of Republicans. Specifically, those Republicans living in the shadows of the city have both the power and the duty to address them.
Republicans asked for this responsibility. We now have it. It’s time we realized it and put together coherent plans to deal with it.
There is no one else to blame. Scapegoating is getting old.
Atlanta needs to solve its regional identity crisis if it and the state are to move forward. Republicans need to understand this, and provide the leadership to turn a patchwork of suburbs into a cohesive group.
Leadership will be required for this to happen. It remains to be seen which leaders are up to the challenge.