Suburbia And The Permanent Majority

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.


  1. bird says:

    Suburbanites are also antiquated in their views of Atlanta. I grew up in East Cobb in the 80s and 90s, but have lived in Atlanta for the last decade plus. Atlanta’s per capita income and education keep rising, and there is no end in sight to that trend. My friends, many of whom are parents with young children, would have moved to East Cobb in 80s, but are instead choosing to live in places like Grant Park, with access to a great park, sidewalks, plenty of restaurants and businesses and easy access to the big law firms in Downtown/Midtown, Coke, big accounting firms, etc.

    I regret that for many in the suburbs, the only time they will realize that is when their sons and daughters finish college and move to Midtown, Va-Highlands, etc., or to a bigger city with more amenities.

    • CobbGOPer says:

      I hope your friends send their kids to private school. Otherwise they might be participating in child abuse by sending them to APS.

      • bird says:

        We have a great charter elementary and middle school. The City just shut down Maynard Jackson High School for a $36MM renovation! They are including an IB program, which has been so successful at Grady.

        I have two kids, and I plan on sending them to Maynard Jackson to get a good public school education (in 10 years).

  2. Happy Face says:

    Looking at the latest census data, Gwinnett is now a minority majority county. More poor live in the suburbs than the city, though with such a large difference between the total population in the city and the total population in the suburbs you’d expect there to be more of everything, including poor, in the suburbs. Immigrants for the most part are settling directly in the suburbs instead of the city regardless of income. The city is increasinly becoming white, young, childless, and well off while older suburbs are becoming increasingly affordable for those of more limited means and ethnically diverse.

    Metro Atlanta does have one of the worst cases of city hate by the suburbs I’ve ever seen. That might continue, I’m not sure. But what I am sure about is eventually these changing demographics are going to have political consequences in both the city and the suburbs. Eventually there will be a tipping point election in Gwinnett where it goes not only from being all Republican but to majority Democrat. And there will be an election in the city where the black majority loses control. When will these elections happen? They’re probably still a couple of election cycles away. Gerrymandering and the voting rights act will keep things bottled up a bit longer but doing so is going to make the tipping point elections that much more dramatic when they happen.

    It’s going to be hard for metro Atlanta is solve its identity crisis until these tipping point elections happen and the demographic changes that aren’t refected in representation currently settle down. Things will get less red and blue and much more purple, with the possible except of the deep red exurbs. May you live in interesting times.

      • Happy Face says:

        Me? No. The world? Almost certainly.

        The thing about Charlie’s article is that he mentions the Republican party in Georgia not really understanding the power they’ve gained. The other problem is that they don’t understand it’s a temporary sitution. I don’t see the democrats retaking control any time soon but things are going to get more balanced. The Republicans have a historic opportunity that probably won’t happen again in our lifetime and so far don’t seem to know what to do with it. Ten years from now that won’t matter because the opportunity will have passed. We’re so focused on secret government transmitters in women’s taints and making sure everybody knows how much we hate gay citizens, that we’re letting our time pass. Republicans ten years from now dealing with democrats that can swing votes outside the city will look back on today and wish for another chance at such a strong majority. The purple is getting stronger everyday and isn’t going to give us a second chance.

        • Calypso says:

          You identified the Republican’s problem in your comment in the post about gay marriage. I’ve been trying to get folks to listen for years, but they enjoy knowing the religious zealots will vote for the Rs and keep putting up with their crap. All the while driving moderates and independents into the Dem tent.

          • The Last Democrat in Georgia says:

            Driving Moderates and Independents may not necessarily be a problem for Georgia Republicans for the time being, especially if the Democrats keep putting forth candidates for Governor that make guys like Sonny Perdue and Nathan Deal look like world beaters by comparison.

            But in the event that the Dems were to actually grow a brain and put up competent, charismatic, well-adjusted and well-liked candidates who actually showed a willingness to confront the very tough problems facing the state and the now-politically dominant Atlanta Region in particular, now-ruling Republicans could possibly be in some trouble sooner rather than later, especially given their record of non-achievement on massive issues like transportation and education.

            Of course, Republicans could always easily head-off the possibility of Democrats becoming competitive in statewide elections by just simply doing a competent job of managing the state that they now politically-dominate.

            But then again, why do something as easy as giving voters reasons to keep voting for you because they like your job performance?

        • Scott65 says:

          I think part of the problem stems from a major premise of today’s republican party.
          If you cut taxes alone, it will cause growth
          I’d say that this is a flawed premise which keeps getting proven over and over to be wrong. The problem is, however, that the more times you say “cutting taxes causes growth” the more people who dont know any better, tend to accept it as truth.
          Now cutting taxes in some circumstances (such as budget surpluses) might promote growth, doing so now achieves just the opposite …and I dont know of one republican politician brave enough to accept that obvious point.

    • The Last Democrat in Georgia says:

      Excellent points.

      Your mention of Gwinnett County being a majority-minority county raises an interesting point…That with the continuing robust population growth and demographic changes some of the places that we have thought of as being suburbs, places like Cobb County (700,000 people) and Gwinnett County in particular (825,000) people are not likely going to continue to be suburbs in the traditional sense for very long in terms of being predominantly white, conservative and upper-income.

      Gwinnett County in particular is an interesting case because according to the U.S. Census Bureau, non-Hispanic whites now makeup only about 43% of the population of Gwinnett County, which is way, way, WAY down from the times when non-Hispanic whites made up 90% or more of the population of Gwinnett back more than two decades ago.

  3. Dave Bearse says:

    Great column.

    But concerning “Republicans asked for this responsibility. We now have it.”, Now was 6 years ago.

  4. Groundpounder says:

    One thing I think the article is missing, it’s not republicans or democrats it’s the generation that won’t let go. No matter how you look at it the Baby Boomers outnumber the next three generations. They are making decisions for the closing party and we are going to get stuck with the bill. Just ask yourself how many departments were created under that generation and how many of those departments or services are still going to be around when that tax base dies……

    • Scott65 says:

      The tax base isn’t dying nearly as fast as its being eliminated by the state in tax breaks for any special interest willing to put up the cash

  5. Scott65 says:

    There is nothing in this article that I dont agree with. It hits the nail right on the head. The problem is that we still continue to operate in a structural deficit…there’s more money going out than coming in, and you cant keep cutting to get out of it. There has to be revenue somewhere and our leaders are so unyielding, even to that idea, that they continue to whack off their nose to spite their face. Cutting alone is not a plan yet it has been all that’s offered. I have a friend who works at DFCS and their budget is so tight right now that they have way more cases than they can handle…and the result? Children fall through the cracks…many die as a result. Yet they have to find more areas to cut. I see no moral defense of this If you look at todays AJC editorial, Alan Essig makes a pretty good case

    We need a plan not political stump speeches telling people that MARTA is evil, the UN is going to make you live in a high rise, or government is evil (although I think that label could stick to some in state government) and should not be allowed to do anything. It would take brave leadership, and there is none of that anywhere around here in Atlanta or the suburbs

  6. saltycracker says:

    The Republican Party does not make it easy at the local level for the non-political junkie or those not inclined to be a “me first” professional.

      • Scott65 says:

        so the utilities will have somewhere to spend their lobbying budget (especially if the legislature bans gifts…gonna be tough to get that money spent)

  7. SallyForth says:

    “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.”
    Amen and Amen. The sad part is that Republicans have had the power since the 2002 elections, which brought “Go Fish” Perdue into office and began Legislative flipping that gave them the majority there in short order. With control of all three legs of the stool at the State Capitol for the past decade, they have focused on people’s sex lives, women’s body parts and whether we should pin a diaper on a fertilized egg.

    While keeping the public distracted with social and medical issues, Republicans behind closed doors have been “privatizing” (aka, give-away contracts to friends and contributors) taxpayer programs, allowing Georgia’s banks to become some of the worst in the nation, siphoning HOPE funds for purposes never intended, throwing teacher accountability out the window while public education sinks like a rock, etc. ad infinitum. They have done nothing to address our having one of the highest jobless rates in the nation, nor the tens of thousands of homes foreclosed every month (DeKalb alone runs about 1500 and up each month) for the last few years.

    If the Democrats could stop fighting with each other long enough to groom some attractive candidates and address the real issues, Republicans might be in trouble. But as long as GA Dems remain focused on race-based politics and sexual preference politics, that ain’t gonna happen. I’m afraid it’s going to take more than just one decade for some of the madness to stop.

  8. jeff hinkle says:

    Thanks for writing about my question charley. I am flattered. Thank you for spending time with us as well! I hope we suburban republicans can figure out how to come together and control things for a positive outcome. I also agree with many of the posts here that republicans get too hyper focused on wedge issues and miss some of the bigger areas we can actually change near term.

  9. notsplost says:

    Well you’ll have to pardon this suburban voter for feeling like we don’t have much political “control” even with a GOP majority. I guess it might have something to do with the fact that I just spent a considerable amount of my time and energy fighting a TSPLOST referendum that should have never made it out of the GOP controlled legislature in the first place.

    To echo some earlier comments, it’s not really about Atlanta vs. the suburbs. How about the special interests vs. the average working stiff? Having defeated the TSPLOST with a grass roots efforts vs. millions of dollars of lobbying cash was gratifying, but largely the same cast of clowns in the Gold Dome are going to be deciding whether or not to bring it back in two years, and you can bet that there will be plenty of big money going into their campaigns to make sure that it does.

    And you’ll also have to forgive me for having heard this all before. Whenever big government gets it’s air hose stepped on we hear the usual cries of “the GOP just can’t govern.” I suppose they just need to “grow” in office and become like tax and spend Democrats. Is living within your means and making hard choices even an option anymore?

    • wicker says:


      Unfortunately, your missive is par for the course for the conservative mindset these days. Here’s the deal: the conservative mindset is now molded by institutions like the Heritage Foundation, the Cato Institute, the Wall Street Journal, the Washington Times, the National Review, the Weekly Standard,, Breitbart, etc. Look at where those institutions and the people that write for them, as well as the guys on Fox News and talk radio, are located. New York, Los Angeles and DC. They take on national issues, and local issues that are local and relevant TO THEM with reference to left-leaning federal government and very liberal state and local governments.

      But their agenda is not our agenda. This is Georgia. Even when Georgia was governed by Democrats, they weren’t tax and spend Democrats. The “big government” stuff doesn’t apply here. Georgia is a right to work, low tax, low regulation state. Further, it has real challenges. What used to dominate Georgia’s economy for decades – agriculture and manufacturing (mostly related to agriculture) and military bases/defense spending (the days of Sam Nunn and Newt Gingrich bringing home Cold War pork are long gone) – is in decline and has outright collapsed in many parts of the state, and those are jobs – and the culture that came with those economies – that aren’t coming back. Georgia has to compete for jobs and revenue with other states – and globally – despite lacking advantages like tourism and large natural resource deposits.

      Living within your means and making hard choices … that is for the folks in California that are facing a decades long budget crisis, or the folks in D.C. Georgia needs to spend money if we are going to be competitive with other states – not to mention emerging markets all over the globe – for jobs. Look at us, we can’t even deepen our own Savannah port without the help of the feds, and even when it is deepened, we will still may be at a disadvantage with the other supertanker ports because we aren’t going to have a highway or railway network to support the increased freight traffic. That’s just one example.

      What about investing the money into our shoreline areas to help generate a tourism market there? Other states – other nations – have done the same.
      Instead of dithering about with charter schools, why not create a state-run network of magnet schools for our best students? A lot of the liberal places that we mock like Chicago, Boston and New York have a ton of magnet schools. We need such schools even more than they do, because they have more – and better – private schools than we do also.
      And instead of joining in the dittoheads with their “drill baby drill” stuff, since we have precious few fossil fuel deposits in Georgia, we actually do need to be doing something in alternative energy, instead of contributing to that 3% unemployment rate in the Dakotas and helping keep the oil money flowing into the Alaska and Texas coffers. The midwestern states made a mint off that ethanol program, and we could have joined in by producing corn AND sugar ethanol AND biodiesel. The way to get the south Georgia economy moving again was right there and we missed the boat.

      Let the national neocon crowd fight their own battles fit for places where Kasim Reed would actually be considered a conservative (that is right … Reed is actually more conservative than Mike Bloomberg, the REPUBLICAN mayor of New York, and not that far removed from Rudy Giuliani). You don’t realize that Georgia Republicans are making the same mistakes that the Democrats did. They started following the national party and ignored local issues. Well, by listening to Rush Limbaugh and Sean Hannity get on the radio every day and talk about tax cuts, spending cuts and other stuff that is relevant to New York City (which probably has a bigger budget than our entire state) isn’t going to do squat in Georgia but send us backwards. New York can make major cuts in taxes and spending and be fine, because they still have all those Fortune 500 companies, tourism, great universities, museums, transportation infrastructure, you name it. Georgia needs to add some of those things so that we can compete with New York for jobs in this new economy.

      What are we known for? Peaches, peanuts and cotton. Meanwhile, the liberal areas are growing Apple, Yahoo, Google, Microsoft and Facebook. There’s a reason why those businesses were created in New York or on the left coast instead of Georgia. And if Georgia’s conservatives keep listening to the national conservatives, we will never create companies like that.

      • Happy Face says:

        Interesting post. Regarding D vs R, Georgia doesn’t have too many of either. We’re a state of Dixiecrats who put on whatever color jacket is in fashion this season. I’d guestimate that no more than ten, maybe fifteen percent of the state is really either liberal or conservative. We’re a muddle of ideas that often conflict with each other but due to partisan loyalty, we try really hard to come up excuses for why it’s ok to use the power of government to make sure gay citizens know just how much we hate them while at the same time professing our desire for the government to get out of our lives.

        Now you may think I’m being critical of Republicans but I’m not because we have very few Republicans. No, I’m not going to call anyone a RINO for not being pure enough. We’re a state of Dixiecrats. That’s who we are and I don’t see it changing anytime soon. While the Republican brand is popular in Georgia, let’s face it, there really hasn’t been a Republican revolution here. I wish we could have an actual Dixiecrat party for all these people to join so the rest of us would have a place to actually be conservative. I’m sure there are many liberals who feel the same way, or at least did when the Democrat brand was popular with the Dixiecrats.

        Sorry this is a bit off your subject of infrastucture investment but I really don’t see this as a red versus blue issue. We have a political caste and all too often it’s them versus the people rather than Republican versus Democrat.

      • notsplost says:

        Last time I checked New York and California were losing jobs and population ex-illegal immigration. So if you’re saying that we are falling behind those areas, I just don’t see it.

        And don’t worry about New York or California making major cuts in taxes or spending anytime soon. New York has some of the highest property taxes in the nation and the sales tax in the county I used to live in up there runs at 9%.

        • caroline says:

          That’s because NY not only has to support their own citizens they have to support GA and SC and MS too. Maybe if we quit revenue sharing their taxes would go down and people in GA could start paying their own way.

      • caroline says:

        One thing that gets ignored about California is that they are a donor state when it comes to taxes. I think they get 75% of their federal tax money back now but during the Bush Administration it was something like 67% I believe.

      • Self_Made says:

        Excellent post, wicker…I couldn’t have put it any better. The national agenda is NOT the Georgia agenda, and despite the hue and cry over states’ rights and local control, there is very little attention paid to the REAL condition of state and local government finances.

    • Scott65 says:

      Last time I checked…it was the chief function of the government to TAX and SPEND…they tax (generate revenue) and spend on infrastructure, education, public safety, etc. They are supposed to tax and spend…its not magic nor a hard concept to comprehend. The discussion should be more are they spending it wisely…and there upon lies the debate…accusing government politicians of taxing and spending is just as though saying they are doing their job….its what are they spending on, and are taxes high enough to pay for it…takes money to make money

  10. Technocrat says:

    “since we have precious few fossil fuel deposits in Georgia,”

    What about the “Chattanooga Shale” nat gas deposits that FILL the extreme North West Corner of our State?

    Oh yeah, the rare green and pink tail squirrel might be harmed.

    Still no Million $ bounty from our Legislature for the first discovery and production. You would think they don’t care without a promised kick back?

    • Dave Bearse says:

      We have a long history of fossils that have been deposited here for years fueling backwardness.

    • View from Brookhaven says:

      I visit Cloudland Canyon quite often and have yet to spot this mythical beast.

      Pretty sure I saw Bigfoot there once, though.

    • Charlie says:

      There is absolutely no one that will invest in exploring for natural gas right now, especially if it has to be extracted from shale.

      The price is at historic lows, and new reserves are being discovered constantly where drilling is already underway. We don’t have the storage for what is already being extracted. Perhaps one day any reserves we have will be of value, but it won’t be any time soon.

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