Today’s Courier Herald Column:
Democrats will not build a new majority in Georgia by themselves. They’re going to need to get some help. The rejection of T-SPLOST across much of Georgia in the July primaries may be an aberration, or it may be a canary in the coal mine indicating growing voter dissatisfaction from Georgians over current leadership, trends, and direction.
Despite decades of work, Republicans didn’t become a majority purely on their own merit. Instead, an arrogant and politically tone deaf governor alienated a broad coalition of political constituencies. Each to this day takes credit or is credited with ending 130+ years of solid Democratic rule.
Educators, Northern Arc suburbanites, “historians” longing for Georgia’s rebel flag, and South Metro Atlanta suburbanites opposed to GRTA as a stalking horse for MARTA all took a pound of flesh from Governor Roy Barnes. He had all the power of incumbency and outspent Sonny Perdue handily. And he lost. The voters were angry, and Democrats bore the brunt of that ire.
While it isn’t impossible that voters could be equally as angry in 2014, it isn’t as likely either. The Republican power structure of the state appears to be ready to appease the largest voting blocs of the party with legislation addressing traffic, ethics, and education during the upcoming session of the general assembly. By doing so, they will then be finally acknowledging they own the problems that should have been addressed during the last decade. The performance of these plans between now and 2018, when a new Governor, and likely new Lt. Governor and many other statewide officials will be selected, can give Democrats the opening they desire.
Democrats are already beginning to find legs with their messaging. Beginning with Senate opposition to HOPE scholarship reforms, the minority party began to find a backbone and understand the divide and conquer strategy that Republicans used to split the majority Democratic caucuses during the 80’s and 90’s.
Democrats, however, are using good old fashioned populism and pragmatism in an attempt to peel off rural Republicans from their Suburban Atlanta counterparts. The income means test for HOPE recipients as proposed by Senator Jason Carter was demonstrably better for the constituents of rural Republican legislators, but significantly worse for the constituents of suburban Atlanta Republican legislators. Ultimately, the Governor’s plan prevailed, but not without Democrats exposing a weak link in the Republican’s unified majority.
Democrats are now taking aim at Republicans plans to promote state sponsored charter schools. They are using Republican school board members predominately in suburban Atlanta counties to argue the Republican concept of “local control” is being violated by this amendment. They can count on their side Republican State School Superintendent John Barge, who is persona non grata among many other statewide Republicans. This contest is likely to move many educators who left the Democratic establishment back into their camps if not handled more delicately.
The recent fight over Georgia’s immigration reform revealed another split between rural and suburban Georgia, as South Georgia legislators’ pleas were ignored, and found themselves with crops in the field and no one available to pick them. Rural Georgia legislators, used to being at the head table of Georgia’s political power structure, are not used to taking such a back seat, and neither are their constituents.
Another opening has been left for Democrats on the issue of ethics. While no choirboys (or girls) when they ran things, they like members of most political parties have found religion on the subject of ethics while in the minority. Republicans meanwhile privately concede that T-SPLOST failed not because it was a massive tax increase, but because public trust of elected officials does not exist at this time. Democrats must now figure out how to capitalize on this mistrust if they are to use this issue for their advantage.
And then, of course, there is transportation – and lack of Republicans to execute a coherent plan. Republicans transportation policy is defined by accomplishing two things thus far: Killing the northern Arc and adding unpopular HOT lanes to I-85 through Gwinnett County. T-SPLOST was a failure in most of Georgia, and the initiative to relieve local governments of the T-SPLOST penalty for those regions who voted it down will likely upset the three regions that passed it.
There are plenty of issues that Republicans have given Democrats on which to make inroads. And the reality is, the Democrats, like the Republicans before them, don’t necessarily have to offer better plans. They need only be standing by with acceptable candidates when voters decide that inaction and failed initiatives do not deserve another term of platitudes and study committees.
Tomorrow, we’ll take a look at who is sitting on the Democrats bench, and what they may wish to be working on while the political climate becomes more conducive to their emergence.