Chambliss Retirement Leaves South Georgia Political Vacuum

Today’s Courier Herald Column:

Moultrie is about as South Georgia as you can get.  It lies in the middle of a patch of land about equal distances from Tifton, Valdosta, Albany, and Thomasville.  Or as those of us from Atlanta might say, it’s the kind of place you would have to go to on purpose.

Moultrie is also the home of two term Georgia Senator Saxby Chambliss who surprised most by announcing on Friday that he would not seek a third term.  Instantly, the 2014 campaign season has begun to not only replace him, but creating instant new political contests to fill the seats of those who will no doubt move up to replace him.  Like it or not, this campaign season will be 22+ months long.

Tom Price, Republican Congressman from Roswell, is already making phone calls in preparation of an announcement.  Others, including former Secretary of State and gubernatorial candidate Karen Handel are preparing to fill that void.

Others considering the race include most of Georgia’s other Republican Congressmen – Jack Kingston, Lynn Westmoreland, Austin Scott, Paul Broun, Phil Gingrey, and Tom Graves are said to be looking.  Lieutenant Governor Casey Cagle, already possessing a statewide network and one of the highest Republican vote getters in 2010 is making it clear he may be a candidate.  Others are scrambling to determine if they can be considered viable, while many more look at these names and try to decide if they would be a fit in these soon to be vacated offices.

For South Georgia, however, the outcome favors yet another seat of power moving significantly north.  Austin Scott has some experience running statewide, but isn’t likely to run if several of the more experienced Congressmen decide to take the leap.  Jack Kingston is revered in coastal Georgia, but despite his 20 years of service, is little known in the highly populated metro Atlanta and North Georgia areas where most Republican primary votes are generated.

In all likelihood, the 3 or 4 front runners are going to live in or north of the metro Atlanta area.  Vote totals show that the math is now clearly on the side of those above I-20.  The top 3 Congressional districts from the 2010 Presidential Preference Primary were the 9th (Gainesville), 6th (Roswell), and 11th (Woodstock). All mostly north of I-285 and generating over 90,000 votes each.  By Contrast, the South Georgia districts of 1 (Savannah), 2 (SW Georgia), 8 (Macon) and 12 (SE Georgia) generated 55K, 41K, 61K and 58K, respectively.  The math in a Republican primary is now heavily in favor of the northern part of the state.

It was not too long ago when South Georgia ruled Georgia politics.  Now, there is exactly one statewide elected official from south of the metro Atlanta area.  That person is Doug Everett, Public Service Commissioner from Cordele.  It should also be noted that PSC members must be elected from a district they reside in, which may be the only reason there remains a South Georgian elected statewide at all.

South Georgia remains an integral and important part of the state, from the largest portion of the state’s economy (agriculture) to the thriving and growing ports.  It is not an area that can be forgotten.

And yet, politically, change has come rapidly to the region, and the clout has been moved with the efficiency that comes from a state whose backbone is logistics.  For this season and apparently those to come, political power will not likely be seated in the southern regions.

This is not to say that the southern part of the state will not have clout.  It is to say that the region will need to learn how to use they clout they have differently.  It will require more work, more strategy, and the formation of strategic alliances.


  1. griftdrift says:

    It’s also a fine place to grow up and live.

    One thing that could also start to change the equation back the other way ( though it will never reach its glory days, I can share some stories next time anyone wants to hear ) is Moultrie sits in the middle of a population anomaly.

    While overall South Georgia lost population in the last census, Moultrie sits smack in the middle of an X that actually grew in population. That X is the corridors of HWY 133 and US 319. At each of the points of the X are Tifton, Thomasville, Valdosta and Albany.

    It may not be soon, but one day there will be enough pull to, if not generate a candidate, cause the northerners to pay attention.

  2. Trey A. says:

    South Georgia lost its pull when it became a two party region. The demise of the conservative democrat correlates pretty well with the southern half of the state’s diminishing political influence.

    • The Last Democrat in Georgia says:

      South Georgia lost its pull when nearly 7 million people moved into North Georgia above the Gnat Line and only a few-hundred-thousand moved into South Georgia in an almost 70-year period since the end of World War II.

      South Georgia could have had all of the political influence in the world, but no political arrangement or setup could have stopped a predominantly-rural region like South Georgia from losing its grip on the state’s political scene with the crushing amount of population growth that has gone on in an increasingly urban/suburban/exurban North Georgia.

      The sociopolitical changes that Georgia is experiencing is the same thing that states like Illinois and New York experienced years ago as once-predominantly rural and agricultural states that were eventually (and rather quickly) swallowed up by fast-growing and increasingly-domineering urban areas that bursted out of their one corner of the state.

      The political disparity between North Georgia and South Georgia is only going to get worse as the state continues to grow and much of the continued population growth attempts to crowd and pack in the Northern half of the state around Metro Atlanta where the massive population growth has propelled Georgia past highly-populated states like New Jersey and Michigan into being the 8th-most populated state in the union.

      Continued population growth in the northern half of the state will likely continue to propel Georgia past Ohio, Pennsylvania and Illinois into the spot of 5th-most populated state in the union where Illinois resides behind Florida, New York, Texas and California before all is said and done.

  3. Dave Bearse says:

    Both the post format, a post for each candidate, and writing in teh posts speculating on candidates for offices held by speculative Senate candidates was entertaining. I hope you’re being well paid for your substantive efforts.

    I loved the “Or as those of us from Atlanta might say, it’s the kind of place you would have to go to on purpose” in this Courier column.

    I thought I signed up for the newsletter, but there was nothing in the mailbox.

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