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.