Georgia’s Diverse Electorate Chipping Away at Republican Stranglehold on Power
Georgia, long a fiery “red state,” is in the process of changing colors.
And for Democrats, left-leaning pundits and minorities, the hope that the state’s 2014 elections will turn the tide towards returning Georgia to the” blue state” status it held during the first half of the 20th century.
Democrats are predicting that Atlanta’s, and Georgia’s, increasingly diverse population will continue to loosen the GOP’s stranglehold on power in state government in the Deep South.
It’s in the state government race that the hopes and dreams of new millennium Democrats and minorities will be put to the test. Republican Gov. Nathan Deal steamrolled over his GOP competition in the primaries on Tuesday, May 20, accumulating more than 70 percent of the vote in early returns. He easily defeated former Dalton Mayor David Pennington and State School Superintendent John Barge.
Next on the governor’s target list: a formidable opponent and popular Democratic state Sen. Jason Carter, the grandson of the unabashed liberal and former President Jimmy Carter.
Minorities also fared well in state elections when you discuss the LGBT community. State Rep. Simone Bell easily defeated a challenge from Erica Long, taking 63 percent of the vote from Long’s 36 percent. With no Republican in the November race, Bell will keep her District 58 seat. State Rep. Karla Drenner, the first openly gay lawmaker in Georgia history, will keep her District 85 seat. She ran unopposed in the Democratic primary and faces no GOP opposition in November. The same goes for state Rep. Keisha Waites, also openly gay, in District 60. Futon County Commissioner Joan Garner, who became the commission’s first-ever openly gay member when she won election in 2010, coasted to another term on Tuesday. She dispatched Eddie Brewster, 70.71 percent to 29.39 percent.
When you factor in that Republicans were passing laws cracking down on people who violate immigration laws, Georgia’s GOP will find it hard to attract the growing population of Hispanic and Asian voters.
Back to the state government. Deal’s campaign will focus on a tougher Democratic opponent in Carter in November’s general election. And, after his victory was well in hand, Deal aimed his sights on Carter.
“You can achieve prosperity by keeping government small, by keeping taxes low, by giving people more freedom of choice in terms of where their child gets an education,” said Deal. “This is what our campaign will continue to be about. And we will contrast it with that of the party that wants to raise your taxes, that wants to take away your freedom and wants to tell you what to do because they believe government knows best.”
Carter’s campaign spokesperson countered Deal’s statements by saying Carter had never voted for a tax increase and criticized Deal for underfunding the education system.
“A real vision for education, a real vision for an economy that works is something we just haven’t been getting in Georgia,” Carter said in an interview.
White Georgia’s electorate voted heavily Democratic as a legacy of the U.S. Civil War. That continued until President Lyndon Johnson successfully ushered the landmark Civil Rights Bill of 1964 through Congress (that was initiated by Democratic President John F. Kennedy). The backlash from that historic act enabled the Republican Party to steal away white Democrats and recruit them to the party.
Deal, for example, was a Democrat when he was first elected to Congress before stepping across the political aisle to become a Republican.
The complete GOP takeover of the state happened when Republican Sonny Perdue beat incumbent Democrat Roy Barnes in the new millennium. Republicans now hold every statewide office and enjoy a considerable majority in the state legislature.
There are significant signs that the political tide is changing to turn the state from all red to a purplish combination of red and blue.
- High-profile Democrats finished within a few percentage points of defeating Republicans.
- President Obama won 47 percent of the Georgia vote in 2008 even though he did not campaign in the state, according to T.J. Copeland, the president of the Young Democrats of Atlanta.
- Copeland also noted that Obama won almost 46 percent of Georgia voters during his 2012 re-election — despite incessant Republican criticism of Obama’s first term.
- Georgia is undergoing a steady demographic shift, however not enough to cause a paradigm shift in the political landscape as of yet. For example, when Perdue broke the Democratic hold on the governor’s office in 2002, black voters were approximately 23 percent of the turnout. In 2010 midterms, black turnout climbed 28 percent and actually got to 30 percent during Obama’s first campaign.