Which would you think could turn those red and pink states blue sooner? They are all important, but more vital than the birthing – and educating – of future socially conscious and culturally generous Americans, more challenging than enticing out-of-state progressives to accept the challenge of red state politics, is getting our fellow citizens to realize, and vote, their own self interests.
Living in Georgia, where state Republicans literally broke out a broom at their celebration in Atlanta, Tuesday night, it all seems rather insurmountable. Just because the GOP have spent the last eight years in power in this state, doesn’t mean it is either inevitable or for the good of the state. Just because this is a traditionally conservative state, doesn’t mean it cannot be a conservatory for strong, progressive ideas. Finally, just because the blue bleeds to red once the vote gets outside the state’s urban zones, doesn’t mean that the people voting there are all aware of the consequences of touch screening a Republican slate of candidates.
In Georgia, like many other southern and western conservative states, the social ideals of the electorate move as slowly as a man with a push-mower on a sweltering, summer day. In fact, it could be argued that the mood hardly changes at all – only the labels worn by those elected do. After all, this is the state that awarded Lester Maddox, a segregationist Democrat, the governorship in 1966, and elected Jimmy Carter governor right after that.
To put that into context, Maddox and his Dixiecrat contemporaries, like Alabama’s George Wallace, would have been darlings of Jim DeMint, Rand Paul and Sarah Palin’s Tea Party followers today. If you doubt it, check out Wallace’s rhetoric during his independent presidential run in 1968. “They’re building a bridge over the Potomac for all the white liberals fleeing to Virginia,” he said at one point during the campaign. Can’t you just hear the Embarrassment of Alaska saying that?
“His campaign in California and other states attracted the interest of the far right, including the John Birch Society,” cites a Wikibin article on Wallace’s failed bid. If you look at the crowds from his rallies that cycle, you’ll see many faces, and many signs, that are similar to today’s TP gatherings. He actually carried five Southern states that election, as the candidate for the American Independent Party (any one of which could have given Democrat Hubert Humphrey the election), including Georgia.
The last two-term Democratic governor in Georgia was Zell Miller (1991-1999), whose eccentricities and knee-jerk conservatism led him to the floor of the 2004 Republican National Convention, as keynote speaker and outspoken supporter of George W. Bush.
The thirty years from Maddox to Miller shows that very little changes in Georgia politics. Yes, we elected a string of Democrats in that time, but most just rode the tide of the Southern Democrat machine that was so prevalent in this part of the country in the twentieth century. The tide shifted within four years of Miller’s leaving office.
Even though we elected another Democrat, Roy Barnes, as governor in 1998, he only served one term, being swept out in the Great Changeover of 2002. That’s when Georgia elected its first Republican governor since Reconstruction – Sonny Perdue – and both houses of the State Legislature went to the GOP. In fact, many of the Democrats who did get re-elected, sensing the changing winds, switched parties, giving the Republicans an even more overwhelming majority.
If you are thinking, “Okay, campaign like a Republican; govern like a Democrat,” that probably won’t work either – at least, not in this political climate. Barnes, who lost another bid for a second term, Tuesday – to the crooked former Congressman, Nathan Deal – tried to run with Republican ideas this time. He came out in favor of an Arizona-style immigration law and against the recently passed Affordable Care Act (Healthcare Reform).
There’s no telling if another candidate, running on a similar, pandering platform, would have done any better than Roy. That is, the majority of voters either didn’t trust him because he was Roy Barnes – who took the states’ rights, confederate emblem off the state flag when he was governor – or they just don’t want to vote for Democrats.
Roy’s disingenuousness was probably his downfall. That, and the fact that the state Democratic Party is afraid to back a bolder candidate. If you are going to be derided and pigeon-holed as a Pinko or Liberal or Socialist, no matter what you stand for, if they’re not going to believe what you say anyway, you may as well say what you believe. They’ll respect you more for it, and they may even vote for you, as long as you are honest and can demonstrate that you love this state as much as they do, and you’re putting their best interests ahead of your own.
By the way, we would welcome progressive carpetbaggers, too. Y’all come.