Opinion - Democrats' disappearing act
The only hope for the almost-vaporized Democratic Party is that the GOP is so God-awful incompetent
I ran into Joe Hendricks, the district attorney for the Appalachian Judicial Circuit, at an arts festival in Blue Ridge last month. Hendricks was handing out leaflets for his re-election campaign. He told one woman: "Vote for me on the Republican primary."
The woman: "Republican? I've never voted for a Republican in my life."
Hendricks grinned: "Sorry, ma'am, but there just aren't many Democrats left. They local elections this year will all be on the Republican primary."
That's the sad state of the Democratic Party in Georgia, a species that is endangered by self-immolation.
What the GOP has done to the Dems is akin to what Gen. W.T. Sherman (R-UrbanRenewal) did to Georgia — except the Yankees actually had to fight occasionally as they burned the state. Some of the Democrats' best legislators, such as Rep. Stephanie Stuckey Benfield (D-Skedaddle) and Sen. Kathy Ashe (D-Out of here), have gone AWOL. The House and Senate Republicans, bulked up by craven cash from lobbyists, now have brawny two-thirds majorities.
There isn't a Democrat in a statewide seat — Roy Barnes (D-Ahshucks), who in bygone days would have reigned as a superior governor, was soundly thrashed by the infinitely mediocre Sonny Perdue (R-DoNuttin') and then by Nathan Deal (R-Ditto). Between Barnes' defeats, the Dems slimed themselves by picking gubernatorial candidate Mark Taylor (D-Bigsleaze), who was shellacked by Perdue.
The Democratic Congressional delegation is down to five members, and only U.S. Rep. John Lewis (D-Truehero) has real clout. The last Democratic U.S. senator in the state was Zell Miller (D-Needthorazine), but that hardly counts as a plus for the party.
Meanwhile, the Democratic Party organization in Georgia resembles a clown car with four flat tires. There have been firings, demands for firings, financial turmoil, and just good old-fashioned incompetence.
It all goes back 48 years to the Civil Rights Act, when President Lyndon Johnson said Democrats had "lost the South for a generation." Notably, Georgia U.S. Sen. Richard Russell at the time echoed the sentiment and adumbrated the Democrats' future: Civil rights "will ... cost you the South."
So it has gone ever since, first in most presidential elections, then in the state capitals of the South, finally in just about every local election where there isn't a strong African-American electorate. Indeed, much to the glee of the white-guy, religious-whacko, birther base of the GOP, Georgia Democrats have become almost a party of minorities, women, gays, greens, and urban trendies.
The state resembles the old white-dominated South Africa with Atlanta embedded as an economic Bantustan. That enclave is ruled by a clique led by Mayor Kasim Reed (D-ThinksHe'sEmperor). The city should be a powerhouse of Democratic principles and initiatives. Rather, multimillionaires hold power by claiming they're "disadvantaged" — while true disadvantaged minority entrepreneurs go begging. The lack of progressive thinking at City Hall is best illustrated by the fact that one-percenter champion Bain & Co. has made Atlanta occupied territory. Reed's policy guru at the city was Bain top dog Peter Aman. Bain & Co. is the corporate parent of Mitt Romney's Bain Capital. The Bain motto: A few get filthy rich while the rest pay the bill.
Put another way, state Republicans and Atlanta ersatz Dems don't want to get in each other's way as long as they can pig out on their own turf. House Speaker David Ralston (R-GimmeGimmeGimme) recently complained the lobbyist-money-fueled orgy in state government shouldn't be diminished by something as silly as "ethics."
So, with a faltering state party apparatus, just a meager handful of remaining elected officials and no progressive messaging being trumpeted at Atlanta City Hall, is there hope for the Democrats?
After all, the Republicans have run Gooberland for a decade, and their governance has been awful. Schools, already bad, have gotten worse. Transportation is in crisis mode. Georgia rates an anemic 45 among states for employment. One national survey showed Georgia as the most likely state to engage in corruption. That's why the state GOP has to keep voters distracted with nonsensical laws about gays, abortion, and guns.
If there is a rising star among the Democrats, it's state Rep. Stacey Abrams (D-LittleBigHorn), the House minority leader. "We're clearly in a crossover generation," she says. "No doubt we're at a nadir. But 2014 will be a building year, and 2018 will be the Democratic comeback. I can look forward to recovering a majority in the House."
Abrams' assessment is that the GOP product is "wrong." Social issues — particularly this year's draconian legislative attack on women's health issues — will backfire. Family priorities — jobs and education — have been gutted by Republicans. "So, yes, there's a reason for political consumers not to buy the Republican brand. But as Democrats, we have to tell people what we'll do that's better."