The AJC’s Political Insider article yesterday, Kasim Reed to Democrats: Demographics alone won’t turn Georgia, also contains a message for the Georgia Republican Party in this time of political turmoil – govern well and expand your base or your days are numbered.
Both political parties in Georgia are far too dependent on differing racial, religious, gender, and ethnic group allegiances. In 2014, The Georgia Democratic Party claimed about 89% of the African-American vote while the Republican Party captured 77% of White Georgia voters. Other demographic groups were also roughly pegged into one party or another.
The voter population numbers behind these polarized demographics allowed Republicans in 2014 to sweep every state constitutional office, the General Assembly, the U.S. Senate seat for David Perdue, and ten of Georgia’s fourteen congressional seats. Many Democrats looking down the road, however, believe that these deep divisions are the Achilles Heel for Republicans future due to anticipated population shifts in Georgia which they believe favors their party and have banked their party’s future on these shifts.
For more than mere partisan reasons, however, demographics must not be allowed to determine destiny. Politics that presumes that people will vote one way or another because they are a certain race, religion, age, gender, sexual orientation, or zip code cheapens all of us as individuals, is injurious to the various demographic groups pigeonholed, and is corrosive to our society.
If a political party knows that a particular group will always be with it, party leaders will tend to take that group for granted and give their concerns mere lip service. Similarly, if a political party in power expects that a group will never be with it, the legitimate societal concerns of that group may be ignored.
Flipping upside down Mayor Reed’s warning to Georgia Democrats, what should Georgia Republicans do? The answer is straight forward. Recognize the obvious. You are in charge. With your success at the ballot box, you hold within your grasp the ability to meet the challenges facing Georgians and the responsibility to do so.
In recent years, Georgia Republicans have made progress on saving the HOPE scholarship, launching criminal justice reform, improving the business environment in general and the manufacturing industry in particular, expanding school choice through the Charter School Amendment and special needs scholarships, deepening the Savannah Harbor, tackling human trafficking, conserving water, stepping up on funding on transportation, and balancing the state budget in tough economic times.
However, much more needs to be done. Small town Georgia is losing jobs. Urban school districts have a deplorable high school drop-out rate of close to 50% and some have been found to be corrupt. We have a transportation system that remains underfunded despite recent gains and our mass transit in Metro Atlanta is a patch work of disjointed systems. Our statewide network of trauma centers is inadequate. Medical care for the neediest among us must be addressed. We have a growing legal immigrant population struggling to assimilate. High school students not wanting to attend college must still develop job skills to compete. The curriculum for pre-K must improve. Greater economic development attracting good jobs at good wages is needed. Both the concerns for protection of religious liberty and civil rights for all Georgians must be addressed. The list goes on.
To meet these needs, Republicans must fight against the stonewalling forces of the bureaucratic status quo and the harsh and stark screams from CAVE (“Citizens Against Virtually Everything”). To do so, will require the party to reach beyond wedge issues which merely galvanize its historic base and focus instead on “gateway issues” that reach the party into communities that have felt in the past ignored by the Grand Old Party.
For now, Georgia Republicans firmly hold within their hands their future. They can choose to smash through historic demographic allegiances by tackling the pressing issues of our state or they can squander their lofty position as Georgia Democrats did prior to 2002. The choice is theirs.