Georgia Republicans and the Urban – Rural Divide

Over the weekend, Dunwoody’s Reporter Newspapers published a post mortem on the 2016 elections, featuring comments from Senator Fran Millar and State Rep. Tom Taylor, who represent the area, along with Oglethorpe University political professor Joseph Knippenberg. The theme of the story as expressed in both the headline and the lede was that Georgia Republicans need to reach beyond their white base and engage ethnic minorities if they want to remain relevant in the future.

The story points out that Millar won his rematch against Tamara Johnson-Shealey by a 56% to 44% margin, two percentage points fewer than he won by in 2014. The story also points out that Atlanta Senator Hunter Hill barely squeaked by in his race against Jaha Howard. In that sense, the story is another in a long line that talks about Republicans’ need to capture a greater share of the African American, Hispanic and Asian vote.

Yet, below the fold was another concern for the GOP, as it looks to maintain its hold under the Gold Dome, expressed by the Oglethorpe University professor:

Knippenberg said the state GOP may have to rein in rural lawmakers who might feel emboldened by a Trump presidency to continue to push for controversial socially conservative policies.

“Republicans who have won in metro Atlanta need to figure out a way to persuade rural Republicans to not hang issues on them that will hurt them,” he said. An example is the Religious Restoration Freedom Act [sic], vetoed by Gov. Nathan Deal last year, and heavily supported by Republicans living outside Atlanta’s blue bubble.

“If the party is not competitive in metro Atlanta, it is not going to win the governor’s seat,” he said.

Knippenberg’s thoughts were echoed by Rep. Taylor, who said that Republicans need to be seen as fiscally conservative, but socially moderate in order to appeal to the Peach State’s more urban population.

All of this, of course, is in advance of the upcoming session, which many believe will see the reintroduction of one or more religious liberty bills from last session, along with the possible filing of a bill that attempts to deal with the issue of transgender bathrooms.

How these might fly in metro Atlanta counties, including Cobb and Gwinnett, both of which voted for Hillary Clinton over Donald Trump, remains to be seen. But it’s worth noting that the final House vote tally on last year’s Free Exercise Protection Act included Nays from metro Atlanta Republicans, including Beth Beskin of Buckhead, Rich Golick of Smyrna, Chuck Martin of Alpharetta, BJay Pak of Lilburn, and, yes, Tom Taylor of Dunwoody.

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