This week’s Courier Herald column. You may find the previous parts of this series by following this link.
For the past several weeks we’ve been taking a look at the regions of Georgia which make up the geographic and economic coalitions that drive state politics. The first two regions compose Atlanta, the Urban Core and Suburban Atlanta. Last week we established that The Coast isn’t sufficiently rural to be included in rural Georgia anymore.
Today we begin our overview of rural Georgia, but again divide it into two regions. The differences between The Mountains and South Georgia are those of the “haves” and the “have nots”.
When the concept of “Two Georgias” was established in the 1980’s, the entire point was that “Atlanta” was the collection of the “haves”. The rest of Georgia, without Atlanta’s economic clout nor partaking in the growth opportunities of Atlanta, feared being left behind to become “have nots”.
The Mountains have largely escaped being left behind. The growth of Atlanta’s Suburbs and their march northward has made it difficult to tell where the suburbs end and The Mountains begin. There was grave concern one to two decades ago that the decline of the textile industry would impoverish the region. Since that time there has been growing diversification of manufacturing and other economic opportunities.
The close proximity to Georgia’s population and economic center has provided growth in population, economic clout, and a steady stream of tourists. The major issue that keeps The Mountains from becoming one with Suburban Atlanta is one of population density. Residents of the region still have issues that an Atlanta suburbanite would never face. These start with those of rural healthcare access and delivery, and also include the availability of quality high speed broadband access.
And yet, there’s a sense of upward mobility and even “progress” among most members of Georgia’s mountain communities. There’s not an overriding sense of being left behind. There’s enough growth in population and job opportunities to ensure that there will be a community for the next generation to be able to raise a family, but not so much growth that the everyday ways of life are being threatened. As far as growth is concerned, The Mountains are in the sweet spot.
Even more sweet is the spot where the region currently finds itself in with respect to political clout. The Governor and Lieutenant Governor are both from Hall County, with the Governor now claiming Habersham County as his residence. The Speaker of the House hails from Blue Ridge in Fannin County.
South Georgians that worried all political power would be lost to Atlanta have actually seen it slingshot northward to The Mountains – at least for now. They at least have the aforementioned rural issues of healthcare and broadband access to share with leaders in the top seats of power. Well, at least for now.
2018 will bring a new round of statewide elections. Governor Deal will return to Habersham County, and Lieutenant Governor Cagle is running for the top spot. Should he win, the clout of those in The Mountains shall be extended for some time, as House Speaker Ralston has indicated he will stand for re-election.
The political clout of the region should not be looked upon as an accident nor a quirk. It’s one of the defining indicators of what separates the region from that of the Atlanta Suburbs. As we discussed for both the burbs and The Coast, the inability of the residents to find common ground with those similar to themselves have limited their ability to form political coalitions that would give them power.
In the Mountains, each community shares its own unique identity. Their shared goals and values combined with the knowledge that the once struggling region needed to work together for joint prosperity have woven independent minded self-reliant folks into a cohesive political machine.