Monday, November 16, 2009

Old Article: Georgia Democrats must mend historic alliance to regain power

Atlanta Business Chronicle article by Michael Bowers back in 2003
Georgia has been one of the most consistent Democratic states. While much of the South began switching allegiance at the federal level to Republican with Dwight Eisenhower, Georgia remained consistently Democratic. Not until 1984 did Georgia become a Republican state at the federal level.

The state level, however, was a different story. Like most of the South, Democrats had maintained power through segregation following Reconstruction. But Lyndon Johnson's Great Society and the Warren Court began the unraveling of the old Democratic power structure. In much of the South, with the Republican Party becoming the clear conservative party, white Democrats switched allegiance, allowing Republicans to make inroads in the deep South in 1966.

Georgia, through a quirk in election laws, barely avoided such a fate, denying Republican Bo Callaway the governorship. Yet that election served as a wake-up call for Georgia Democrats: They could switch parties or they could make an unlikely alliance with African-American voters and white urban liberals to maintain power.

They chose the latter course. Rural white Democrats had the power. Without the support of African-American voters and white liberals, they would lose it to the rising tide of Republicanism.

To African-Americans and white liberals, such an alliance would give them a share of power. The alternative, a Republican Party perceived as extremely conservative and unreceptive to minorities, was unthinkable. So while voters rejected liberal Democrats such as George McGovern, Walter Mondale and Michael Dukakis at the presidential level, they voted for moderate Georgia Democrats such as George Busbee, Joe Frank Harris, Sam Nunn and Zell Miller, all due to this alliance.

Yearly, as other Southern states became more Republican, Georgia Democrats continued to dominate state politics due to this alliance. In the beginning, the alliance benefited rural white Democrats. However, as African-Americans and white liberals began to realize they held the balance of power, their demands became greater.

All parties in this alliance were motivated by power. Despite experts predicting Georgia was on the verge of Republicanism, this alliance held together, defying predictions of its demise.

Then in 2001 arose the flag issue. African-American legislators had long demanded a change of the state flag that had been adopted in 1956 and displayed the Confederate battle emblem. Rural white Democrats had beat back attempts in the 1990s by Gov. Zell Miller to change the flag. Gov. Roy Barnes, who had been elected in 1998 due in large part to a large turnout of African-American voters, decided to pay back this debt by changing the flag.

Despite a large uproar among rural voters, Barnes forced the change through the legislature. He and other Democrats thought the issue would be forgotten by the 2002 election.

Barnes miscalculated. Alienating the alliance that had allowed Democrats to control the state since the late 1960s led to a disaster for Democrats, with Republican Sonny Perdue elected governor and the state Senate in Republican hands.

State Democrats awoke after the election stunned. However, they tried to reassure themselves this was just a temporary defeat due to Barnes' unpopularity and the popularity of President George W. Bush that led to unprecedented Republican victories nationwide.

Yet a deeper look at the 2002 results showed something else. Rural Georgia, which along with Fulton and DeKalb counties had been the core of Democratic power, showed Republican strength at the state level similar to Republican strength at the federal level.

Democrats, hoping to regroup from the 2002 elections, have been stymied during the legislature because of the re-emergence of the flag issue and Perdue's insistence on keeping his campaign promises. Perdue campaigned promising education and ethics reform, and a referendum on the flag issue. To date, he has sought to keep these promises.

As he has done so, he has divided the Democrats. Rural white Democrats support the governor's efforts to hold a referendum on the flag (a referendum that has never advocated the return of the Confederate flag). African-American legislators and white liberals have opposed the proposed referendum and rejected such compromises as bringing back the pre-1956 flag.

The rhetoric of the white liberals and African-Americans has further deteriorated relations between the members of the old governing coalition. When a legislator such as Mary Squires calls the governor a racist for advocating the flag referendum, she is by implication calling all who support the referendum (including white rural Democrats) racists. Rural Democrats are repaying this by supporting the governor on the flag and other issues.

Power held Georgia Democrats together. As long as Democrats held power, it was the best interest of all concerned (white rural Democrats, African-Americans and white urban liberals) to work together to thwart the Republicans.

Now, without the levers of power, we may be witnessing the evisceration of the Georgia Democratic Party. Time alone will tell if this is the case.

However, if the flag and other issues are any indications, the Democratic coalition is crumbling and Georgia is finally joining the rest of the region as part of the "Solid Republican" South.

If this is the case, the Georgia Democratic Party will be largely composed of African-Americans and white urban liberals, as are the Democratic Parties in other Southern states. The Republican Party will be made up of suburbanites, rural voters and the expanding Hispanic population.

If true, the implication for national Democrats, as well as Georgians, could be profound.

In the past, Georgia Democrats have played a key role in the nominations of moderate Southerners such as Jimmy Carter, Bill Clinton and Al Gore. This time, if the Democratic coalition is broken in Georgia, rural voters may not participate in the primary, enabling white liberals and African-Americans to throw the primary to a liberal such as former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean or even Al Sharpton.

The consequence -- with Georgia no longer serving as a moderate counterweight in the Democratic primaries -- would be a further shift to the left of the national Democratic Party.

While at this point much of this is speculation, there is no doubt that the old Democratic coalition is broken without power to unite them. Thus far, no state Democrat has stepped in to reunite the feuding factions.

Now that Humpty Dumpty (the Democratic coalition) has fallen, the question remains: Can he be put back together?

2 comments:

Anonymous said...

that will be the issue next year. can dems win back rural voters? relying on white libs and urban african americans to win statewide is a blueprint for failure. dems need to stop conceding rural ga to the republicans and mount a fight to win here again. if any dem can pick up some rural counties that will mean they will mean they will be on their way back to the gov. mansion.

Anonymous said...

Re: The Flag.

While not the outcome promised by our great leaders, a flag now flies over our state that is based on the 1st National CSA Flag, and Confederate Heritage Month is Perpetual. We look to our neighbors like SC, who has a democrat gubenatorial candidate who espouses the removal of the Confederate Soldier's Monument that blatantly panders to the naacp/Al Sharpton and uber yankee liberals. Alabama just replaced thier US Capitol statue of Jabez Curry (former Confederate Soldier) with Helen Keller. Down in Florida, the naacp called for and received the banishment of the Sons of Confederate Veterans in the annual Miami Veteran'sDay Parade

There will come a time when the dems will wake up (possibly too late) and say- was kissing the rings and sleeping with the uber liberal yankee carpetbagging scum and the naacp/sclc/splc/Al Shartpton/Jesse Jackson/Julian Bond/Obama crowd worth my soul and America's Future?

Until that day arrives, let'sall enjoy our new marxist-socialist utopia!

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