Sunday, January 26, 2014

How Rural Georgians View Their Republican-Led State Government

How can it be that in rural areas of Georgia, where many communities are dying and lots of individuals are struggling to make ends meet, there is a strong preference for limited government and thus considerable
Cochran, Ga 
support for right wing politicians and the Republican Party? In rural areas as in cities, many poor individuals vote for Democrats.

In my stop through Henderson, Ga yesterday at a local small business, Hank Murrow, a 60 yr old retired truck driver and self described conservative democrat during our short conversation explained: "Rural places often get extra government help and pay lower taxes per person, compared to suburban and rural areas". Well he's right, some folks suggest that rural Georgians just do not understand their own economic interests. Rural Georgians are distracted by cultural appeals. Guns, abortion, and religion are pegged as hot-button diversions that allow right wing politicians to gain office with appeals against government.

But let me present a different answer..... Many Georgians living in places outside of the cities and nearby suburbs think of themselves first and foremost as “rural people,” as members of communities  that get short shrift from government and politicians. For Georgians with what I call rural consciousness, government is not understood policy by policy. It is viewed more in its entirety, as an outside force that largely ignores rural places and is unlikely ever to understand the true needs of rural people or give them their fair share of public resources.

As I listened to ongoing conversations over the past two weekends in Lee, Bleckley, Houston Counties, I found that many rural residents perceive their communities as the victims of government decisions that routinely ignore or misunderstand rural needs and use rural resources to disproportionately help more privileged urbanites. Georgia has several large metropolitan areas: Atlanta, Augusta, Savannah, Columbus, Albany just to name a few. To people like Leo Nalls, a 72 yr old retiree from Leesburg and a republican put it, "In the areas of Georgia away from those metropolitan centers, many people around here perceive that Atlanta draws in all of the state’s resources and spends most of those resources on itself or not only on urban centers, but upscale suburban areas of the state like Johns Creek, Dunwoody, Canton, Cumming, for example".

Urban and suburban decision-makers, as non-metropolitan Georgians see them, have little understanding of rural lifestyles and values. Inadequate appreciation of the continuous hard work and  neighborliness that go on in most rural communities, where people have long struggled with difficult economic circumstances. Rural Georgians in these counties say republican lawmakers from the Metro Atlanta area and Northern Georgia hold all of the decisions.

The link between the Republican Party here in Georgia and rural areas is not simply about economic interests. Much of the explanation lies in the social perspectives rural folks use to interpret  politics. For many people in rural communities, as government policies championed by Democrats are the work of urbanites understood as culturally distinct from and dismissive of  rural people like themselves.

Another interesting exchange I had over the weekend was with a woman in Bleckley County who didn't want her name to be mentioned, but she teaches school in the Bleckley County School System who said she voted for Nathan Deal in 2010, but now is looking at Democratic Candidate Jason Carter. She said, None of the politicians ever come to see us until it's time for them to seek re-election. She then goes on to say "I'm happy that Gov. Deal is putting over $500 million dollars toward education, it's a good start, but money alone isn't going to solve the current crisis many schools south of Macon are facing and that alone won't be enough to satisfy teachers who have grown disgruntled by the continued cuts to education by the Republicans over the last decade". "And with the new changes to teachers healthcare plan, Deal, she says have dug himself into a hole". I then asked her if she thought it was because of the ACA, or "Obamacare" that those changes were taking place? She replied: "NO, that's just a easy way for Gov. Deal and the Republicans to deflect attention away from their mistake and put it on the ACA, which is unpopular at the moment".


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