Charlie Harper: One Georgia, But With Many Parts

Charlie Harper

Wednesday, April 26th, 2017

I began writing this column in early 2011.  It began after a lunch conversation with DuBose and Carol Porter.  Both had just run for statewide office.  They were rural Georgia Democrats.  They were in the traditional print media business, running almost a dozen papers serving the greater I-16 corridor out of their offices in downtown Dublin. 

I was a new media blogger sending random opinions onto the internet.  I was a Republican.  And I lived in Atlanta. My audience was primarily those in Atlanta that make policy and law for the state.

We knew each had different readers.  We knew the state was changing.  Politics itself was changing.  We were concerned that social media was driving us farther apart. Politics not only was unable to bring people together for common purposes but seemed to be cementing the division and driving new wedges. 

What was originally scheduled as a lunch to catch up after the November 2010 elections turned into a discussion of how to bridge the gap between rural Georgia and “Atlanta”.  South Georgia, long fearing being left behind, seemed to understand that with the election of a Governor and Lieutenant Governor from Hall County and a Speaker from Blue Ridge, their distance from power was growing literally and figuratively.

Rural Georgians had held onto power via committee chairmen in the legislature and mostly rural Governors and Lieutenant Governors long after the county unit system was abolished.  The change from statewide leadership from Democrat to Republican was eased somewhat with the first Republican Governor being from the same county as Sam Nunn.  The defeat of Jack Kingston in the 2014 GOP Senate primary – despite Kingston winning virtually every county south of the fall line – seems to have sent the last signal that South Georgia has a different seat at the table now.

A lot has changed for us personally and professionally since that lunch. In addition to running his newspapers, DuBose Porter is now the Chairman of the Democratic Party of Georgia.  Carol is now Carol Stewart.  And I’m still trying to get the various regions and factions of Georgia politics to understand each other, 700 words at a time.

I’ve tried to remain conscious that while my home remains in Suburban Atlanta, my print readers are largely in that “other Georgia”.  The original collection of newspapers has expanded with even more newspapers syndicating this weekly, plus a couple of other digital media outlets.  This week we’re bringing on about a dozen more print outlets.

I say all of the above as part re-introduction, and part to explain the next few weeks of columns.

A few weeks ago I wrote about an initiative Speaker Ralston is leading to study the challenges of rural Georgia.  These will include various issues – problems and opportunities – that require attention and solutions.  Rural Georgia has unique issues of health care delivery, rural broadband access, economic development, and in some areas, the “growth problem” is one of population loss, not overdevelopment.

These are not problems that those of us in the Atlanta area can easily relate to.  They are problems that affect us all.

Likewise, my rural Georgia readers probably outright reject the need, or at least the rationale for a statewide role, for items such as a cohesive and comprehensive transit system for Metro Atlanta.  This is a knife that cuts both ways. 

We are a state of ten million people. We are “one Georgia”.  Our Georgia, however, is not homogeneous.  We don’t all face the same hardships, nor do we all have the same opportunities.  We do have one government that is charged with making sure we thrive as a state, as regions, and as individuals.

Over the next few weeks I’m going to drop the subtleties of playing intermediary between rural Georgia and Atlanta. Instead, I’m going to be direct and break down the state by regions.

I’ll start by rejecting the political notion that there are “two Georgias”.  To understand current Georgia politics, we need to understand that there are at least five distinct Georgias.  All of “Atlanta” isn’t the same, and all of rural Georgia isn’t currently equal.  How the coalitions that represent each of these determine which laws we pass, and which we don’t.

I’ll break out the strengths and weakness of each Georgia.  And, to put a fine point on it, we’ll begin a dialogue of how each affects the politics of the state – which often becomes barriers to solutions.

We’ve got a little over seven months until the next meeting of the Georgia General Assembly, and a year until statewide primaries that will nominate our next Governor, Lieutenant Governor and other state leaders.  We’re going to spend the next few weeks setting the table to understand the challenges they’ll face and the problems we hope they will solve, for all of Georgia.

Charlie Harper is the publisher of and the Executive Director of PolicyBEST, which focuses on policy issues of Business Climate, Education, Science & Medicine, and Transportation.