Georgia View: A Deficit Of Trust
Working for the late U.S. Senator Paul Coverdell (R-GA) in the early ’90s, and later with U.S. Senator Johnny Isakson (R-GA), I often heard them humorously relating stories of the days when Georgia’s GOP could hold its state convention in a phone booth – with a little room to spare. Not anymore.
Isakson and Coverdell toiled in the vineyards of Georgia’s General Assembly first and were the respective minority leaders in the state House and Senate.
With party positions long since reversed, the GOP is not only Georgia's dominant party, but the most recent special elections in the state Senate gave the party a bullet-proof super ma-jority, with the House close behind. That said, a bullet-proof majority is really only any good when you are all firing in the same direction.
With the GOP controlling the governor and lieutenant governor's offices and having a virtual lock on Georgia's Constitutional offices, now might be the time for the GOP to implement its long-discussed reforms of a trimmer, more transparent and responsive state government, free of the graft, corruption, “friends and family” politics and alleged contract awarding of their predecessors.
Republican stalwarts helm nearly every state agency and outpost, and the party is making fur-ther inroads each municipal election year, taking over a majority on county commissions, city councils and local offices such as sheriff. Only the major urban population centers, with more diverse and minority voting populations, are holding back the storm surge of a full red tide.
But all that said, there is an eerie feeling of unease, not unlike what one felt during 2006 in Washington before the mid-term elections swept the GOP out of power. The GOP Congress, first elected in 1994 with the Contract for America, was actually about something larger than their own member wins. The Contract promised eight rather sweeping reforms, ranging from ending the estate tax to requiring that members of Congress abide by all the laws that they passed to effect the American people.
But by 2006, only three of the 10 bills introduced in the U.S. House to make the contract real had been passed into law. Most voters had a hard time understanding the challenge of passing these acts into law, when the GOP held all the keys, levers and throttles of power.
So when the GOP Congress spent like the boys did under Democrat Tip O’Neill and laid waste to a number of other longtime conservative Republican faithful tenets, voters, including many self-proclaimed Republicans, began some record house-cleaning in 2006.
Here in Georgia, the summer T-SPLOST was beaten back in all but three regions of the state by margins of nearly three to one. A similar margin among voters now exists in opposition to building a new billion-dollar-plus playground for the Atlanta Falcons and their billionaire owner, Arthur Blank. Strangely, even during a season when the words “Super Bowl” and “Falcons” were not seen as antonyms, voters still note the recession, lagging job creation and other priorities as more pressing concerns.
This broadening deficit of trust between Georgia voters and their local and state elected officials does not bode well for re-election or party building. Time and again during the T-SPLOST debacle, voters indicated that broken promises regarding the Georgia 400 toll and the horrific implementation of HOT lanes on I-85 north of Atlanta were causing folks not to trust their state and local officials to actually deliver transportation solutions that would work. Criticize Georgia Democrats all you like; but while they ran the show, Georgia’s interstates and transportation network were among the most envied in the nation.
Budgets are tighter, and our double-digit growth has long since slowed. Some of the challenges we currently face were brought on by the global recession. But there are states climbing out of the hole. There are states where bipartisan leadership and development of common sense solutions actually occur.
There are legislative leaders, even in Wash-ington, D.C., who understand that they may not always be the smartest guys in the room. Breaking trust can occur in minutes, or with one foolish act or poor choice. Rebuilding trust can take years, even decades. Just ask former Governor Roy Barnes about the state flag or his relationship with Georgia teachers at the end of his first term. The fall from grace can be fast, and is almost always far from graceful.