June 14, 2017

Politics Begins at Home

Pub Notes

Photo Credit: Forrest Aguar

Athens didn't just happen.

Flagpole is what’s known as a “hyperlocal” newspaper (or magazine). This is just a buzzword for saying that we concentrate on Athens-area news on the assumption that we can do that better than The New York Times, just like they can cover national news better than Flagpole can, obviously. But what are you going to do when local people are walking around filled with dread caused by the national government and especially by its head, Donald (“I still can’t believe he’s President”) Trump?

Our 10th District Congressman Jody Hice ardently supports Trump and the whole Republican agenda, including its plan of health care for the rich.

With the exception of Democrat Spencer Frye, our local legislative delegation—thanks to gerrymandering—is solidly Republican: senators Bill Cowsert and Frank Ginn, along with representatives Chuck Williams and Regina Quick, whose allegiances are dominated by the rural counties surrounding us.

Here in Athens itself our local elections are nonpartisan, which means that nobody has to admit his or her political party leanings, providing cover for those who are Republican in this still-Democratic-majority city-county. The nonpartisan arrangement has allowed Republicans to slip onto the commission and has made it easier for Republicans to influence the mayoral vote.

So, our first order of business is to identify issues, as Athens for Everyone has been doing with some success. Our Athens-Clarke County candidates can run without political affiliation, but they can’t hide from issues. We need to understand what kind of local community we want, define it by the issues that can shape it and find candidates who are willing to work to enact that vision.

Diane Bell, who is so obviously out of tune with our vision of Athens, was elected by default in District 7—Five Points. Nobody else even ran for that commission seat.

Melissa Link, who so obviously gets Athens, has a long and active involvement in our public life, and she worked hard to make herself a candidate and a commissioner for all the citizens of her diverse District 3.

The role of the hyperlocal newspaper is to help us all understand the issues that are important and where candidates stand on those issues—not just what they say but what they have done. The role of the hyperlocal voter is to pay attention to those issues and those candidates and to get out and help good candidates get elected.

Local though we are, we cannot escape the fact that Athens more than most cities is inextricably linked to state government through the University of Georgia. That relationship has always brought great largesse to Athens, with the tradeoffs of a diminished tax base and low wages paid to UGA employees like custodial workers and teaching assistants—contributing greatly to Athens’ endemic poverty. (Oddly, when Athens was gerrymandered into two Republican state senate districts, the boast was that UGA would get twice as much local representation, yet neither Cowsert nor Ginn is on the senate’s higher education committee.)

So, hyperlocal though we are, none of us can escape the fact that our local community is affected by how our state representatives and senators vote (campus carry, y’all) and the Trump-worship of our congressman, Hice.

Elections are coming up next year. Candidates are announcing. Now’s the time to be making our choices and getting behind those we believe will work to address our local issues, whether on the commission or in the state legislature and in Congress.

This stuff doesn’t just happen (unless you’re Diane Bell). Running for any office is a tremendous commitment of time, energy and money, especially when running against an incumbent. Supporting a candidate takes the same kind of commitment. It’s hard, hot, time-consuming work, but if you get out and do it for a candidate you respect, you will make a direct contribution to making our community what we want it to be, and you will learn so much about your hometown and truly earn your citizenship.

We face a lot of pressing issues locally, and also as a congressional district and as a state. We need to organize and register voters. We need to hold candidates accountable for the issues with more than talk. We can make a difference here in Athens and perhaps outside Athens, too, if we dread globally and act hyperlocally.