December 26, 2012

A Bluer Future for Georgia?

Democrats point to Georgia’s shifting demography and predict a bluer future. This year, the white share of active registered voters dropped to a record 60.2 percent; African-Americans made up 29.4 percent; “other” races made up 10.4 percent. But what good is demography without a plan? Presently, the Democratic Party of Georgia’s electoral strategy is the “5 percent solution”: a plan to increase the amount of white support for Democrats by 5 percent. Despite the DPG’s quest for a dwindling share of whites, nonprofit groups like the Georgia Association of Latino Elected Officials (GALEO) and the Asian-American Legal Advocacy Center (AALAC) have increased civic engagement of Georgia’s minorities. These groups offer lessons for how Democrats can earn minority support and turn Georgia blue.

First, Republican-authored anti-immigrant laws and policies make minorities Democratic allies. HB 87 is the pinnacle of Georgia’s anti-immigrant legal framework: it empowers the police, when they suspect someone is not a citizen, to demand “papers, please.” Republicans authored it, unanimously supported it, and Gov. Deal signed it into law. HB 87 also created a new class of felonies for people who give car rides to non-citizens (since struck down by the 11th Circuit Federal Court of Appeals). 

The Georgia Board of Regents discriminates against immigrants, too, by banning non-citizen children from Georgia’s colleges and universities. These children, many of whom came to Georgia as infants, must leave Georgia to get a higher education. GALEO and AALAC fought hard and continue to campaign against these policies. Democrats should fight harder than nonprofits prohibited from engaging in partisan activity. Together, the groups can help end the fear and discrimination that attack underrepresented minorities and stifle Georgia’s advancement.

According to the Census’ latest American Community Survey, an estimated 696,112 Georgians speak Spanish at home and 195,052 speak an Asian language. Democrats should (like GALEO and AALAC) offer press releases, websites and other communication in a variety of languages. Press releases should be sent to media outlets with minority audiences. The Democrats’ message should dovetail nicely with the president’s push for educational opportunity for non-citizen children. On other issues, an outcry against Republican discrimination will suffice. Casting a vote against, absent communication and prior advocacy for a position, is insufficient. Democrats are in the super-minority in both legislative chambers. They must make their case to the public in various languages that target underrepresented minorities.

Georgia Democrats must organize voter registration drives that target minorities, and not just one or two. Buford Highway, from North Fulton County to Gwinnett, is home to innumerable businesses that Latinos and Asian-Americans own and operate. Buford Highway and Cobb County should be the focus of Democratic voter registration and engagement. Non-metro areas such as Gainesville, Dalton and Athens also have large numbers of unregistered minorities. If they hope to win, Democrats must shift the electorate by registering underrepresented minorities.

Last, Democrats should use the federal voter registration form offered by the U.S. Election Assistance Commission. Unlike Georgia’s form, it does not require applicants to enclose a photocopy of their identification and is also available in seven  different languages. First-generation immigrants, especially, are more comfortable filling out official documents that have instructions in their native tongue.

Democrats will make gains by bringing minorities into the party, not by quietly waiting decades for demography to run its course.