Is there a pattern here? Gaines, Kemp and anti-T-SPLOST? Kemp, you recall, is another Athens boy from a prominent family who made a right turn in Atlanta.
This election is not about Republicans or Democrats, liberals or conservatives: It is about Athens.
Here’s why. As you already know, Athens has a liberal majority in its voting population—not a big majority, but a majority—which tends to vote Democratic. When Republicans gained control of the state legislature, they passed several redistricting plans that reduced the Democratic vote in Athens by splitting Athens and Clarke County into several districts that now include large chunks of the surrounding rural counties.
Historically, for instance, Clarke County and Oconee County were in the same state senatorial district with a part of Oglethorpe County. That wasn’t enough for the Republicans, so they added a large part of Walton County to offset liberal Athens with conservative Monroe and its surrounding rural environs.
The Republicans split off the rest of Athens into another senatorial district with Elbert, Madison, Barrow and Jackson counties..
Before the Republicans got ahold of them, Athens and Clarke County had two state house districts wholly within Athens-Clarke County. After several Republican redistrictings, A-CC has only one state house district and two with a strong rural vote outside Athens-Clarke.
Now, politically, that’s cool. The Democrats were shameless gerrymanderers when they controlled the legislature, so, more power to the Repubs. But, here’s the rub. Nobody, except our Athens-Clarke County Rep. Spencer Frye is in a position to speak for Athens and vote for Athens in the Georgia legislature. The rest of them must represent the outlying areas where their Republican majorities lie. Sens. Cowsert and Ginn owe their positions to the voters in Walton County and Madison County, respectively. They get a lot of Republican votes out of Athens, but it is country music that calls their tune. The same was true of former representatives Chuck Williams and Regina Quick, now rewarded with appointments to higher offices.
Here’s how hard their representation comes down on Athens. After the Mayor and Commission, in accordance with our charter, sent to our legislators a redistricting plan based on eight districts and two “super districts,” Sens. Cowsert and Ginn ignored our local government and introduced legislation dividing Athens-Clarke County into 10 districts. Their plan was approved by the Republican Senate and by the Republican House and signed by the Republican governor. Talk about local control and home rule!
So, I’m simply saying that citizens of Athens-Clarke County should cast a protest vote this time around, instead of rewarding those who have sliced and diced our home. In House District 117, the Gaines kid is a smart cipher who excelled at Athens Academy and the university and managed the mayor’s re-election campaign against an unknown opponent. He calls himself a “consultant” to a group that advises non-profits, and he is not listed on their website as a member of their staff. He is ready to be molded by his Republican mentors in Atlanta. His opponent, Deborah Gonzalez, didn’t grow up here, but she has vast real-life experience and accomplishments of the sort that only lie in the future for a youngster like Gaines. Republicans hold a majority in the 117, but so do Athenians. If Athenians, regardless of party, vote for Athens and against those who have hurt Athens politically, Gonzalez could win. If…
In District 119, Jonathan Wallace is the lone Democratic candidate and the one most likely to represent Athens in the legislature. A strong Athens vote can help get him into a runoff and perhaps into office and would be a rebuke to those who continue to work against the interests of Athens.
And talk about the interest of Athens: this T-SPLOST vote is all about making Athens better connected through street and sidewalk improvements and enhancing our bus system and our walking and biking trails. T-SPLOST is all about Athens, but not surprisingly, the anti-T-SPLOST crowd is working for its defeat. Needless to say, they’re the same bunch whose political priorities lie elsewhere than Athens.
So, this time around, vote for Athens—in District 117, in District 119 and all over Athens-Clarke County for T-SPLOST. Send the message: We live here. Don’t mess with Athens!