NewsPub Notes

Don’t Get Mad About Commission Redistricting—Get Even

From a flyer praising Sen. Bill Cowsert (R-Athens).

Y’all: Don’t get mad at the people who took a chainsaw to the Athens-Clarke County Commission. They are our friends and neighbors. They sell us our Cadillacs, our antiques, our real estate. They love Athens just as much as we do; it’s just a different Athens—one they remember from 1958, when, you know, you could leave your house unlocked and the keys in your car. That Athens, or at least Athens during the Nancy years, when you didn’t have to worry about the ACC Commission doing anything crazy, or anything at all, really. This is not about Republicans vs. Democrats, conservatives vs. progressive liberals. This is just about folks like you and me who want their hometown to be clean and safe, like it used to be, before… you know. I mean, we all want Athens to be clean and safe, don’t we? Do you know anybody who wants Athens to be dirty and dangerous? OK, bands don’t count.

You can understand the frustration suffered by people who have a certain standard for who should manage our governmental affairs when they see things being run by people they don’t even know and wouldn’t want to.

I think that may be the nut of the problem. These folks, our friends and neighbors who have overthrown our local government, know from long experience that Athens can’t be led by just anybody or everybody. You’ve got to have standards. If you can’t talk things over with your commissioner at the country club, then you’ve got the wrong commissioner, and that’s the way it has always been—until recently.

One thing you’ve got to give our friends and neighbors credit for is that when they see a problem, they are going to do something about it. That’s what has always made them successful, has made them leaders, and that’s why they are stepping up now, working through the politicians they can still trust: old Bill Cowsert, Frank Ginn from out there in Danielsville, the young Gaines boy and Wiedower, over in Oconee.

Of course, a lot of this problem-solving went on behind closed doors, so it is kind of difficult to piece together, but it looks like the original idea was just to create a City of Five Points, where most of these friends and neighbors live, and not worry about the rest of Athens and Clarke County. But that turned out to be a tough sell in the legislature, even for Cowsert and them, and somebody pointed out that places like the club and the automobile dealerships aren’t actually in Five Points, no matter how far you stretch it. So they had to go back to the drawing board, and the only feasible option was to redraw Athens-Clarke County the way they wanted it. It’s true that meant abolishing duly elected public officials, scrambling two-thirds of ACC voters into new districts with an election coming up and herding Black voters together, but you are allowed drastic measures when you know you’re right.

There is no need to get mad at our friends and neighbors who have taken matters into their own hands. Just do what we’ve always done: encourage good candidates to run, work for them and vote. The lines have been redrawn, but we’re all still here. 

But hurry. The election is May 24. Candidate qualifying is the week of Mar. 7–11, right around the corner. Your friends and neighbors who have destroyed Athens to save it already have their candidates in mind, and they will unite behind them. We need to be disciplined, too. These are nonpartisan elections, so no party label on anybody. Easy to slip somebody in who looks good but isn’t. This is not the time for frivolous candidacies. Your friends and neighbors have proven how ruthless they can be. Now is the time to get serious, to find good candidates quickly and support them actively, out on the street, out of our pockets. We’ve got plenty of people who would make good commissioners and plenty of voters to elect them.

We survived the Nancy years and got us a good mayor and mostly good commission. We can do it all again. Democracy is not easy, but it is well worth working for.