Hold off on those archery lessons. The overwhelming defeat of the transportation sales tax doesn’t mean metro Atlanta is about to make a rapid descent into some unwashed, dystopian future.
Civilization will still function, as will the lights and plumbing. Only our goals have changed.
On Monday we were still a region that would occasionally overlook racial and financial divides in order to do a little business and make a little money as the economic engine of the South. But on Tuesday, we adopted a new ambition.
We set our sights on becoming a miniature version of Europe. We’re aiming for dysfunction chic.
This is a thought that belongs wholly to Steve Anthony, a lecturer on political science at Georgia State University and longtime aide to the late House speaker Tom Murphy. But it feels right enough to pass along.
“Consider a relatively large geographic area, made up of many governments, each with a different political culture and, in some cases, heritage,” Anthony wrote in an email. Daily border crossings by residents, all for the sake of commerce, are the rule.
“Layer over this scene the ridiculous notion, held in each zone, that each area can exist by itself,” he wrote. And then guess where you are. It could be the European Union. But with Tuesday’s vote, it could be metro Atlanta, too.
Forlorn Clayton County might be our Greece. Cobb County and the Chattahoochee River could be a stand-in for France and its Maginot Line. Gwinnett County would be Belgium. And corporate-heavy Atlanta, the wallet of the region, where all commuter trains not only run on time but are the only trains around, would be Germany.
“It’s galling to the other countries in mainland Europe that it’s Germany that holds all the economic cards. [Germans] were using that and lording it over the other counties. They’ve kind of relented, lately,” Anthony said over the phone. “Atlanta’s the same way. Everybody hates Atlanta.”
And like Germany, Atlanta holds the economic cards.
Across the water, the fight to save the euro has become an opportunity for the French to offer unasked-for policy advice to the Spanish. Debt-racked Greece receives daily memos on paper-clip use from German Chancellor Angela Merkel.
In metro Atlanta, a similar dynamic was created by the $8 billion project list drawn up by a small army of elected officials, to be paid for over 10 years by the sales tax. The assumption was that democratic courtesy would prevail. Everybody gets something, but no one gets everything.
Instead, the project list became an opportunity for residents of one area of metro Atlanta to express their discontent with priorities adopted elsewhere. A resident of midtown Atlanta could vote no because of the antipathy that Cobb and Gwinnett hold for rail. And who knew that residents of Cherokee County cared so deeply about the merits of Atlanta’s Beltline?
Leadership offers another parallel. Europe has failed to find the right man or woman to unite the region. President Nicolas Sarkozy might have been that person, until French voters deposed him for cooperating too closely with Atlanta. Er, Germany.
In metro Atlanta, we are still in search of a Republican champion of infrastructure. Yes, tea party skepticism surrounding the need for public investment is one reason for a dearth of GOP leaders willing to stump for greater spending on roads or rail.
But the architects of this referendum share the blame. They built failure into Tuesday’s vote, by creating a climate hostile to anyone willing to speak up for the transportation sales tax.
When the vote was first scheduled for the July 31 primary, strategists focused on the conservative Republican electorate that was sure to show up. But primaries attract the most fervent followers of both parties – few of whom are likely to look kindly on bipartisan efforts.
By holding the referendum in a primary, TSPLOST supporters virtually created their own opposition. Whether Democrat or Republican, candidates up and down the ballot were rewarded for opposing the measure.
Yes, Senate Majority Leader Chip Rogers, R-Woodstock, benefited from his outspokenness with 59 percent of the vote over his challenger. But so did DeKalb County Commissioner Lee May, a Democrat who represents the southern portion of his county and beat three opponents with 68 percent of the vote.
Yet there is hope for metro Atlanta, if we just look east. My friend Anthony at GSU notes that Europe has a history of coming together. Granted, it has required world wars or the occasional Mongol invasion. But it has happened.
So that archery lesson might make sense after all.
- By Jim Galloway, Political Insider