In this state, white-tail deer and white Democrats have something in common this fall. It’s open season on both.
For the last decade, one of the most worrisome trends in Georgia civic life has been the re-segregation of political power, as white voters have flocked to the GOP, collapsing the biracial coalition that kept Democrats in power for so long.
The trend is likely to continue on Nov. 6, as several white Democrats attempt re-election in new, post-census districts designed by a GOP-led Legislature to make sure they fail. U.S. Rep. John Barrow of Augusta, now the last white Democrat from the Deep South in Congress, is merely the most prominent.
State Rep. Rick Crawford, D-Cedartown, has promised to switch parties if he survives. Another, state Rep. Scott Holcomb, D-Atlanta, may escape – in part because of a blunder by his Republican opponent, who last week falsely accused the Democrat of illegal drug use in a TV ad that was quickly deep-sixed.
There are others, but beyond Barrow, the most closely watched Democrat is state Sen. Doug Stoner of Smyrna, whose safe Cobb County district has now been extended across the Chattahoochee River and deep into Republican Buckhead.
With Stoner’s defeat, Republicans anticipate achieving a constitutional two-thirds majority in the 56-member Senate – which could turn the remaining Democrats in the chamber into little more than an afterthought. The importance placed on the contest is reflected by the cash that GOP forces have poured into it.
Republican Hunter Hill, challenging Stoner for the second time, has raised $411,012 – nearly double the amount of the Democratic incumbent. The two candidates met for their first and only debate on Tuesday night, before affluent members of the Mount Paran-Northside Citizens Association.
The debate was preceded by a short ceremony held to thank a trio of Atlanta police officers for their off-hour, private patrols – memorizing the faces of visiting landscapers, monitoring swimming pools and irrigation systems for leaks, even feeding pets for absent owners. In other words, this is a neighborhood where people like you and me would like to live – but don’t.
Biography is half the battle in this Senate contest. Stoner introduced himself as a Cobb County native, a third-generation business owner, and “someone who reaches across the aisle.”
The word “Democrat” never crossed his lips, but Stoner didn’t hesitate to explain that his primary area of expertise at the state Capitol was transportation. Voters in the District 6 defeated this summer’s TSPLOST by 53 percent, but a majority of Buckhead approved it – and Stoner’s campaign includes many prominent members of the Atlanta business community.
Hill described himself as a native of nearby Vinings and graduate of Westminster Schools, a private institution in Atlanta. Then came West Point and three tours of duty in Iraq and Afghanistan with the 101st Airborne. He’s now in real estate. Hill’s top priority is elimination of the state income tax, which would be replaced by a sales tax and an increase in the state tax on gasoline – to force illegal immigrants and tourists to pick up their share of the cost of government.
By extending District 6 and other GOP-dominated districts into Fulton County, Republicans plan to take control of local legislation and ultimately reduce county government to a shell of its current self.
Stoner said he would work with Republicans to lower the cost of county government. Hill said his election would eliminate any need for bipartisan cooperation. “I will work across party lines, but fortunately in this case, this is an initiative where I think we would have the numbers, if you will, to provide the necessary legislation within the delegation,” he said.
The odds are against Stoner. Perhaps his only chance of re-election is the fact that Republicans who live inside I-285 are slightly different than those who live outside it.
At one point, the moderator of the debate asked the two candidates who their choice for U.S. president would be. Hill jumped up, ready to declare. Stoner was far less enthusiastic.
But then the crowd – about 80 were in in the room, filling almost every seat – stepped in. They began to boo. To hiss. They didn’t want to know. And so the moderator withdrew the question.
A few minutes later, a woman noted that the Legislature had been recently preoccupied with issues concerning female health. She didn’t utter the words “abortion” or “contraception,” but the candidates understood what she meant.
Hill responded by noting that he has not been endorsed by Georgia Right to Life, the state’s most aggressive anti-abortion group. That itself was extraordinary – and proof that Hill recognized he wasn’t standing in front of a traditional GOP audience.
“I’ve been focused on jobs and the economy, education,” Hill said. “Social issues have not been talked about in my campaign for the last year, nor has it been something that’s been driving my motivation to serve this community.” And then he sat down.
Stoner immediately reminded the audience of HB 954, the bill passed by the Legislature to shorten the period during which a woman could seek an abortion, with no exception for rape or incest.
The incumbent pointed out that, in January, the General Assembly is likely to take up a constitutional amendment to bestow “personhood” on embryos, which he declared could outlaw some forms of contraception and eliminate in vitro fertilization for women who have problems becoming pregnant.
“My opponent here – obviously he doesn’t want to talk about this issue,” Stoner said, earning the loudest applause of the evening.
It is easy to forget that there are endangered political creatures in Georgia other than white Democrats. Moderate Republicans, for instance.
The question for Stoner is whether there are enough of the one threatened species in Buckhead, and whether they also have any desire to save another.
- By Jim Galloway, Political Insider