Mitt Romney and Chip Rogers have something in common.
Both politicians — one an unsuccessful presidential nominee, the other an undone state Senate majority leader — have been stung by lengthy, Internet-posted video clips of scenes you were never meant to see.
Their connection is more than coincidence. Both videos were the work products of a small coterie of young, tech-savvy Georgia Democrats out to change the way this state does politics.
By now, you know that James Earl Carter IV, grandson of the former president, helped bring to light that secret iPhone recording of Romney at a high-end Florida dinner party where the candidate declared that 47 percent of American voters were bought and paid for with federal government checks.
What you probably don’t know is that, weeks later, Carter served as a consultant to the progressive group known as Better Georgia for another project: The insertion of a camera into an October seminar at the state Capitol, arranged by Rogers, on the alleged United Nations conspiracy known as Agenda 21.
As it turned out, this was as simple as walking through the door.
Better Georgia volunteer Seth Clark set up his camera in the open. For 52 minutes, until he was tossed out by staffers, Clark recorded Rogers and several other GOP state senators as they were told that rezoning, efforts to limit suburban sprawl and regional coordination are all part of a secret effort to deprive Americans of their property rights.
“Our own governments are doing this. Our own local city councils and county commissions — they’re doing this,” said discussion leader Field Searcy, an ousted member of the Georgia Tea Party.
Searcy declared Agenda 21 has been pushed through a form of brainwashing called “the Delphi technique,” with the goal of leading “a targeted group of people to a pre-determined outcome.”
Rogers won re-election on Nov. 6. The Agenda 21 video was posted Monday by Better Georgia. Three days later, Rogers abandoned his bid to hold onto his position as majority leader of the Republican caucus.
The Cherokee County lawmaker’s problems ran far deeper than any video, but surely he wasn’t helped by the nationwide head-shaking the clip produced. (In his local paper, Rogers said he was merely helping out a group of constituents.)
If Democrats are a vanquished army, then Better Georgia and its associates are the guerrilla force that has been left behind to harass Republicans — operating out of a Midtown Atlanta office and beyond the reach of what’s left of the state Democratic Party.
“I don’t talk to the Democratic Party. I don’t talk to (Democratic Chairman) Mike Berlon. There’s no coordination. Like none. Zero,” said Bryan Long, Better Georgia’s executive director. Full disclosure: A dozen years ago, when Long was an Atlanta Journal-Constitution reporter, I was — very briefly — his supervisor at our Cobb County bureau.
For the past year, Long and one other paid staffer, Political Director Don Weigel, have been supported financially by about 500 donors. A few are Republicans, Long said, but Better Georgia’s most prominent supporter is former Democratic Gov. Roy Barnes.
The group is patterned after similar rear-guard actions in Colorado and Wisconsin. “It’s essentially a year-round political campaign. We don’t stop the day after the election,” Long said. An emphasis is placed on technology, social media and research.
“We’re modernizing politics in Georgia. A lot of people who are in politics right now are using Old World political techniques,” Long said. His group has placed an emphasis on recording Republican public officials as they speak their private minds.
The aggressive tactic may make many of you uncomfortable. Long said it is essential if voters are to realize that many Republican elected officials have “values that most Georgians don’t believe and don’t accept.”
While videos are flashy, Better Georgia also opposed the constitutional amendment on charter schools that passed this month. On Election Day, Better Georgia produced an email from state Rep. Tommy Benton of Jefferson, a member of the House Republican leadership, who told a constituent that ballot wording for the measure was “kept vague” so that “it will more easily pass.”
Most everyone knows that nothing on the Internet really goes away. But it helps to know where and how it might be buried. “Really, it’s the same skills that were used by researchers before the Internet. You have to have lots of patience and know where to look,” said James Carter, whose cousin Jason Carter is a Democratic state senator from Decatur.
“I grew up as computers were growing up. I played computer games as a kid, and my computer was never quite good enough for the games that I wanted,” James Carter said. “When the Internet came along, that was the natural next step.”
But not everything can be found on the Internet. Last month, Carter tracked down a cassette tape recording of a 30-year-old interview of Lee Atwater, the legendary South Carolina strategist whose bare-knuckled but cagey tactics helped win the South for Republicans.
On the tape, Atwater bluntly explains how messaging to white Southerners had shifted from racial epithets in the 1950s to coded “abstractions” of the 1980s.
Both Atwater and the interviewer, political scientist Alexander Lamis, are long dead. Carter obtained the audio from Lamis’ widow and turned it over to The Nation, a liberal magazine, which posted it — one day after the Agenda 21 video hit.
It may be time for Republicans to be more careful about what they say, and to whom.
- By Jim Galloway, Political Insider