28 Days To Election Day: Georgia

It is hard to believe that at the beginning of this presidential campaign Obama thought Georgia was in play. At its heart, outside the major metropolitan areas, this is a conservative state. Perhaps, the relatively close loss (about 6 points) in 2012 gave the Obama team a false sense of hope. In 2012, Obama won the Atlanta and Savannah areas and a swath of real estate from Augusta to Columbia, but little else. Also, voter turn out was particularly high in 2008, especially among black voters. By the 2010 midterm elections, turnout among all ethnic groups settled back to normalcy. In 2012, the turnout figures should fall somewhere between 2008 and 2010 levels- not as low as the midterms, but certainly not as great as in 2008. That translates into a Romney victory in Georgia by a bigger margin than John McCain enjoyed in 2008. Thus, Romney captures their 16 electoral votes.

Georgia gains a seat in the House this decade. Redistricting has rearranged the political landscape somewhat. The “new” district is located in the northwestern corner of the state and is an area that voted heavily for McCain in 2008. Current 9th District Republican incumbent Tom Graves was drawn into the 14th district and will run there leaving the Republican-leaning 9th an open race. Democratic incumbent John Barrow was drawn out of his 12th District, but his move from Savannah to Augusta put him back in it. Sanford Bishop’s 2nd District will be a black majority district while the 11th, although picking up parts of Atlanta, still remains basically a Republican district.

In the coastal 1st District, Republican Jack Kingston added the Democratic bastion of Savannah to the district, but overall he should have little trouble being reelected. Bishop faces token opposition in his Second District from GOP hopeful and newcomer John House.

Democrat Hank Johnson will face Chris Vaughn in the Fourth and will likely win. John Lewis, the 5th District Democratic incumbent, was on the front lines of the 1960s civil rights movement in Georgia and, indeed, throughout the south. He entered politics in 1981 when he was elected to the Atlanta City Council. This district encompasses the bulk of Atlanta and he will face Howard Stopeck, an attorney from that city. Stopeck faces a daunting and likely losing task in trying to unseat the heavily entrenched Lewis. Tom Price is the Republican incumbent in the 6th and faces unabashed Obama-booster Jeff Kazanov.

Rob Woodall in the 7th faces Democrat Steve Reilly. Reilly draws his base from Gwinnett county, but little else in the district. As mentioned earlier, with Graves moving to the 14th, the 9th is an open race. Republican state representative Doug Collins had to survive a runoff against popular local conservative radio personality Martha Zoller. In the primary, the main knock on Collins was his alleged support for a sales tax increase in 2010 to fund transportation projects in the state. However, his vote was to put the question to the voters on a regional basis. He will face Jody Cooley for the Democrats and Collins is fully expected to keep the 9th in Republican hands.

Paul Gingrey’s 11th District picked up parts of Atlanta. His opponent for the Democrats is Patrick Thompson whose main strength is in the metro Atlanta suburbs. It is expected that Gingrey will win, but the margin of victory will not be that great as one would expect for an incumbent.

As mentioned earlier, John Barrow, a moderate Democrat, always seems to have a target on his back and he always seems to pull through. Leaving nothing to chance, he came out aggressively against his Republican opponent Lee Anderson even before the outcome of the Republican primary. Anderson had to persevere a crowded primary field and runoff against a lesser known Rick Allen. Anderson currently refuses to debate Barrow until the Democrat announces who he will vote for (Obama or Romney) and if he will support Pelosi’s leadership in the House. In essence, Anderson is playing scared and this writer believes that Barrow- who has survived past challenges and given Anderson’s late start and 168 vote recount victory over Allen- will prevail by the skin of his teeth for the Democrats.

Finally, in the 14th district, Democrat Dan Grant will have a difficult time unseating Republican Tom Graves who was drawn into the district from the Ninth. The “new” District is Republican. In the final tally, the GOP will have the advantage in the congressional delegation 9-5, a net gain of one seat.

There are two questions on the ballot, but only one of interest- the charter school amendment. Actually, Georgia has charter schools, but in response to a recent state supreme court decision, this question became necessary. Under the existing law, some 16 charter schools had to close down because of a school funding issue and battle of control over the schools. Basically, charter schools can apply to local school boards for implementation. If the local school board denies the application, they can apply to the state. If denied by the local school board, they are also denied local property tax revenue for funding and therefore need to rely on state funding.

Earlier this year, Republican Governor Nathan Deal signed a funding law for charter schools, but the law can go into effect only if voters approve this initiative. Unlike efforts in other states involving charter schools, the battle here is not necessarily against charter schools, but who controls and who funds them. Proponents of the amendment point out that although approved by the state, and if approved, funded by the state, they remain under local control through non-profit boards. Furthermore, the state asserts that they should have greater control in all schools regardless- charter and traditional public schools- since they provide 50-80% of the funding. In reality, the amendment would allow Deal’s efforts to go through and create another state bureaucracy to consider charter school applications- a buffer between the state and local school boards. The important thing to remember is that whether this is approved or not, there will still be charter schools in Georgia.

I have no problems with charter schools per se, but also realize that they are not the great panacea to cure the ills of public education today. There are charter school success stories and there are charter school abject failures. The operative factors for success are not the thrust of this article. However, they clearly fit into the Republican/conservative model of choice for parents and students when it comes to educational reform. And choice- be it traditional public schools, charter schools, private schools, home schooling, on-line learning, or parochial schools- is a great thing.

But another prong of these reform efforts is greater local control. That is part of what this problem is in Georgia today. Local control is the whole philosophy behind getting Washington DC out of K-12 education which, taken to the extreme, includes abolishment of the Department of Education. Since charter schools not approved by the local school board are not privy to local property tax funding, the state needs to step in and fill that financial void to give the charter schools a fighting chance and financial parity with the traditional public schools.

In conclusion: Romney takes Georgia’s 16 electoral votes while the GOP picks up a seat due to the addition of a district this decade. All incumbents should be reelected.

Running totals thus far: Mitt Romney has 135 electoral votes to Barack Obama’s 108. Republicans control the Senate 30-16 and the House 111-86.

Next: Tennessee