Here we are in runoff election déja vu, except it’s even harder now because of the shortened time frame. During this whirlwind, we look at the Georgia election results and see reasons to be optimistic. Hopefully all Peach readers have made their plans to vote and are urging friends, family and anyone you encounter to do so also. A few voting details and reminders are in the Short Takes section below.

In the race for Georgia’s governor, close to half of the voters wanted someone else. Certainly, the election was not a roaring endorsement of Governor Kemp. And nationwide, the expected “Red Wave” did not materialize after most far right and especially Trump endorsed candidates lost. Ballot initiatives and amendments supporting reproductive rights mostly won. While we wait for a deep-dive analysis of election results in Georgia, one takeaway from the Kemp victory is notable: We may have underestimated the power of the incumbency. We know in the abstract that it is hard to beat an incumbent, but we did not anticipate the many strategic moves that Kemp made during his first term, and particularly in the final months of the campaign, to use his office to bolster his chances of winning another term. 

Georgia’s governors can wield power through setting legislative priorities, using both their authority to propose the budget and a line item veto of the budget, and making a long list of appointments from judicial vacancies to various boards and commissions. Additionally, they can veto any bills passed by the legislature, which can only be overturned by a two-thirds vote of the legislature. 

During the last part of Kemp’s first term, he made a number of strategic appointments, most notably naming former governor Sonny Perdue (cousin of his primary election opponent David Perdue), to the coveted and highly paid head of the Board of Regents. In addition, he engineered a cut in the state income tax rate, gave Georgians billions in federal American Rescue funds, and Infrastructure funding (for which no Congressional Republicans voted). A few weeks before the election, Kemp issued $350 debit cards to Georgians receiving public assistance such as Medicaid or rental assistance. Axios reports some interesting details about the messy rollout. 

In addition to these moves, Kemp approved a range of legislation that further appealed to his conservative voting base including the anti-CRT bill, the 6 week abortion ban, and the permitless carry gun bill.

While Kemp was the victor in this election, several factors point to a less than rosy future for the Republican party in Georgia. The vast majority of Georgians do not support most of the controversial bills Republicans have passed in recent years: Poll after poll for a number of years now, show that issues like reproductive restrictions, loose gun laws, and various other cultural issues are not popular among the majority of Georgians. One example of a poll conducted last month showed that 62% of Georgians objected to the state’s new restrictive abortion law. Similarly, 62% oppose the recently passed bill that allows citizens to carry concealed handguns in public without a license. What we can glean from this polling and the close election win is that many of the policies held dear by the Republicans are unpopular with the majority of Georgians. Some of the positions of statewide candidates who won, some by slim margins, are out of step with the views of the voters. This will make it harder and harder for right-wing candidates to be successful and for unpopular policies to be enacted. 

Republicans have been in control of three branches in Georgia since 2014.  The Democrats have gained ground in both chambers of the legislature in each election cycle, often by only one or two seats, thus steadily growing the strength of their caucuses in both chambers. During our recent redistricting, the Republican majority was able to create maps that largely protected Republican incumbents and created winnable districts for their party. Despite unfavorable maps, the Democrats were able to pick up two additional seats in the Georgia Senate, and four in the House. While this is encouraging news for progressives, as long-time capital observer Larry Pellegrini notes Georgia’s structural problems remain. “The challenge to democracy like the voting restrictions and gerrymandering influence the results more than any of the campaign rhetoric or candidate quality.”  

Georgia remains a demographically diverse state with annual increases in people of color and a younger electorate. This trend is reflected in the slow but steady growth of Democrats in the legislature. There is also an expansion of the network of progressive advocates and lobbyists on a range of issues. “I am a major cheerleader for the folks we have in the hallways of the capitol,” Pellegrini says, referring to progressive advocates. “The numbers have grown over the recent years, with smart, well-informed people who are committed organizers and who work collaboratively with each other and with the Democratic elected officials." 

Observers are wondering just how extreme this next legislative session will be, and exactly how Kemp will govern over the next four years. It is possible that because of the narrow electoral victories, the increased numbers of Democrats in the legislative chambers, the demographic shifts and opinions of the electorate, we could see a more moderate, reasoned approach to good policy in Georgia over the next few years.

Make a Plan for Runoff Voting: 

All counties are required to have early vote centers open from Monday 11/28 through Friday 12/2 with hours at least from 9:00 am to 5:00 pm. They MAY opt to have extended hours, and offer Saturday 11/26 and Sunday 11/27 for additional early voting.  Good general voting information is at The Georgia Voter Guide. And check the Secretary of State’s  My Voter Page for registration, precinct and early voting sites. Remember that NONE of the early vote centers are open on the last day of voting 12/6 when you MUST vote at your regular precinct. Kudos to all the voting advocates for fighting for better access, and for spreading the word about runoff voting! Now make a plan and get to the polls. 

The Okefenokee saga continues:
In the struggle to protect the swamp from a nearby proposed titanium mine, the Army Corp of Engineers abruptly reversed its claim of authority over wetland protection last summer, leaving regulation to the Georgia Environmental Protection Division. Recently, the Southern Environmental Law Clinic challenged this abdication by the Corps. Also, there is a possibility that some Republican legislators will file bills in the upcoming session to protect the swamp. For background see this Peach from May 2021. 

What I'm Reading:
The Atlanta planning and development crowd is abuzz about a recent book by GSU professor Dan Immergluck, Red Hot City, Housing, Race and Exclusion in Twenty-First Century Atlanta The book is a no-holds barred look at how racism and increasing inequality have been the result of housing and other planning policy. Immergluck offers ways for Atlanta to become a more inclusive city. 

Krista Brewer is a native Atlantan who has a professional background in writing, reporting and editing. For several decades she has closely followed Georgia politics, focusing on topics such as healthcare, voting and immigrant rights, and budget and environmental issues. She is active on Twitter and invites readers to follow her @KristaRBrewer

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