Republicans will secure a majority in the state Senate, giving Gov.-elect Sonny Perdue control of half of the Legislature.
State Sen. Rooney Bowen (D-Cordele) said in an interview with the Atlanta Journal-Constitution Friday he would switch to the GOP. Bowen explained the switch will allow him to "bring more back to community." He also said he hoped to hold on to his chairmanship of the Public Safety Committee.
Friday morning, state Sen. Dan Lee of LaGrange became the first Democratic legislator to announce his switch to the GOP. Lee made his announcement as Perdue's seven-city victory tour stopped in his hometown.
Later, Sen. Don Cheeks announced his switch to the Republicans when Perdue's airplane arrived in Cheeks' hometown of Augusta.
Adding those three senators will give the Republicans a 29-27 majority, their first since Reconstruction. The GOP's effort to convert Democratic lawmakers is concentrated on the Senate because Democrats still hold 106 of the 180 House seats. Still, the GOP is targeting about 10 rural Democrats in the House, Republican officials said.
Controlling the Senate will allow the Republicans to strip away much of Democratic Lt. Gov. Mark Taylor's power. Under the state Constitution, the lieutenant governor presides over the Senate and votes when there is a tie. Senate rules allow the lieutenant governor to make committee assignments and give him power over the flow of legislation. But a majority of senators can establish new rules that assign those powers to someone else.
I hope the good lieutenant governor has a good pair of scissors ready — if the GOP can keep this roll going, he'll have to spend the next four years of his life cutting ribbons.
It's Gonna Be Alright The last time the Democrats got clobbered was 1994, and back then I was living in Atlanta for a year between stints in Charlottesville. Care to know what I was doing that election night? With a little prodding from a friend, I had grabbed a notebook from my paper and headed out to cover . . . Newt Gingrich and his election night party. Which, before long, became ground zero for the Republican revolution.
I had a fascinating time watching Frank Luntz, Larry Kudlow, and a host of other machers go absolutely berserk with glee, but I felt out of place. I stayed past one o'clock or so to take in the scene, but when I left, it only took the distance from the door to the car for the shock to set in. I don't know quite how I felt — 'blind fury' might be the most accurate description — but I remember cranking the windows all the way down (on a November night!) and blasting The Downward Spiral for the entire 25-mile ride around I-285 back to the house.
I listened to Nine Inch Nails for a couple of weeks after that, actually. The lyrics to this song kind of summed up where I was, emotionally speaking. Primal scream territory. Not a healthy place. Time and a little bit of Brahms — well, that and some Smashing Pumpkins — were enough to heal all that.
Fast forward a few years, and a great deal changes. When the news rolled in this Tuesday night, I didn't feel myself getting upset at all. The moment was all off-kilter — I was the one telling some of the downcast people around me not to think all was lost, to remember that every crisis brings opportunity, to sit back for a minute and wonder whether we might have needed a defeat. I'm used to having people call me unruffled — or detached — but I don't think I've ever taken a political loss with so much sanguinity.
After all, there's more important things in life than electoral politics — starting with the people whose interests our fights are supposed to be all about. Oddly enough, one of the first songs to pop into my head Wednesday morning was a little nonsense ditty by Edie Brickell called "Times Like This. " There's nothing all that meaningful about it, in the capital-M sense, but it gets at those little moments that make life feel worthwhile.
Raise the window listen to the rain
I'll be your pillow rest your head on me again
Here in the darkness let the lightnin' flash our room
& smell the rain it's in the air like sweet perfume
Make sure the cat's in don't worry 'bout the dog
We'll let it rain on him throw another log on the fire
I live for times like this
Wind blows the trees & they make shadows on the wall
Cool midnight breeze feel it coming through the hall
Earthquakin' thunder shakes the roof over our heads
Sleep taking wonder keeps us turnin' in our bed
We've got each other & a soft blanket to share
The rainy weather washed away all of our cares
I live for times like this
I live for times like this
Alright, that's more philosophical than I usually get, but still . . . even with Wayne Allard running environmental policy in the Senate, and the president having free rein to wage war in Iraq, we still have plenty of time for moments like that. So all isn't lost.
I'm not advocating a full retreat from the public sphere, where we all cuddle up around the fireplace and turn the country over to Jerry Falwell. To heck with that. We own this country. But for those who want to back away for a second, that's okay — we have plenty of other channels for our energy, and we need to use them. Take your political skills and put them to use building civil society. Donate your time. Or donate your money. Innovate. If you can, fund others who have the enterprise to innovate, but lack the resources. Or take the opportunity to teach — you just might learn something yourself.
But I urge people to stay in politics — we need you here. There's work to do. We've got a ruling party running amuck, and we need a plan for America that's compelling enough to convince voters to stop them. We need to rebuild from the ground up — to learn how to organize community by community, block by block, street by street. And we need new ideas. We can wait for the leadership to do that, but the party is no more the leadership than the Catholic Church is the pope. We are the party. We can change it ourselves. It's up to us.
Where Do We Want to Go Today? That's the question we Democrats need to ask. I've been mulling it over, and at here my office, we've already started reaching for ideas on fighting the Reed juggernaut. America's progressives face a twofold dilemma, however: we not only need to remember how to win, but also what it is we're fighting for.
With help on that second front, oddly enough, comes former Reagan speechwriter Peggy Noonan.
Here is the Democrats' problem: They have achieved every major goal they sought in the past 100 years. The party is losing because it won.
They got Social Security. They got Medicare and Medicaid, with the help of some Republicans. They got civil rights with the help of a lot of Republicans. They supported equality for women, and women are equal. (How many were elected the other night? So many it wasn't a story, really, because it's a 30-year trend that just keeps growing.)
They got the New Deal, and they got the Great Society. They got the welfare state. And you can argue they have been undone by their success.
Most of what they got they got long ago--long enough ago that the people of the United States have become used to the benefits, and long enough that they have experienced the costs. For, as we used to say, there's no such thing as a free lunch. The Democrats' programs cost plenty. And in time it wasn't the rich that were paying for it but the rich and the comfortable, and then the rich and the comfortable and the middle class, and then the working-class Joes and the waitresses at the diner.
I don't wholly agree with the last part of her analysis; a better way to nullify gripes about costs would be to rethink, and rejigger, the benefits. [For instance: can anyone make a compelling argument that Georgia's Hope Scholarship isn't an improvement over traditional student loans and grants?] But she's right about the important fact: that in order to justify our existence, we Democrats need to find out what we want — not for ourselves [obsessing about that got us into this mess], but for America.
Roy Barnes: the First Black Governor? Governor Barnes shook some Georgians' world with his lightning-quick flag change in 2001, but it looks as though opponents of the change shook him right back. Sonny Perdue scored his shock victory this Tuedsay in spite of polls suggesting that anger about the flag was — at best — an afterthought of an issue.
Why the surprise? After all, when it comes to race, polls get it wrong all the time.
About 13 years ago, my second home state of Virginia crowned the nation's first elected black governor — but just barely. Doug Wilder, the top man on the Dems' ticket in 1989, blitzed to a quick lead by focusing press attention on his rival's strict pro-life stance, and rode that momentum — reflected by double-digit leads in the tracking polls — to a crushing, shattering . . . um, 7,000-vote nail-biter of a win.
Why the huge difference? Po-faced pollsters, baffled that they never saw the squeaker coming, hit the streets to find out. A factor that popped up all over, as it happened, was something no one thought of: that white voters sometimes felt so awkward about planning to vote against a black candidate that they pledged to do just the opposite, which threw poll results off by a country mile.
The last year or so saw the flag become the issue that dare not speak its name — the fast change relegated the cause to country folk and kooks, which made it worth only a chuckle from everyone else. Rallies for running the St. Andrews Cross back up the flagpole had a country-fried air — old-school twangy music, twangy Southern accents, and Confederate gray outfits to spare.
That atmosphere probably even turned most rural Georgians off — even here in the deep South, most people got past yelling "forget, hell!" a long time ago. And die-hard backers of the old flag, according to press reports, planned to give up if Barnes had won re-election.
Barnes got buried alive, though, and the avalanche that killed him had to come from somewhere. Surely enough, the Journal-Constitution tally of results by county shows voters in middle and south Georgia rural counties deserting the governor in droves. People I know who spent the last week or two in those parts of the state buttress those numbers with talk of towns blanketed with "boot Barnes" flag signs and billboards telling viewers not to "vote for [flag-changing] legislators who didn't vote with us."
On Tuesday, that's just what happened, and it's hard to believe that the phenomenon was spontaneous. Voters may have kept their anger to themselves, but this week, the silent majority finally roared.
Bizarro World Let's be frank about what happened last night: we got our asses kicked. Big time.
I wouldn't be the only Georgia Democrat to tell you that last night's returns came as an ambush. My predictions went out of the window, but the same goes for the entire state. Nobody had a clue about a sweep — not campaign workers, not the pollsters, not the advisers, not the observers, and sure as hell not the candidates themselves. Even Sonny Perdue probably had to slap himself for a good few minutes before the news sank in.
I can't do justice to the scale of the disaster — you really have to be here. The Republican romp was total: the Democrats who held complete and unchallenged control of the machinery of state government for 135 years just saw their birthright terminated overnight. The bloodletting hardly confined itself to the governor's mansion and the senate seat; voters axed the House Speaker and the Senate majority leader, as well. If rumors in the air about party switching deals hold up, the GOP could claim the state Senate before the end of the week.
That's a hell of a lot of news to absorb in one night. Forgive us folks if we're still dazed.
Before I get analytical, though, I need to doff my cap to the prime force behind last night's upheaval: Ralph Reed.
While local politicos and pundits looked elsewhere, the former Christian Coalition director and current Georgia Republican Party chairman put together a fully operational death star. He never spoke for the cameras much, and didn't wage the campaign solely through television; instead, he organized actrivists on the county and local level, and got them to walk neighborhoods, write letters, speak at neighborhood meetings, make phone calls and spread the word. The governor spent $16 million on television ads, but his opponent — who raised less than a fifth as much — built on that grassroots machinery and relied on it to carry him through.
As much as we Democrats laughed at him, the plan worked.
That's the cold truth we're facing: that we got outhustled, plain and simple. Considering the tens of millions of dollars the party spent, it's embarrasing to have to say that.
Still, Perdue and Reed deserve congratulations for pulling off a stunt no one believed possible: obliterating the Democrats' one-party rule in a fell swoop. It's a magnificent achievement for them, and they deserve to celebrate. I wish them the best of luck in learning the art of government.
I also hope that now, having won, they can rise to the moment by developing an agenda for the people of Georgia. Georgia Republicans don't yet share much of an identity beyond the resentment forged from years as the 'out' party — now that they're the 'in' party, simple resentment of the Democrats won't do. Republicans are free to lead, but can't do that without defining more than what they're against.
That said, I have another hope: that in four years' time, the Republicans won't mind being back on the outside looking in. We're down now, but we're long from being done yet.
While You're Waiting . . . Everything Matthew Yglesias has written today has been spot on about the causes of — and wrong lessons from — last night's train wreck. Charge your minds by reading it while I work up some content.
Vote! Rain is pouring down in bucketloads here in Atlanta this morning, but it's a gorgeous day for an election. Every day is. After all, when you find enough perspective to remember how many people around the world -- and in this country -- fought and died just to get a chance to vote, a little rain hardly seems like much of a hassle.
What's keeping me motivated today? The hope that we can whack some serious Republican tail -- that's what. My list of complaints about the Bush administration and the Republican congress runs so long that it could rival Homer's Catalogue of the Ships, but I'm not going to sit here complaining about it; I'd rather let my ballot do the talking. As for what I want to see at the victory party tonight . . . well, it's like R.E.M. once said it:
Vote Perry for School Board Let me pull a Zell Miller for a moment and vouch for the integrity of William Perry, a colleague from work who's in a special election tomorrow for the Atlanta School Board.
If you want a candidate who's willing to face the problems of the city's public schools — low student performance, high property taxes, and an administration that places more emphasis on building a new headquarters than on building new schools — then he's not just the best choice; he's the only one. He's got great ideas on how to repair the system. What's more, although he won't tell you this, his relationships with leaders like the city council president and Sen. Max Cleland give him the tools he need to put those ideas into practice.
So if you live in east/central Atlanta and you vote, you've got a great opportunity tomorrow to get the city's schools back on track. Let's get started by putting William Perry on the Atlanta School Board.
No News Is Good News Georgia politics was chock-a-block with kabuki theatre this weekend; the players hit the stage and read their lines, but none of it mattered.
The actor in chief was President Bush — who, when he flew to the state on Saturday to make a last minute push for Republican candidates, must have known that the governor's race was as done as three-day-old blackened redfish. Poll numbers released that morning confirmed that the agenda-free, underfunded campaign of Sonny Perdue had been as effective as a toothless piranha; after two months of effort, the Republican was still stuck 11 points behind Roy Barnes, the Democratic incumbent, with just 40 percent of likely votes.
In a state where any Republican with a pulse can garner 40 percent of the vote, Perdue has to have earned himself some of the lowest marks of any recent statewide campaign in memory. So long, Sonny — don't let the door hit you on the way out.
Cleland's team will probably sweat through the early returns on Tuesday night, but a great many things will have to break Saxby's way to keep Cleland from winning re-election.
Democrats in east Georgia, on the other hand, are watching in horror while the campaign of congressional candidate Champ Walker self destructs.
Set up with his own, personal congressional district by his daddy, Champ Walker hit the ground stumbling this fall, getting through a runoff only to find himself dogged by news reports of arrests for drunk driving and shoplifting. Just last week the Savannah Morning News slapped him with a story about a year he spent doing nothing in particular on the state payroll — a revelation that left the candidate spluttering at the telephone when a reporter who called him on it.
Want a glimpse of his smooth manner with the press? Look at this: "The (Augusta) Chronicle (newspaper) is not on my side. . . . They dig ditches looking for trash. And people distrust them. And thank you for your time, sir. Idiot."
Last Friday saw Walker reduced to rebutting attack ads by suing his opponent for libel — not exactly a move that a thick-skinned, seasoned or swift candidate would make. Of course, no one ever accused Walker of having any of those qualities.
At this point he looks set to lose, and lose big. The best guesses about the race have him running about 15 points behind in the district — which legislators designed, incredibly enough, to have a Democratic voting performance of 60 percent. (How bad is it? Here's how bad: he's lost the support of his own web site.)
What a ridiculous excuse for a candidate. But this is kabuki theatre, remember? We already knew that.