For the past weeks, this column has taken a look at the five political and economic regions that form the governing coalitions of Georgia politics. This was an attempt to help readers to understand how current policy is made, and what geographic barriers and opportunities exist as leaders attempt to solve known problems under the constraint of existing political realities.
An important reminder from the first column is appropriate as a starting point for this last one on this topic. The boundaries of these regions — The urban core, Atlanta suburbs, the mountains, the coast, and south Georgia — are somewhat fluid, and can change a bit depending on the issue being presented.
These regions are a recent construct. The Atlanta suburbs had virtually no power until Republicans assumed control in just the last decade. Today, the members of the suburbs compose almost half of all Georgians. If united, this region could almost singlehandedly rule the state.
Anyone investing in this premise, however, needs to heed the same disclaimer found on any brochure used to sell a mutual fund: Past performance is no guarantee of future results.
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The sixth Georgia is just that. It is the future.
The entire point of every major policy decision made by forming a majority coalition in politics is to affect the future. Whether a decision is made or deferred, a bold step taken or an opportunity lost and squandered, the Georgia of tomorrow will not be the same as the Georgia of today.
There is no preserving the present. There is no return to the good old days, whenever those may have been. The Georgia of tomorrow will be different from the Georgia of today.
Georgia is a growing state. We’ve made the mistaken assumption that this would continue in perpetuity once before. The real estate crash of the last decade and the time it has taken to rebuild Georgia’s economic engine with new industries and new opportunities should serve as a reminder.
Our decisions must not be those of resting on our laurels, nor of projecting the future as a trend line of the present. We must understand that major policy decisions are not made in a vacuum. For every decision made and every policy path taken, there is an alternative with an opportunity cost that is not.
We are nearing the end of Governor Deal’s second term. His tenure has been marked by taking a state with two days’ cash on hand and is entering his final term of the Georgia General Assembly with over $2 billion in the state’s rainy day fund.
The state has restored the austerity cuts made to education while increasing opportunities for school choice. The state has also stabilized the HOPE scholarship program while targeting the skills gap by funding full tuition for technical degrees where employers note there are not enough trained workers to fill available high-wage jobs.
After a decade of dithering, the state is now funding transportation commensurate with the renewed pace of growth to which Georgia is accustomed. We’ve moved from the 10th largest state in the nation to the 8th in the last decade. In less than a generation, we’ll likely be the country’s fifth-largest state.
All of this presumes Georgia remains a state of opportunity and growth. Whether or not this remains true — and what this growth will look like — will be on the ballot in 2018. Along with this, is the opportunity to fully remake the Five Georgias.
There are four announced candidates for the Republican nomination for governor thus far. There are two very credible candidates competing for the Democratic nomination. Each will present a vision for Georgia’s future.
Each will present a path to take. The cost of each will be a road not taken.
It is imperative we weigh the consequences of each promise. We must insist on an actual vision and steps to be taken to achieve it. We must not just focus on the promised benefits, but also understand the costs — including opportunity costs — of what we are offered. We must do this with one Georgia in mind.
There is still at least one year left for the Five Georgia’s to make policy decisions to shape our future. The existing coalitions will continue to use their existing voices and clout to address the problems we currently face, using the resources we currently have.
Every day, however, brings us closer to November 4, 2018. This is the day when we will choose the direction for the sixth Georgia.
Charlie Harper, executive director of PolicyBEST, a public policy think tank, is also the publisher of GeorgiaPol.com, a website dedicated to state & local politics of Georgia.