As soon as you hear the word “politics,” some people immediately tune out.
In this harsh political climate, discussions are rarely civil and people are less and less likely to bend from their political position. People tend to talk to those who agree with them and watch the programs that reinforce their views.
They like to shy away from real debate. It’s just the time in which we live.
I was recently asked to be a panelist on Political Rewind, a Georgia Public Broadcasting program hosted by Bill Nigut. The show is normally taped in an Atlanta studio, but this year they have taken it on the road, going to Augusta and Macon before landing in Columbus Thursday night. Legacy Hall at the RiverCenter for the Performing Arts was packed and it was the only one of the three Political Rewind shows that was a full house.
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If you follow Columbus politics, the panel was interesting and politically diverse. Mayor Teresa Tomlinson, who is positioning herself for a Democratic run in 2020 for the U.S. Senate seat held by Republican David Perdue, was on the panel and had invited Nigut and Producer Tom Faust to Legacy Hall.
Republican Sen. Josh McKoon, fresh off a defeat in his bid to win his party’s nomination for Secretary of State, and Rep. Calvin Smyre, who at 44 years and counting is the dean of the Georgia General Assembly, rounded out the panel.
Throw in a reporter like myself and it is an interesting mix.
And that is what Nigut aims for with the show, which will soon be expanding to four times a week.
“I have said from the very earliest days of Rewind that my top goal is to create a space for civil, collegial conversation about the issues that Georgia faces… and to bring our listeners insights from behind the scenes in the world of politics here,” he said Friday. “I thought we accomplished both last night.”
And the goal was accomplished by bringing the right and left together in an atmosphere that Nigut controls in a hands-on, conversational and non-combative manner.
“When we can have a conservative firebrand like Josh McKoon and a passionate progressive thinker like Teresa Tomlinson share ideas without rancor or name-calling, I feel like I’ve accomplished my mission,” Nigut said.
Everybody was on his or her best behavior, which is something Nigut seems to bring out in people.
But it also had a feel of a history class, with Smyre as the instructor.
“Add Calvin Smyre, who brings such a wealth of experience in Georgia politics to the table, and it make me confident that our audience in the hall and on the radio actually got information that gives them a better understanding of the political matters we discussed,” Nigut said.
The primary topic was the governor’s race, which will feature Democratic Rep. Stacey Abrams against the winner of the Republican runoff between Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle and Secretary of State Brian Kemp.
McKoon had an interesting analysis.
“In 2010, 680,000 Republicans voted in the primary for governor; this year it was 605,000,” McKoon said. “Democratic primary numbers were way up — about 550,000 or something in that neighborhood — so all of that tends to suggest a much more competitive general election environment in my opinion.”
And his analysis of Abrams illustrated Nigut’s broadcast style.
“They are going to point out that on a lot of the signature events over the last eight years —whether it be HOPE reform, the Transportation Investment Act in 2015 — Leader Abrams was right there in the mix and part of that solution,” McKoon said. “So, where do you get the separation from what Republicans have done over the last eight years?”
That brought a good-natured jab from Nigut.
“Are you ready to endorse her, Josh?”
That brought laughter from the audience.
“No, no, I am not,” McKoon said.
“It sounds like you like her,” Nigut said.
Tomlinson and Smyre both have their takes on the governor’s race, specifically the Republican runoff.
“First of all, Kemp is being cast as the more conservative and Cagle the more establishment Republican,” Tomlinson said. “You are going to have pretty ardent, very conservative voters coming out. There is going to be pretty low voter turnout. All bets are off. I think Kemp may get some bounce from that. ... It is going to get tough out there.”
The runoff is Cagle’s to lose, Smyre said.
“He has all things going for him,” Smyre said. “He has the funds. When you are not able to respond to a negative ad, it has a way of positioning the voter.”
Like McKoon, Smyre thinks it could be interesting in November.
“We have an articulate candidate who knows the issues, who can really talk about the issues,” Smyre said of Abrams. “She knows the issues that resonate with voters. I have served with her. Rep. (Carolyn) Hugley has served with her. We know what she’s capable of. The opportunity is out there.”
What: A radio show that talks to decision makers and reviews and analyzes recent developments in Georgia politics.
When: 2 p.m. Monday, Wednesday and Friday. Later this summer, it will expand to four times a week.
Where: Georgia Public Broadcasting radio stations state-wide, including WJSP-FM 88.1 Warm Springs/Columbus.