It’s a new year. Gyms are packed this week. Sales of diet plans and related foods are peaking. It’s going to be different this year, we all tell ourselves. We’re going to do better.
Resolutions. I’m sure the root word has some meaning of “lies we tell ourselves to make us feel better about all evidence to the contrary.” We mean well but eventually we return to work, routines and reality hit us in the face, and too often nothing changes.
Resolutions are frustrating because the exercise reveals two distinct things about us. We can identify problems and areas to do better. We are also unwilling to commit to resolve and invest in substantive positive change. Then we laugh it off, knowing we’re just like everybody else, despite knowing we’re not being our best.
Our politics often follows a similar path. We know we should act better as individuals, and hold those that represent our views to higher standards. And yet, in a clear race to the bottom, we refuse to let the other side get ahead of us. It’s a course with no winners where in the end, we will all be losers.
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There is an opportunity for a fresh start in Georgia. We have a new governor and lieutenant governor. Many fresh faces are joining the legislature. Like the warning on an investment prospectus, past performance is no guarantee of future results.
Georgia has used the last decade to seize opportunities in the wake of the great recession. We’re a top destination for employers and job seekers alike. Our economy is growing. Our budget is balanced. We have money in the bank. Along the way we’ve committed new billions to education, transportation, and investments in industries of the future.
Until now, the state has also largely eschewed the hyper-partisan nature of Washington, D.C., and worked toward solving actual, real world problems. It helps that the governor and legislators actually have to balance a budget, but there’s a lot more to local politics that is different.
Coalitions in Georgia have never had to be partisan. Save for the two years between the 2002 and 2004 elections, the governor’s mansion, House and Senate have been led by the same party since at least Reconstruction. While the majority party has generally decided the agenda and the final flavor of most legislation, coalitions that decide major bills have mostly been built along geographic lines. Modern examples have generally been voting blocs of urban, rural and suburban voters, with Atlanta’s growing suburbs often deciding swing votes.
We have increased investment in Georgia’s transportation infrastructure by $1 billion per year and provided a transit governance model that works for urban and suburban Atlanta because of bipartisan cooperation. We have eliminated the backlog of rape kits awaiting testing in the GBI crime lab which provided links to 321 existing cases and identifying two serial rapists. This would not have been done without bipartisan work.
As we enter 2019, too many appear ready to bring national talking points to the capitol. To be clear, this is the politics of division. It includes a mindset that for one side to win, the other must lose.
Georgia has prospered because we usually manage to avoid this kind of thinking. Atlanta isn’t Birmingham because it was the city “too busy to hate”. Georgia is the “number one state to do business” because we focus on outcomes and growing, not victory by dividing and taking from within.
Georgia’s political resolutions should be easier than our personal ones. Wholesale changes aren’t required, though temptation to take the low road must be avoided. Republicans can ill afford to govern as conquerors, and Democrats run the risk of moving legislation hard to the right should they take a hyper-partisan approach to the legislature.
It’s a new year. 2018 is over. We can come together as we have always done for the betterment of the state, or we can stoke divisions between us preparing for the next campaign.
It’s not clear which party would benefit from the latter approach. The danger of division, however, is that Georgia would end up the loser.