Tag Archives: politics

A Democratic Effort to Change Douglas County’s Body Politic

Standard

 

The times, they are a’changing (in Douglas County).

Oh, my my. Party politics are getting interesting in Douglas County, Ga.

The Douglas County legislative delegation – a substantially gerrymandered hydra of a thing itself – has proposed retooling the county’s board of elections.

Presently, the board of elections is comprised of four Republicans and one Democrat. This is an arrangement that has actually reflected the political reality of Douglas County pretty well, as the county’s Democratic party has largely slid between dormant and dead for about two decades.

But now, the county’s legislative delegation (that is, the state representatives and senators who represent parts of Douglas County in the Georgia General Assembly) has proposed changing how the board of elections in Douglas County is constituted, and to change it in such a way that might actually give the Democrats a 3-2 advantage on the board.

This has some in the county establishment, including Douglas County Commission Chairman Tom Worthan, a Republican, stomping mad.

In a recent article in the Douglas County Sentinel, Worthan vows to “do everything in my power to kill this thing.”

The county’s delegation is composed only three Republicans: Rep. Dustin Hightower (R-Carrollton), Rep. Micha Gravely (R-Douglasville) and Sen. Mike Dugan (R-Carrollton). The remaining five members of the county’s delegation are Democrats: Sen. Donzella James (D-Atlanta), Rep. Kim Alexander (D-Douglasville), Rep. Roger Bruce (D-Atlanta), Rep. Sharon Beasley-Teague (D-Red Oak) and Rep. LaDawn Jones (D-College Park) comprise the rest of the county’s representation.

Under a plan proposed by Sen. James and one that Rep. Alexander plans to carry in the House, the Democrats and Republicans would each get to pick two members of the county’s board of elections. The remaining member would be elected by the delegation, which, again, is 5-3 Democrat.

Senator Donzella James

Sen. Donzella James (D-Atlanta) is leading a potential shift in the Douglas County Board of Elections — and maybe county politics, too.

Ergo, a 3-2 Democratic advantage, which might more accurately reflect where Douglas County is, and where the county is going.

During the 1990s, while total population increased by almost 30 percent, the black population more than doubled its proportion of the population from 7.9 percent to 19.4 percent.

But demographic shifts in the county may not be the underlying reason for the current tension. Like the rest of Georgia, a little more than a decade ago, the county experienced a nuanced shift from Democratic to Republican hands. Tommy Waldrop, who served as sheriff in the 90s, ran as a Democrat the first time, and as a Republican for his second term. (My grandfather, a lifelong Democrat who kept a framed portrait of FDR on the wall of his living room, said he’d have to “hold his nose” to vote for Sheriff Waldrop, who was also my grandfather’s cousin.)

See, it’s like this:

During this transition, the “establishment” – that is, the organized, hierarchical political structure in place, i.e., “good ol’ boy network” – flipped. It was still the same people, mind you, but rather than being Tallmadge-type Democrats they were Perdue-type Republicans. For more than a few election cycles, this served fine; just as was the case during the bad ol’ one-party system days, if you won the Republican primary, you basically won the office. Board of commissioners chairman, sheriff, tax commissioner, etc., all went pretty seamlessly from Democratic to Republican control, and since the issues that cause such tension between the parties has precious little bearing on local politics, few even seemed to notice.

So it was that I observed the inauguration of the last Democratic office holder in county government—the county surveyor.

During this transition, however, the county’s minority community was left without significant representation. Democrats since the 1960s, they continued to vote a Democratic ticket through the 1990s and into the 2000s. Until, that is, it became clear that there often wasn’t even a Democrat on the ticket; by the general election in November, a great many races had been decided.

For a couple of elections, the Democratic ticket was led by candidates who could not be taken seriously. One county commission candidate in particular caused a stir when he placed his campaign signs in front of Douglas County High School, not realizing that school property is not exactly a public right-of-way and that you can’t put signs there. These were folks who were already pretty unglued, and for whom even the pettier burdens of local public office would doubtless lead to disaster.

In other words, these were the kinds of folks they elect in Clayton County, not Douglas County. Follow? (OK, so, we did kind of elect at least one Clayton-caliber candidate.)

Now, a Democratic party is reemerging. Some of this is driven by the diverse coalition of blacks, gays and lesbians and educated, liberal whites and freethinkers bound together through President Barak Obama’s two national campaigns. And the good ol’ local GOP isn’t happy about this at all, no, sir.

Chairman Tom Worthan

Douglas County Commission Chairman Tom Worthan, a Republican, is none too happy with how them Democrats from Atlanta are influencing the political landscape of another county they happen to represent — his.

Even a local election can be an expensive proposition. Presently, however, most of the money is invested in the primaries, on the assumption that winning the Republican nomination is all that is necessary to win office. But an emerging, viable Democratic Party in the county, fielding viable candidates – like Todd Johnson, a white Democrat who endeavored to run for sheriff against Democratic challenger Derrik Broughton and Republican incumbent Sheriff Phil Miller until the county’s board of elections kicked him off the ballot because he didn’t have his fingerprints taken in the right place (he had them done through his employer, another metro Atlanta sheriff’s office, rather than at the Douglas County Probate Court) – means that more money and effort will have to go into general elections as well. And that means fewer cocktails and low-profile tires for those in the county who wish to remain politically influential (think: developers, contractors, etc.).

The claim that is easy to put forth is that these candidates are a product of an influx of people from outside the county – “those people,” if you will. But really, in the past few years, there hasn’t been much of an influx of “those people,” or any people for that matter. From 2010 to 2011, the U.S. Census shows the county’s population grew by only about .7 percent – less than the state’s growth of 1.3 percent. The housing market went kaput, new housing construction stalled and people couldn’t sell their old houses.

(Plus, during the past decade, Douglas County instituted minimum home sizes, which effectively priced many minorities out of buying a new home in the county.)

This isn’t so much that people are coming into Douglas County, and that these outsiders are stealing our way of life. Rather, it’s the fact that the people who are here are finding their voice.

Chairman Worthan – who, coincidently, I’ve voted for a few times – is casting this as people from outside the county (only Rep. Alexander actually lives in Douglas County; Rep. Gravely, though he has a Douglasville address, lives in that little loop of ZIP code that extends up into Paulding County) meddling in local affairs. Really, though, this is a product of the how the GOP gerrymandered the county in an (ill-advised) effort to dilute the political influence of Democrats from southern Fulton County (which the state would like to see go away), as well as a surprising Democratic victory that sent Rep. Alexander to the Capitol and kept former Rep. Bob Snelling (who, many took for granted, would handily win a seat after winning the Republican primary) on his porch.

It’s hard to see one’s dominance come to an end. It can leave a bitter taste. But then, those of us who remember being loyal Democrats back when Sheriff Waldrop ran with a “D” next to his name, are quite familiar with how this feels. We know how it tastes.

And right now, amid the Republicans’ tantrums, it tastes kinda’ sweet.

Advertisements

Birth of the Cruel

Standard

Hey yo, depending on the day and depending on what I ate
I’m anywhere from 20 to 35 pounds overweight.
I got red eyes, and one of them’s lazy,
and they both squint when the sun shines so I look crazy.
I’m albino, man; I know I’m pink and pale
And I’m hairy as hell everywhere but my fingernails.
I shave a cranium that ain’t quite shaped right —
Face tight, shiny — I stay up and write late nights.
My wardrobe is jeans and faded shirts;
A mixture of what I like and what I wear to work.
I’m not mean and got a neck full of razor bumps —
I’m not the classic profile of what the ladies want.
You might think I’m depressed as can be,
But when I look in the mirror I see sexy ass me.
And if that’s something that you can’t respect then that’s peace —
My life’s better without you actually.
To everyone out there who’s a little different
I say, “Damn a magazine; these are God’s fingerprints.”
— “Forest Whitaker,” Brother Ali

Who are you?

Complicated question, no? We got some things in common, you and me. Carbon-based, an affinity for oxygen, maybe we both need to take a pee. But whether or not these similarities are by design or coincidence – a product of infinite intelligence or genetic happenstance – is probably where we start to part ways. Weight, gender, skin color, background, preference in shampoo, etc. We can’t see eye to eye because we’re not even the same height.

If I’ve ever gotten anywhere on my looks, it’s been out of pity.

However, if there’s anything we share, it’s probably an innate distrust of those different from us. We are in competition, after all, for finite resources over which we and our progeny will also compete, which makes a degree of aggression essential for the survival of our species. If ever there was a truly altruistic person, I doubt that he or she lived for very long.

What unsettles me, however, again and again is how vicious and violent our actions can be toward those different from ourselves within our own nation and further, within our own communities.

Our national heritage is vastly more filled with examples of hate than understanding. Putting ourselves in another’s shoes is simply not something that comes naturally to us.

Still, it is something of which we are capable, and our capacity to do such – along with thumbs and our aptitude for building nuclear weapons – is what separates us from the animals. However, again and again, we put our best selves aside and turn back to our more animal instincts; spitting venom, attacking different species and being generally happy to curl up on the couch at the end of the day and get our bellies rubbed.

Resources are finite. Here, the resource over which we fight is unorthodox: opportunity – the chance to live a good life in a good, safe and stable country.

We are not the same. Our differences make it impossible to set any standard. As the Romans said, “To each, his own.” (Well, except they said it in Latin.) But what allows us to transcend our biology is civility.

It is trite to say that we should quit hatin’. Not going to happen. But if we can set a mutual (and irrational) standard for beauty – beyond biology – can we not also set one for mutual respect and coherent discourse?

Senators Need To Grow a Pair and Support Consumer Finance Protection Bureau

Standard
The place

"This place," as my Grandaddy called it.

When my grandparents bought their home – a 50-plus acre farm with a rotten barn and a run-down house with holes in the floor so feral cats could come and go as they pleased – they paid it off in about five years.

Keeping “this place” as he called it was the highest priority for my grandfather, who’d grown up as a sharecropper, working other people’s fields after his own father lost the family store – Waldrop Mercantile – in the Great Depression. Here, he had his own home, his own fields and his own barn. The field of squash and zucchini and pole beans and tomatoes we ate on over the summers as a boy were nourished by his soil, in a garden thick with chunks of granite and quartz that I collected and tossed into the woods after he finished cutting through the ground with the harrow and laying off the rows with his plow.

Paying it off and holding on to it were the most important things in his life. Again being without a place to go that was his own would not be counted among the many other problems he had. When a gas boiler he was working on at an army depot near Atlanta blew up, sending him through a cinder block wall and leaving him to convalesce in a veterans’ hospital in Savannah, he said his greatest solace came from knowing his wife and children were in a house that was at least paid for.

When my wife and I began to sink our own roots into his soil, our options for building a house were immense and our information was limited. Our commitment to a 30-year fixed mortgage was strange to the bankers and mortgage brokers with whom we worked in securing financing. We could pay interest only, or let the rate fluctuate with the market. We could pay it off in 15 years or in longer than 30. Or, we could pay interest only and never really pay the place off at all.

No one supervised the many options laid before us by the brokers and bankers. When we at last closed, we sat for more than an hour initialing and signing a massive stack of paper attesting to our awareness and acceptance of what we were getting ourselves into, when we didn’t really know at all.

It is easy to pin the current financial crisis on individuals who bought homes they could not afford, and promptly lost them when the terms of their mortgage changed. Indeed, these individuals are culpable for the crash of the housing market, but they are not at all alone in the blame.

Had I not gone myself through the same sort of solicitations that they, too, received, I would stop the blame with them.

But instead I ran into all manner of people eager to convince me that the sky was the limit when it came to my new home. What’s $40,000 here or $30,000 there, after all? And if the cost at closing results in a monthly payment higher than you can afford, well, no matter – just pay the interest and deal with the principal when you can.

For people who had not been raised with the sense that owning your own home is hugely important – people who don’t know the value of seeing how you can spread your table with the produce of your own soil, who had been told how devastating it is to toil on someone else’s land – the prospect of owning a lavishly oversized home is worth the risk. The consequences were years away.

Then the big bills came due, mortgage payments doubled or more, and people lost their homes, leaving neighborhoods dotted with blighted residences, their windows dark, their yards overgrown.

Some felt that they had been taken advantage of – swindled – and set about stripping their lost residence of all that it was worth, ripping through Sheetrock to claim the pipes and wires, taking with them the doorknobs and light fixtures, everything they could, leaving desolate wood-framed boxes that are still almost impossible to sell.

And they were right to feel that way. Because they were, in fact, sold on impossible dreams.

On July 21 – this Thursday – the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau will begin operation. This new federal agency has been tasked with overseeing and regulating businesses that deal with consumer finances, including banks and other lenders.

It is the brainchild of an astute and erudite woman who would have been the best possible candidate to oversee it – Elizabeth Warren, a professor of law at Harvard University. Warren has explored the great many lapses in regulatory oversight in a banking system that places far more emphasis on protecting shareholders and large accounts and practically none on regulating actions that impact the least-knowledgeable consumers upon whom the system has been built.

The predatory actions of bankers and brokers out for short-term wins leveraged against long-term sustainability has resulted in a great deal of sadness for a great many families. To let that hit home, survey the remains of these abandoned, foreclosed dwellings. See the stepping stones left behind in the fallow gardens, the children’s swing sets going to rust and decay and the many other vestiges of lives never realized.

In passing up Warren to serve as the powerful director of an agency whose mission is essential in helping us recover as a nation (and in preventing this from ever happening again), President Obama has possibly sidestepped what was promised to be a contentious – and perhaps impossible – confirmation by the United States Senate. But it was a fight I would very much have liked to see, as the conservative politicians, deep in the pockets of the biggest banks with the most to lose in the bureau’s mission, take on a woman whose only effort is to limit these banks’ capacity to take advantage of people like us.

I do not doubt that Richard Cordray, the former attorney general from Ohio whom President Obama has tapped instead to head the bureau, will do a fine job (if confirmed by the Senate). Still, even if the confirmation was impossible, I would very much have liked to see the hypocrisy of the senators who oppose the mission of this bureau exposed so that their constituents could understand more clearly where their allegiances lie.

Word is now that Warren will run for the Senate herself, pursuing the seat of Sen. Scott Brown of Massachusetts – the seat once held by Ted Kennedy. If successful, she would be able to serve in a powerful capacity to impact the reforms necessary to keep us from making future mistakes.

I hope that these senators will not be absurd in their opposition. If they are, and consumers continue to be hunted for their skins, I trust that you will not be blind this time as to who we should blame.