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Shipp: Change may come to Georgia as minority residents swell voter rolls

POSTED: September 28, 2008 5:01 a.m.

Why do you look so worried, Bubba? Barack Obama is not going to win Georgia. He might come close, but he can’t win. Maverick McCain and his little moose-hunting buddy should keep Georgia safe for Republicans for at least two more years.

Still, Bubba, you should brace yourself for a good dose of shock and awe. Even if Barack doesn’t carry the Peach State, you may be shaken the morning after the Nov. 4 election. You will see the sun rise on the real new Georgia — a Georgia filling up with new voters and minority residents. The dramatic changes will be reflected in a record voter turnout.

The fresh Georgia political map is likely to startle. Just since 2004, Georgia’s registration rolls have grown by 577,000 new voters, a plurality of them black. Political observers believe an additional 300,000 new voters are yet to be processed and added to the rolls. Don’t frown, Bubba. It will be OK. Trust me. Whites still hold a commanding majority of the vote (64.5 percent). However, their numbers have diminished by nearly 6 percent in just four years.

The entire state’s population is on the move, as the vote totals may show. Your buddies in the GOP, once firmly rooted in the suburbs, are moving in droves farther and farther from traffic, lousy schools, high crime rates — and minority neighbors. The elephants will soon be known as the party of the exurbs and rural Georgia. They are being replaced on the once-hallowed grounds of suburbia by African-American voters. Blacks also maintain their traditional strength in Georgia’s urban centers. This kind of movement is just what Democrats had in mind to regain power.

(A couple of examples: Suburban Cobb County, formerly the capital of Barry Goldwater Republicanism, has registered at least 28,000 blacks since 2004, and only 14,000 whites. Suburban Douglas County has registered 13,000 black voters and only 2,000 whites.)

If these trends hold, Georgia could be back in the Democratic fold by the time Hillary runs again in 2012, and Bubba may have moved farther into the mountains to escape the tidal wave of voters and new neighbors who are not Irish, Scot and Protestant.

Not too long ago, Georgia was the center of the solidly Democratic South. We went overwhelmingly for John F. Kennedy in 1960. Our best and brightest political minds — Judge Griffin Bell, for instance — helped Kennedy pile up the second-biggest majority of any state in the country. Rhode Island was first.

By 1964, however, white Southerners were fed up with then-President Lyndon B. Johnson and civil rights demonstrations. When Johnson signed the Civil Rights Act of 1964, he reportedly said to an aide, "We have lost the South for a generation." He was dead right. Four months after Johnson’s dire prediction, Georgia was one of six states to go for Goldwater.

Democrats held onto the Georgia Statehouse for another 40 years, but the state was finished as a true-blue Democratic bastion. Only native son Jimmy Carter and Arkansas’ Bill Clinton would break the Republican grip in presidential elections. Race was the GOP’s ace in the hole. Republicans were the white party; Democrats were everybody else — plus a few white libs and eccentric old folks.

I only tell you all this, Bubba, so you can get ready for the coming revolution. However, a glimmer of hope remains for you in the form of an alternate scenario:

Despite mounting numbers of minority Democratic voters, Republicans could remain firmly in power. Democrats may not have enough brainy and energetic people left to inspire and organize the new voters into a power bloc. And nothing will change.

Bill Shipp’s column on Georgia politics appears Wednesdays and on gainesvilletimes.com. You can contact him at P.O. Box 2520, Kennesaw, GA 30160; e-mail, shipp1@bellsouth.net; Web site, billshipponline.com.



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