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Column: Angry voters can have long memories
04152018 NORMAN BAGGS
Norman Baggs

It’s been nearly 20 years, but every now and then you’ll still see one, sitting off the right-of-way of some rural Georgia road, or maybe nailed to the side of a pine tree at the edge of a wooded area.

“Sonny Lied,” the signs read, usually accompanied by a now faded image of the Confederate battle flag.

Newcomers to the state and those not attuned to the sounds of political discord may wonder at the odd signs found in out-of-the-way places, but they serve to make the point that angry voters can have long memories.

Back in 2001, “King Roy” Barnes, then governor of Georgia, accomplished what many didn’t think could be done by finding the political support necessary to scrap the old Confederate symbol from the state banner and replace it with something else.

That action became a focal point of the 2002 governor’s race, with Barnes’ opponent, Republican Sonny Perdue, promising to give the people a choice on the state flag, and inferring that the Confederate imagery could be retained if the voters of Georgia so chose.

To the surprise of virtually everyone, Perdue defeated Barnes, but when it came time for Georgians to cast their ballots on their flag of preference, the previous version of the Confederate battle flag that had been adopted in 1956 was not among the options.

Those ardent “flaggers” who had helped elect the state’s first Republican governor in more than 100 years were more than outraged, and the “Sonny Lied” signs began popping up all over Georgia.

Despite their anger, the anti-Perdue faction proved too small to dent the newly elected governor’s political armor, as he went on to win re-election to a second term with ease, defeating a weak opponent in the Republican primary and a Democrat with his own political baggage in the general election.

But they were vocal, and their signs stood for years as a reminder of how hot a single-issue crowd of voters can become if they feel betrayed.

Those signs came to mind recently with reports of at least 10 rural county Republican caucuses choosing to censor the incumbent governor for his failure to act as many of the party faithful felt he should during last year’s torturously long election cycle by throwing out the results and anointing Donald Trump the winner, regardless of the actual vote count.

Again, an emotional group of single-issue voters are exasperated by the actions of the candidate they had supported in the past. It remains to be seen whether these disenchanted Republicans will prove more successful than those who targeted Perdue with their vitriol, and the potential involvement of Trump to fan the flames remains a wildcard.

Unlike the case with Perdue, Kemp is likely to have a credible primary opponent next year, if not more than one, and is almost certain to face the strongest Democratic candidate put forth by that party since Barnes was elected. If Kemp were to lose his re-election bid, he would be the first governor to fail to win a second term since Barnes was beaten by Perdue.

And just to add to the intrigue of this particular bit of twisty political perspective, Perdue spent the past four years working in the cabinet of Trump, whose actions resulted in the mutiny against Kemp by some in the GOP.

It is beyond ironic that in 2004 a hard-core faction of the state’s Republicans turned against Perdue because they felt he lied; and in 2021, members of a similar political clique openly oppose Kemp because he didn’t.

 

Norman Baggs is general manager of The Times. 

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