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Crawford: Census shows Georgia's changing face
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By any standards, it was an impressive turnout last week for a rally staged by Latino activists near the front steps of the state Capitol.

Police estimated the crowd size at about 5,000, which was roughly the size of a very different crowd that had gathered at the same location 11 months earlier for a tea party rally.

Hispanic leaders held the event to protest bills pending in the General Assembly that are intended to target undocumented immigrants and detain them for deportation back to their country of origin. The bills are similar in many ways to a controversial immigration law enacted in Arizona last year.

Even though the rally attracted a large and enthusiastic audience, it most likely will not achieve the goal of its organizers. One of those immigration control bills will probably be adopted by the legislature in the next couple of weeks and passed along to Gov. Nathan Deal for his signature.

In a larger sense, however, the Latino rally at the capitol put a human face on an important demographic trend that was confirmed by the release earlier this month of data from the U.S. Census for 2010.

As has been evident for years, the white percentage of Georgia's population continues to shrink, while the nonwhite portion of the population represented by blacks, Hispanics and Asians continues to grow.

Georgia's population, as of April 2010, was a shade above 9.68 million, an increase of more than 1.5 million people since the 2000 census. The white share of that population was 59.7 percent, down from 65.1 percent a decade earlier.

Blacks now constitute 30.5 percent of the state's population, which is a small but steady increase from 28.7 percent in 2000. The Asian population, in raw numbers, grew by 81 percent over the past decade and now makes up 3.2 percent of Georgia's total population.

The most explosive growth, however, came in the Latino community. The Hispanic population nearly doubled in the 2010 census to 853,689 people, which is almost 9 percent of the state's total.

That number does not translate into political power, of course. A large portion of the state's Latino population consists of undocumented immigrants who presumably could be swept up and sent back with the legislative passage of one of those immigration control bills. There are also many Hispanics who are residing legally in Georgia but have not yet become naturalized citizens.

Even so, the trend in voter registration is something to ponder. In January 2001, there were 1,100 registered voters in Georgia who identified themselves as Hispanic. By January 2011, that number had grown to more than 93,000.

On the whole, Georgia's Republicans can take some short-term comfort in the latest census numbers.

The urban areas that represent Democratic Party strongholds — the cities of Atlanta, Macon, Augusta, Columbus and Athens, as well as DeKalb and Clayton counties — registered minimal growth in population over the past decade. Macon's population actually shrunk by about 6,000.

Suburban counties that vote Republican — Gwinnett, Cobb, Forsyth, Hall, Henry and Cherokee — continued to grow at amazing rates, which is a major reason why the GOP controls every statewide elected office and two-thirds of the seats in the legislature.

If you take a closer look at the county numbers, however, you can see that they are also being transformed by Georgia's movement to a more diverse citizenry.

Gwinnett is now the second-largest county in Georgia, but also has the largest number of Hispanic residents in the state — they make up 20.1 percent of the county's population — and has a black population of 23.6 percent. Another 10 percent of Gwinnett's population is Asian.

Cobb is the fourth largest county and has been a center of Republican Party strength for the past two decades. Nearly 42 percent of its 688,000 residents, according to the latest census data, are black, Hispanic or Asian.

Hall County has grown to the point where it is Georgia's 11th-largest county and home to our Republican governor and lieutenant governor, but more than a third of the county's population is now black, Hispanic or Asian.

These numbers show how the face of Georgia is changing, which means there will be political changes in the long run as well.

Tom Crawford is the editor of The Georgia Report, an Internet news service that covers government and politics in Georgia. His column appears Wednesdays and on