Now that Labor Day is behind us, the political tradition is that this is when a presidential campaign really begins.
Barack Obama and Mitt Romney will be fighting it out on the national battlefield over the next two months in what should be a very close election.
Here in Georgia, it won’t be nearly that suspenseful. Romney is heavily favored to sweep the state’s 15 electoral votes, although Obama could still be competitive, as he was in 2008 when he attracted 47 percent of Georgia’s votes against John McCain.
One of the issues that overhangs this election is the continuing controversy over the passage of voter ID laws and tougher registration requirements in Georgia and other states where Republicans control the legislature.
Only last week, a panel of federal court judges in Washington, D.C. blocked the implementation of Texas’ voter ID law, which is similar to Georgia’s, on the grounds that it would discriminate against the voting rights of minorities.
Secretary of State Brian Kemp and his GOP colleagues maintain that strict voter ID laws are necessary to prevent election fraud. Democrats contend just as strongly that the laws have been passed to make it harder for blacks, Latinos and elderly citizens to vote.
We may be able to settle that question in Georgia by looking at the returns that are tallied on Nov. 6.
In 2008, McCain defeated Obama here by a margin of 204,636 votes. Since that election, the state’s voting populace has become decidedly more nonwhite in its demographic composition.
Four years ago, 64.5 percent of the state’s voters were white and 35.6 percent were non-white, according to figures from the secretary of state’s office. Today, the percentage of white voters has dropped to 59.5 percent while the percentage of nonwhite voters has increased to 40.5 percent.
If the margin between Romney and Obama is closer than the 204,636 votes we saw in 2008, that could be seen as an indication that the voter ID laws are not suppressing turnout by nonwhite voters.
If the margin between the two candidates is wider, that would tend to support the argument that voter ID laws were preventing nonwhite voters from casting their ballots. Either way, it will be an interesting field experiment.
Moving on from the presidential election, this is one of those rare years when Georgia voters will not be picking a governor or a U.S. senator. The only statewide races are for the two seats on the Public Service Commission now filled by Stan Wise and Chuck Eaton.
Wise and Eaton have competition as they try to return for another six-year term on the regulatory agency. Democrat Steve Oppenheimer has been campaigning vigorously against Eaton for several months, while David Staples was recently placed on the ballot to run against Wise by the Libertarian Party.
The issue that should be dominating the PSC races is Georgia Power’s management of the two nuclear reactors being installed at Plant Vogtle near Waynesboro. The utility giant has already revealed in regulatory filings that the costs of the Vogtle project are roughly $930 million over budget. Those cost increases are expected to get larger over the next four years as construction continues on the nuclear plants.
The anticipated cost overruns could put Wise and Eaton in the awkward position of having to tell voters whether they would require Georgia Power’s shareholders to absorb the cost overruns or allow the utility to charge them off to their customers in the form of higher electricity rates.
At the legislative level, voters in West Georgia will decide if they want to allow Glenn Richardson, who resigned in disgrace as House speaker three years ago over an affair with a lobbyist, to return to the General Assembly.
Richardson says he will run for a Senate seat that Bill Hamrick is vacating to accept a judicial appointment. State Rep. Bill Hembree, R-Winston, has also expressed an interest in running for that seat.
Hembree won’t have to do much opposition research for this race: there are many news reports that have been written over the years about Richardson’s extracurricular exploits while he was House speaker.
The debates between Richardson and Hembree could well be the highlight of the upcoming election season. I look forward to them eagerly.
Tom Crawford is editor of The Georgia Report at gareport.com. His column on government and politics in Georgia appears Wednesdays and at gainesvilletimes.com/viewpoint.