“If one rejects laissez faire on account of man’s fallibility and moral weakness, one must for the same reasons also reject every kind of government action.” – Ludwig von Mises
The Piedmont Chronicles
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DEATH, TAXES, AND INCUMBENCY
There are few things in life more predictable than death, taxes, and an incumbent in Georgia winning re-election.
With name recognition, and an advantage in party support, incumbents have little trouble holding onto elected office.
92% of Georgia incumbents win re-election. This percentage does include races in which an incumbent runs unopposed.
INFORMED AND INVOLVED
Elections have consequences.
Voting for the highest office in the land is important, but the biggest effect felt in our lives occurs at home, not in Washington DC.
Presidential campaigns get the most attention, but local elected officials are the ones who enforce local ordinances and laws, dictate local policy, set millage rates, and propose budgets that directly impact our bank accounts. The sad part, all this goes on with or without citizen involvement.
Being informed and getting involved is the difference between change and the status quo. Participation in local government guarantees your voice is heard and represented.
Typically, less than 21% of those of voting age cast ballots in local elections. With such low turnout, if the electorate would increase that percentage by 5 to 10 points, it would be a game-changer against incumbent politicians.
Local officials are there to represent all, and when a large portion of the electorate fails to vote, it leads to bias. Increasing local voter turnout will improve minority representation. The result, a government more indicative of its community.
Aversion is a common sentiment when it comes to voters’ views of national politics, but no level of government is more accountable to its constituency than those officials elected at the local level. Local government was supposed to be the sanctuary where things got done in a more proficient manner, with less frustration than, say, dealing with the IRS.
It hasn’t worked out that way.
More than a quarter of Georgia voters (Republicans and Democrats) say their local elected officials are not responsive to their needs. This disparaging attitude amongst voters leads one to consider the pointlessness of local political participation. A higher percentage (roughly 36%) of independent voters, those not aligned with a political party, were far more negative in their belief that local government was operating on behalf of the people. This decline in confidence is felt at the polls, as well. With many local voters choosing non-participation during local elections. The widespread sense is, “It just doesn’t matter, so why bother?”
A marginalized voter, with an “I could care less attitude,” is what a local incumbent politician wants. Low voter turnout secures their re-election.
The more conservative areas of the state took issue with local government, reflecting a deep-seated opinion that government should be limited, or at least more effective. Democratic areas were more optimistic, describing local government as responsive to their needs.
SUPPRESS THE VOTE
America’s democratic promise is being unfulfilled.
The extent of voter suppression in the US is still debated today. Long gone are the days of poll taxes and literacy tests. They have been replaced with gerrymandering (redistricting), voter ID laws, and political appointment.
Laws like voter ID requirements do contain racial biases. They serve as an indirect barrier for people of color that compound the effects of gerrymandering and political appointment. Voter ID laws are passed in states where people of color are less likely to be able to meet the new requirements. Whether intended to discriminate or not, these laws do just that. While there is no tangible proof that they’ve deterred any type of fraud, there is plenty of data detailing how they’ve led to advantages in Republican controlled states.
Recent polling data suggests, Americans do believe voter suppression is commonplace, and that voting is routinely harder for people of color compared to their white counterparts.
Nationally, 9% of black voters indicated that, in the last election, they (or someone in their family), were told they lacked proper identification to vote, compared to 3% of white voters. 10% of black voters reported they were incorrectly told they weren’t listed on voter rolls, as opposed to 5% of white voters. Any issue identified as a barrier to voting, was twice as likely to impact a black voter, compared to a white voter. 15% of black voters said they had difficulty finding polling places on election day, versus 5% of white voters. Frequent changes to polling locations occur within minority communities. In 2016, 10% of registered black voters missed the registration deadline to vote, as opposed to 3% of whites. Black voters were twice as likely as white voters to have been denied time off work for voting.
This systemic regression in democracy, drives fears of voter suppression in black communities.
In 2016, a federal court condemned North Carolina’s voter ID laws as deliberately discriminatory maneuvers that “target African Americans with almost surgical precision.”
68% of black voters believe local disenfranchisement is a major problem, and a similar proportion believe that it is the biggest electoral issue in America.
While 27% of white voters say eligible voters being denied the right to vote is a major problem.
Is this difference of opinion based on experience, party affiliation, or regional history of voter suppression?
In the South, 37% of white voters reported being allowed in the voting booth with their parents as children, versus 24% of black voters. In a region like the South, because of Jim Crow laws, many middle-aged or older people of color may not have had a parent or grandparent who was eligible to vote during their childhood.
Remember: Numbers don’t lie. Politicians do.
Alcovy Judicial Circuit Judge Samuel Ozburn, in September of last year, announced he would not seek re-election after 25 years on the bench, choosing instead, to retire at the end of 2020.
Ozburn’s announcement prompted AJC District Attorney Layla Zon to proclaim her candidacy to succeed Ozburn. Zon, a Republican political appointee, has never faced opposition, running unopposed for the past decade.
Subsequent to Zon’s announcement, AJC Chief ADA Randy McGinley (Republican) and AJC Senior ADA Destiny Bryant-Harris (Democrat,) declared their candidacy for DA.
AN OCTOBER SURPRISE IN JANUARY
In late January 2020, Ozburn notified Republican Governor Brian Kemp’s office that he intends to retire early, on April 30th, 2020, before his term expires.
Ozburn’s announcement dramatically impacts the dynamics of an already hectic election cycle. Ozburn offered no explanation for his decision, other than, “I just feel like it’s time.”
Ozburn’s successor must now be appointed by Kemp, rather than being chosen by the voters in Newton and Walton Counties. State law mandates this appointment, and the person chosen will not have to seek re-election until 2022, making them the incumbent.
Newton County is a Democrat leaning county and has been since the voters elected President Barack Obama. Since then, Newton County has voted Democrat, having a 51% majority over Republicans.
Walton County is a Republican stronghold, that holds a 65% majority over Democrats.
A LIKELY SCENARIO
**This portion of the story incorporates opinion and expressed concern. With permission, it is included**
Two phone calls were received last week from anxious citizens. Both callers voiced concern, with Ozburn’s announced early retirement, that processes are in place to suppress the vote of Democrats, specifically those of black voters, within the AJC.
Their identities will remain protected.
The first caller feared Zon’s political appointment to succeed Ozburn, based on the established prosecutor to judge pipeline within the AJC.
They asserted, if Zon is appointed, which is more probable than not, she would take the bench in early May 2020, triggering Kemp to appoint her replacement as DA. The presumptive successor is McGinley. This effectively eliminates Harris-Bryant from the equation and her campaign to be the AJC’s first black DA. McGinley would not face re-election until 2022 and enjoy incumbency status.
If Zon does not get the appointment, which they believe is unlikely, she intends to remain DA, and as an incumbent, anticipates re-election. McGinley will not challenge his boss. Harris-Bryant would, making her Zon’s first-ever opposition. This would be an interesting race, since Newton County votes Democrat.
The second caller conveyed most of the same sentiments. They went a step further, all but declaring Zon and McGinley the political appointees, removing Harris-Bryant, and all AJC Democrats from the equation, entirely. They stressed this scenario was set into motion with specific objectives; the political appointment of Zon and McGinley. It guarantees Zon’s judgeship and that the DA’s Office will remain under Republican control. When McGinley is appointed, he will name Amber Bennett-Dally his Chief ADA, forcing Harris-Bryant’s resignation from the office.
The second caller concluded, this scenario involves Republicans, all white, seeking to suppress the candidacy of a black female Democrat and the votes of all AJC Democrats (a majority-black political party). Moreover, this gives Zon a second career political appointment, allowing her to once again bypass the election process.
THE STATE BAR
The State Bar of Georgia will send out notices to all members of the bar in Newton and Walton counties, making them aware about the judgeship opening. Applications for consideration are being accepted. The Bar will prepare a short list of the most qualified candidates and send it to Kemp. Those candidates will be interviewed by the governor, and a political appointee will be selected.
The nominating list will be released soon. Zon’s name will be on it.
HOUSTON, WE HAVE A PROBLEM
Individual dissent is necessary to the health of our democracy.
Both political parties have forsaken half the electorate, more than half, realistically. There is nothing organizational about a two-party system that guarantees moderate parties must possess broad appeal.
What we have now, instead of elections giving voters a meaningful choice between well-thought-out alternatives, is a political mess. This muddle fails to generate legitimate responses to issues by our representative government. Instead, the two-party system recommends mass centralism, which leads to authoritative oppression (tyranny) by a simple majority. The result: low voter turnout, division, gridlock, an erosion of consensus, and tendencies for voters to drift to political extremes (unconstitutional means and ends).
This is mind control, not equality.
Politicians channel voter frustration into embellished promises about how they will “fix the problem.” When’s the last time a Republican voted for more individual civil liberty?
America loves the political elite, is less Constitution minded, and lacks respect for democracy.
Partisanship is inescapable, and Americans are no longer attached to the spirit of independence but shackled to the normalcy of a corrupt two-party system.
The problem with going against the grain, is the resulting exclusion and discredit of ideas by both political parties. Don’t think so, ask Tulsi Gabbard.
The challenge then becomes how to shift the alignment of political conflict away from a battle over state institutions, and to more of a discussion about returning to a democracy rooted in constitutional adherence and the implementation of laws that do not restrict liberty. The answer must involve a third party. This would give us a more fluid system, in line with our constitutional foundation. This is a major task, and change is never easy. But at this point, anything less seems futile.
But first we must admit we have a problem.
A LIKELY SCENARIO REVISITED
If the concerns stated by the callers are realized, it should outrage every voter in the AJC. It would prove the establishment is willing to place authority over constitution and suppress the opposition voice.
Lee Ellis said, “Lies chip away at our freedom as individuals and as a society. Truth is the cornerstone for liberty, justice and a prosperous, free society. We should make it our highest priority.”
And so, too, should our elected officials.
TPC Correspondent & Contributor
With a unique background, body of work & first hand look at the inner workings of society & the justice system, as well as an appreciation for the arts & literature, Ralston is a True Friend to Freedom in the GA Piedmont.