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One-party rule hurts Georgia

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As if the Nov. 2 elections didn't provide a hearty enough kick in the teeth to the Georgia Democratic party — with no statewide office-holders and few veteran leaders left in their ranks — the subsequent defections of nine (so far) state House and Senate lawmakers to the GOP has helped ensure that ours will remain a one-party state for the foreseeable future.

One of the stock explanations by party-switchers has been that their former party has become too liberal for them. Nonsense. Most of them changed sides because they didn't want to get drawn out of a job in the upcoming redistricting.

Having covered the Gold Dome for several years now, I've often been told of crazy lefty legislators, but I've yet to meet more than a small handful. On the contrary, most Democrats in Georgia (we're not talking California or New England here) run the narrow gamut from moderate to conservative. Take Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed, for example. As a state senator, Reed was a partisan Democrat, to be sure, but he maintained the respect of his Republican colleagues because he's foremost a realist who knows when to cut deals. Few would tag Reed as a leftist.

And yet, if Reed had been running statewide this past November, he wouldn't have stood a chance. Georgians even turned one of their most conservative congressmen, Macon's Jim Marshall, out of office because of the "D" behind his name.

Georgia is now, and has always been, a conservative state, even when the Governor's Mansion and Legislature were controlled by Democrats. But today's breed of Republican official is, by and large, more socially conservative and doctrinaire than those who preceded them as members of the loyal opposition under the late Speaker Tom Murphy.

The point is that Georgia's one-party rule doesn't benefit the average Georgian. We need a vigorous minority party to push back against the most extreme initiatives and help the majority guard against complacency or, worse, corruption. There's a reason primary election-winners usually make a quick shift to the middle — because some of the ideas they had to espouse to satisfy party loyalists were pretty nutty.

One-party rule is, more specifically, bad news for Atlanta. The recent party-switching leaves few Democratic legislators outside the metro area. The capitol city has long been a punching bag for rural lawmakers; now that it's the last Democratic bastion left in the state, the temptation will be strong for Republican ideologues to take a few more swings. Atlanta needs to make progress on regional transit, MARTA and Grady funding, and water resources to ensure its future growth and viability. It can't afford to have its agenda held hostage for political reasons.

We have to hope that Atlanta's importance to the state economy will be enough to stave off most attacks until a modicum of balance returns to Georgia politics.

Scott Henry is CL's news editor

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