Regardless of how the presidential race between Barack Obama and Mitt Romney plays out, Georgia Republicans should have something significant to celebrate the day after the election.
Just eight years after the GOP took control of the General Assembly in the 2004 elections, they are poised to win more than two-thirds control of both legislative chambers (that’s 120 seats in the House of Representatives and 38 in the Senate).
The achievement of two-thirds control of the House and Senate would enable Republicans to pass any piece of legislation, even constitutional amendments, without the need to ask for a single vote from a Democratic legislator.
That accomplishment would cap an amazing transformation of the state’s political hierarchy during the past 10 years.
Coming into the 2002 elections, Democrats had controlled the governor’s office and the General Assembly for more than a century. Republicans were the eternal minority party in state politics.
After Sonny Perdue upset Roy Barnes in that 2002 governor’s race, the Democratic Party’s power quickly crumbled and the GOP steadily took command of state government.
This turnabout has occurred during a period when Georgia’s demographic trends suggested that Democrats at least should have been able to hold their own with the newly ascendant GOP.
The state’s electorate has become more diverse in recent years – the percentage of white voters has declined to less than 60 percent over the past decade while the number of black and Latino voters has increased.
Even with the larger numbers of voters who typically tend to vote Democratic, Republicans have continued to build stronger majorities in the Legislature and have swept all of the statewide elected offices.
This constitutional majority brings the controlling party an enormous amount of power, but it can also be a mixed blessing.
“That creates new problems for the majority party,” said Steve Anthony, who was a top aide to House Speaker Tom Murphy back when Democrats held majority control of the Legislature. “It can lull you into a false sense of security and your game is not as sharp as when you have a closer majority.”
The move towards a GOP super-majority has also resulted in more racial polarization of the two political parties.
The Republicans in elective office are largely white and heavily male, with occasional exceptions. The Democratic faction in the General Assembly has basically become a slightly expanded version of the Black Caucus, with a handful of white legislators from urban districts.
Conservative Republicans don’t have to talk to or bargain with their more liberal counterparts on the Democratic side of the aisle, and that cuts a large portion of the state’s population out of the political process.
In a caucus whose membership exceeds 120, you have a faction of Republican lawmakers who align themselves with the tea party and other ultraconservative groups on issues outside the mainstream of state politics.
These conservatives are expected to push for passage of a “personhood amendment” to the state constitution that would declare a newly fertilized egg to have the same rights as a fully grown human being. Such a law would make all forms of abortion as well as in-vitro fertilizations illegal in Georgia.
A few years ago, Mississippi put a personhood amendment on the election ballot, but even in that deep-red state, voters rejected the measure by a lopsided margin.
With a two-thirds majority, Republicans conceivably could pass legislation that would allow white communities in the northern end of Fulton County to secede and form their own Milton County. Georgia already has 159 counties, which seems to be a lot of local governments, but perhaps our lawmakers can shoot for 200 counties.
If Republicans pile up especially large majorities in the House and Senate, the legislative leadership might be persuaded that they really don’t have to adopt stronger ethics laws or limitations on lobbyist spending – even though the state’s voters demonstrated with their July 31 straw votes that they want these measures to become law.
“A constitutional majority is like being married to Britney Spears: it may look good on the front end, but it could be a nightmare when it actually happens,” joked Republican pollster Mark Rountree.
(Tom Crawford is editor of The Georgia Report, an internet news service at gareport.com.)