I try to look ahead, rather than behind, in this space whenever I can. But a few things need to be said and said again about the recent crushing defeat of T–SPLOST.
I was frankly shocked — pleasantly so — that the proposed one-cent transportation tax was so thoroughly annihilated by the voters. Based on previous local tax referenda, I fully expected the usual resounding vote of approval.
Clearly, the voters have reached a tipping point with measures like these, much to the chagrin of the entrenched political/business lobby which always supports them for a multitude of self–serving reasons.
What struck me most about the T–SPLOST result — and indeed about the entire state of politics in 2012 — is the apparent paradigm shift that has taken place in our social contract.
Previously, we’ve been conditioned to think of everything in terms of one party vs. another party, conservative vs. liberal, Republican vs. Democrat, Fox News vs. MSNBC.
Now, however, increasingly the average voter, from the presidential level on down, is thinking more and more in terms of a different conflict: Politicians vs. the People.
This is not an entirely positive development, but it is necessary, and I think eventually it can lead to better things in the future if we fully own it.
Like many paradigm shifts, it’s counterintuitive. The truth about T–SPLOST is we had an ostensibly right–wing socially and fiscally conservative governor, Nathan Deal, 100 percent in favor of a new tax to fund a long list of mostly pork barrel projects.
We had an ostensibly conservative, strongly Republican–leaning organization, the Chamber of Commerce, fully supporting the new tax as well.
Some of the most vocal Savannah supporters of the tax, both in office and recently out of office, were self–labeled Republicans, many with obvious and shameless financial and professional conflicts of interest. (Though that tendency is by no means limited to that party.)
Combine this with the full–throated support for T–SPLOST from urban Democratic politicians and their own constituencies and you had a scenario where virtually the entire Georgia establishment, from the Gold Dome down to city halls and county commissions in every corner of the state, were strongly in favor of T–SPLOST.
Enter the voters. Goodbye T–SPLOST.
Ordinarily I’d be tempted to say the T–SPLOST vote was a wake–up call. But you see, politicians for the most part no longer respond to wake–up calls of any kind.
Like the moneyed interests they have come to represent almost exclusively, most elected officials are completely deaf to concerns outside their narrow circles.
That’s why people are so frustrated with them, and that’s why Georgia voters were by and large almost totally impervious to the various well–funded and well–orchestrated propaganda campaigns encouraging a “yes” vote on T-SPLOST.
I’ve heard some local commentators decry the vote by saying, yes, the process was imperfect, but boy think of all the stuff that could have been built for that money.
That to me is a dead–end argument, a non sequitur. Of course we could build lots of things with the T–SPLOST funds. If building things is what’s most important, then why not a ten-cent–on–the–dollar tax? A dollar–for–dollar match?
No, to me the point is that voters are finally realizing that politicians of all stripes and both major parties have never been so arrogant and out of touch. Elected officials have reached a tipping point of their own, apparently: a place where literally no amount of voter feedback has any effect on what they try to do while in office.
Examples of this are legion and far beyond the scope of this column to enumerate — I’m sure you can list dozens of examples off the top of your head. Locally I expect this sad phenomenon to get worse before it gets better.
We have a situation in Chatham County where one likely new county commissioner, Lori Brady, basically bequeathed her school board seat to her father, Larry Lower, who was elected the same day T–SPLOST went down in flames.
We have a situation where a sitting City Council member, Estella Shabazz, will see her husband Yusuf Shabazz sit on the Chatham County Commission simultaneously.
We have a situation where another City Council member, John Hall, is married to someone, Connie Hall, who serves on the school board.
That’s a lot of power in just a few living rooms! Nepotism is hardly a new thing, especially around these parts, but I can’t help but think that so many overlapping family ties in local politics will only increase the tendency of officials to insulate themselves from public opinion.
Now, it’s true that the self-same wise voters who rejected T-SPLOST also made the above questionable decisions. But I do think most of us will eventually come around to preferring a more open atmosphere rather than a closed information loop, where politicians and their spouses openly jockey for position to aggrandize more and more power to their own families.
I hold out zero hope that the T–SPLOST vote will convince politicians to do anything other than try that much harder to jam things we don’t want down our throats. (Indeed, the legislation specifically allows another T-SPLOST vote in two years if the first didn’t pass!)
But I do hold out hope that the voters may have finally realized that when politicians cynically say “it’s up to you” — not, of course, meaning it — that it really is up to us.