The most stark reminder was the tally for the transportation tax. It crashed like the Hindenburg in nine of the state’s 12 regions, passing only in those centered on Augusta, Columbus and Vidalia.
Many observers say Atlanta television ads and news available in the homes of viewers throughout the northern part of the state sank the proposal in the city’s 10-county region and those surrounding it. Metro Atlanta is in the world’s largest toll-free calling area and the nation’s eighth-largest television market, creating a certain gravitational pull that tugs on the suburbs and exurbs in its orbit.
But it’s not that people in the outer reaches of those regions think like Atlantans. The opposite is actually the case. People outside of Atlanta rejected the tax precisely because they don’t like the big city and interpreted the pro-proposal ads as implying that their locally generated taxes would go toward the Atlanta projects featured in the television spots.
Veteran pollster and campaign strategist Matt Towery accused the pro-tax campaign managers with incompetence for using a TV message for a referendum in the first place. The confusion it sowed in the neighboring regions should have been expected, not to mention the passions it fanned among opponents.
“The moment I realized that the consultants had chosen to go with television ads I knew two things — someone was going to make a great deal of money off of the ad buys, and the effort would be doomed,” Towery wrote in a column on InsiderAdvantage.
The funding of the separate campaigns in Atlanta and the rest of the state leads to more evidence of the divide between the Georgias. Large corporations pitched in $6 million for the effort in Atlanta to improve the traffic those corporate executives contend with personally. They contributed little or nothing to the $2 million statewide campaign to enhance roads they never travel on, despite having business interests across the state.
Here are some examples of companies giving to the Atlanta campaign and ignoring the Other Georgia: The Coca-Cola Company, $197,000; The Home Depot, $150,000; Genuine Parts $100,000; RockTenn, $100,000; Siemens, $100,000; Turner Broadcasting System, $100,000; Waffle House, $25,000; Verizon Wireless, $20,000. A few made token donations to the statewide campaign along with their big Atlanta gifts, including AGL Resources’ $100,000 Atlanta, $2,500 statewide; AT&T’s $100,000/$5,000; Bank of America’s $50,000/$2,500; Wells Fargo’s $50,000/$1,000.
Most of the companies contacted declined to comment, but Wells Fargo’s spokesman Jay Lawrence said it’s simply that the majority of the bank’s employees work in Atlanta.
“For us it’s a quality-of-life issue, for all Georgians,” he said. “For us, the quality-of-life issue drove our decision.”
So, it’s not just that people across the state harbor ambivalence toward Atlantans, but apparently, the feeling is mutual.
The tax referendum wasn’t the only thing in Tuesday’s results pointing to geographic division. Look at the returns for the non-binding casino question before Republican primary voters.
The statewide total was almost evenly divided, 50.24 percent for and 49.76 percent against. However, a map showing the counties’ support or opposition offers a clearer picture.
Most metro Atlanta counties favored expansion of legalized gambling to fund education, with the exceptions of Hall, Gwinnett, Coweta, and Carroll where it failed by 1 percent or less.
The state’s other cities rejected it, with the exception of Athens and Columbus. Rural counties across the southern, eastern and northeastern parts of the state that opposed it also stand in sharp contrast to the metro Atlanta counties. There were nine rural counties where it passed but with fewer than 100 GOP voters total, suggesting a primary straw poll includes some anomalies.
This election reflects the state’s division in another way, the redistricting of legislative and congressional seats. More seats are being squeezed into metro Atlanta where population density results in some districts that are little larger than a handful of neighborhoods.
Meanwhile, districts in the rest of the state get bigger and fewer.
That means more legislators and members of Congress will come from Atlanta leaving fewer to represent the rest of the state’s concerns.
As the Atlanta contingent grows in size and power, it becomes easier to dismiss the rest of the state, just as the corporate executives did in their campaign contributions.
Speaking of political contributions, the combined $1.3 million given to all GOP candidates for state offices in 2010 from the metro areas of Augusta, Savannah and Brunswick combined total less than either Cobb or DeKalb county gave individually. That’s another reason state politicians can use for focusing on the capital rather than the state the surrounds it, although they would never say so publicly.
It was no coincident when Gov. Nathan Deal offered as an example of the first transportation project to address after the tax’s defeat. He called for revamping an interchange on Ga. Hwy. 400 that’s in the heart of metro Atlanta.