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Georgia’s GOP and Democrats are foes, but they don’t have to be so ugly about it

Any hope we might have had that we’re moving beyond the scourge of racism in Georgia took a serious hit in the last two election cycles. Donald Trump’s winning campaign in 2016 was heavy on anti-Barack Obama and anti-immigrant rhetoric that rubbed many people of color the wrong way. The contentious gubernatorial contest between Stacey Abrams and Brian Kemp two years later certainly didn’t do anything to promote goodwill between the races in our state.

In fact, the 2018 governor’s contest seemed to be almost exclusively about race. Abrams, who would have been the country’s first black female governor had she won that election, focused a great deal of her campaign efforts on getting more African Americans registered to vote while also relentlessly hammering Kemp over policies he enacted as secretary of state that she believed discouraged those same voters from being able to turn out to support her.

It was a bitterly fought contest and Abrams never officially conceded the race, which she believes was stolen from her. Although she is not currently running for elective office in 2020, she is still very actively involved in the state’s political process. She has established a nonprofit group dedicated to making sure “traditionally uncounted” parts of the population are included in the 2020 census.

Of course, the majority of those traditionally uncounted folks are likely to be people of color, many of whom are on the lower end of the economic scale. Most of the folks in that demographic tend to vote for Democrats, so it comes as no surprise that Republicans exhibit very little enthusiasm for getting those folks out of the shadows and into the political process.

I wrote several columns during the 2018 election that were critical of how Kemp ran his campaign, especially how he oversaw his own election when he refused to step down from his position as secretary of state. Some of the folks in my social circle interpreted those columns as being pro-Abrams, and they let me know they did not appreciate my aiding and abetting someone who they believed wanted to take away their hard-earned paychecks and hand it over to people who didn’t want to work.

That view is pretty typical of how conservative Republicans view Democrats in general, of course, but the racial component is there even if it is a little below the surface. Though the law now says we are all equals, there is still a great deal of division in our hearts and minds. It doesn’t take much for those old animosities to bubble back up to the surface and cloud our thoughts and actions.

Obviously the racial divide that still cleaves our state and many other parts of our country is a bad thing and an impediment to us being to address problems that affect us all. But what is to be done about it?

It would certainly help if people running for office would tone down the animosity and race-baiting, and that applies to both parties.

I don’t believe the tightening of election rules the GOP-led Georgia legislature enacted in recent years was motivated by a desire to prevent voter fraud (a problem that has never been shown to exist to any significant degree.) The motivation was improving their chances of staying in power. They need to stop making it harder for Georgians to vote unless there is a verifiable problem with voter fraud that requires legal redress.

And while it’s logical for Democrats to emphasize voter registration and a full census count (as the Constitution specifies should happen) they could do so without directing so much vitriol at conservative politicians and their constituents. I’m looking at you, Stacey Abrams. Run your nonprofit and help us have as accurate census, but let the 2018 election go for goodness sake.

Bill Ferguson is a resident of Warner Robins. Readers can write him at fergcolumn@hotmail.com.

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