Ferguson is 67 percent African-American. The mayor is a white Republican. Of the 50 officers on the town’s police force, only three are black.
Ferguson conducts its elections in off years so local balloting avoids the hubbub of national elections. It’s probably a good idea since, as the late House Speaker Tip O’Neill used to say, all politics are local.
Unfortunately, off-year elections usually feature poor voter turnout.
Ferguson’s last municipal election drew just 17 percent of its white citizens and only 6 percent of its blacks, explaining the disparity in the mayor’s office, police force, the City Council and other positions.
It’s safe to say if African-Americans had voted in bigger numbers, policies might have been different in Ferguson and perhaps Michael Brown would be alive today.
Ferguson presents a lesson to Georgia’s African-American community. If blacks stay home on Election Day 2014, they can expect more of the same from Georgia’s Republican elected officials, which is to say nothing.
With a black population of 31 percent, of which 30 percent are registered voters, Georgia’s African-Americans can propel Democrats into the Governor’s office and U.S. Senate, but only if they show up at the polls in force this November.
If they stay home believing their vote doesn’t matter, black folks will surely realize the proverbial self-fulfilling prophesy, assuring the re-election of Gov. Nathan Deal and election of GOP Senate candidate David Perdue.
Deal’s attitude toward black Georgians borders on hostile. Last March, for example, when Moral Monday activists protested the governor’s refusal to expand Medicaid in Georgia, in a shameful scene reminiscent of the 1960s, African-American community and religious leaders were hauled off to jail.
Sen. Saxby Chambliss has been, at best, indifferent on issues affecting his African-Americans constituents. Thankfully, he’s leaving the Senate, but Mitt Romney wannabe Perdue won’t be much different.
Let’s not be dismissive about race in this election. President Obama has brought out the absolute worst in some conservative politicians and pundits who continue to exploit the racially charged code words the late Republican strategist Lee Atwater advised them to use.
“You start out in 1954 by saying, ‘n-----, n-----, n-----,’” said Atwater in a 1981 interview. “By 1968, you can’t say “n-----’ that hurts you, backfires. So you say stuff like, forced busing, states’ rights and all that stuff, and you’re getting so abstract. Now, you’re talking about cutting taxes and all these things you’re talking about are totally economic things and a byproduct of them is, blacks get hurt worse than whites … ‘We want to cut this,’ is much more abstract than even the busing thing, and a hell of a lot more abstract than ‘n-----, n-----.’”
Among conservatives today “cut this …” means social programs that help low income people, the elderly, children, unemployed veterans and the disabled, and those “economic things” are jobs.
Atwater was right: Blacks do get hurt worse than whites, especially in Georgia.
We learned last week that under Deal, Georgia sank to 50th in unemployment. That’s bad enough, but 13 percent of the state’s African-Americans are jobless.
“Don’t worry about that unemployment number,” crowed Perdue to a crowd in Dawsonville recently.
“We are a growing state and people continue to come here,” Deal equivocated. “I would much rather be ranked 50 than be ranked higher up the scale and see my labor force shrinking and have no new jobs to show for it.”
Deal thinks a race to the bottom is acceptable … and he’s wrong to boot. The Georgia Department of Labor reported the state’s labor force lost 5,000 workers and 13,000 jobs in July.
Deal can call chicken feathers chicken salad and say it tastes delicious, but his failure as Georgia’s chief executive is no less profound. And we haven’t even begun to talk about his ethics mess and what that’s costing taxpayers.
As for Perdue, he promised fellow Republicans on Capitol Hill he’d be a “team player” if he’s elected to the Senate.
Based on the disrespectful, racially-tinged treatment President Obama has received from Senate and House Republicans, Georgia’s African-American leaders understand exactly what those code words signify.
Kevin Foley is an author, writer and public relations executive who lives in Kennesaw.