Tuesday, August 14, 2012
Furor Over University Name a Gift for Lee Anderson?
Tuesday, August 14, 2012
By The Outsider
With the local outrage over the new name for the new merged university dominating the front page of the daily paper, the evening news, and the talk radio shows, you'd almost have forgotten that there is a run-off in a week for the Georgia 12th congressional district GOP race.
Lee Anderson, who is now in a runoff with Augusta construction contractor Rick Allen for the 12th district GOP nomination, ought to send Dr. Ricardo Azziz and the Georgia Board of Regents bouquets of flowers.
The furor over the university name change has successfully diverted local attention away from Anderson's voting record in the state legislature and most importantly his support of T-SPLOST. There was a noticeable backlash against Anderson in his home base of Columbia County in the immediate aftermath of the T-SPLOST vote on July 31st. Despite failing in 75% of the regions throughout Georgia and being soundly rejected by more than 58% of voters in Columbia County, the tax still passed in the CSRA region, largely because of the voters in neighboring Richmond County. That means that Columbia County residents will still be forced into this new tax region despite voting against it.
We heard reports in the days following the T-SPLOST vote that some Lee Anderson signs were being taken down from yards across Columbia County in protest of his support for the tax and voting for it in the Georgia General Assembly. But T-SPLOST was not the only tax Anderson supported in the legislature that is disproportionately hitting middle and lower income residents. He also voted in favor of a $500 million hospital bed tax and Georgia Power's advance billing of $1 billion in profits, hidden as "construction costs," which lead to double digit rate increases for the average customer. Voters in Columbia County were finally starting to pay attention to Anderson's anti middle class voting record, and this presented an opening for Rick Allen in the run-off.
And then came the announcement from the Georgia Board of Regents last week that the name for the new consolidated university in Augusta would be named Georgia Regents University. All Hell broke loose. It's been dominating the headlines for the entire week and there is no sign that the outrage will die down any time soon. William S Morris III even had a self-penned letter on Sunday's front page of his Augusta Chronicle newspaper where he announced his resignation from the board of GHSU over the name flap. Articles on the name controversy on The Chronicle website have been getting by far the most comments, and callers to local radio talk shows have also been fixated on the name change. More protests are planned for this week. We've noticed here that web searches for the congressional race and T-SPLOST have fallen off considerably in the last week. All of the interest seems to be on the name for the new university.
The timing could not be worse for Rick Allen. A recount request by Wright McLeod last week that yielded one vote had delayed the inevitable show-down between Anderson and Allen. And during the uncertainty of the recount, the announcement of the new name of the university came out, and got everyone talking.. Any momentum that Allen could have capitalized on over T-SPLOST seemed to be slipping away with the clock counting down to August 21.
To win the run-off next week, Allen will have to win Columbia County. The furor over T-SPLOST and tying Lee Anderson to it looked like it would be the winning strategy that could deliver victory to Allen. But now the furor has shifted to something else... the name of the new university. Will there still be enough outrage over T-SPLOST in Columbia County next Tuesday to sway the run-off election in Allen's favor? That remains to be seen.
Allen is already handicapped by a depressed GOP voter turnout in Richmond County because of the Sheriff's race. All of those republican cross-overs who took a democratic ballot in order to vote for Scott Peebles are not allowed to cross back over to vote in the congressional run-off on August 21st. Anderson did rather poorly in Richmond County in the July 31st general primary, in fact it was his worst showing in all of the counties in the 12th district. Allen could have been able to win Richmond County by a big margin and run up the vote tally and offset Anderson's advantage in the rural southern counties next Tuesday, but because of the depressed turnout, Allen's advantage in Richmond County will be negated and thus the largest county in the district will end up having a negligible impact on the race. That means Columbia County will decide this.
If Rick Allen can win Columbia County by the same margin as it rejected T-SPLOST, he will be the candidate facing John Barrow this fall instead of Lee Anderson. But for this to happen, Allen will have to position himself back to his Columbia County roots and distance himself from the political elites in Augusta-Richmond County, who have for the most part forsaken him anyway for the Sheriff's race and have become more of a political liability. If Allen has any chance for a victory against Anderson, it will be found in Columbia County.
Linking Anderson to the unpopular T-SPLOST appears to be the winning strategy to take Columbia County. The key is to make sure the voters are still as outraged over T-SPLOST next Tuesday as they were a week and a half ago. One way this could be accomplished is to link the red hot outrage over the university name change to the outrage over T-SPLOST. They both have one common denominator: an overbearing state political body out of touch with the wishes of locals.
T-SPLOST failed in Columbia County, but the Georgia General Assembly engineered the bill in such a way, that their wishes could be outvoted by people in other counties.. and that is exactly what happened. The legislature also sought fit to penalize regions that voted against the tax by withholding a large portion of state transportation matching funds. The voters were not really being given a real choice by the politicians under the Gold Dome in Atlanta. T-SPLOST was more like an act of extortion: vote for it --- or else.
Lee Anderson was one of the state legislators who voted in favor of this flawed bill that took local control away from individual counties and gave it to a new regional government. Similarly, the wishes of many local residents and leaders were outvoted by another state body known as the Georgia Board of Regents when it came to naming the new consolidated university in Augusta. The case could be made that an overbearing state government gave us the hideously flawed T-SPLOST and the extremely unpopular name for the new university abbreviated as GRU. Some can say that T-SPLOST and the new university name are GRUesome, and Rick Allen would be wise to make that argument and continue to link Lee Anderson to the overbearing and out of touch state government that gave us both.***