The historic Pierce County Courthouse, built in 1903, near the busiest intersection in downtown Blackshear, Ga., in a 2018 AJC file photo. Stephen B. Morton/Atlanta Journal-Constitution
Photo: Stephen B. Morton/Stephen B. Morton for The Atlant
Photo: Stephen B. Morton/Stephen B. Morton for The Atlant

The Jolt: Georgia’s smaller cities are in trouble, too

Charlie Hayslett, as we’ve written in this space before, is a former AJC journalist who spent decades doing penance for this dark past, primarily as a public relations specialist.

But in retirement, he has back-slid into form. As the author of a blog entitled “Trouble in God’s Country,” Hayslett has documented the widening gulf between rural and urban Georgia with an unrelenting avalanche of facts and figures. He added to this pile over the weekend.

“The gap between Georgia’s best-off and worst-off counties is probably bigger than in just about any other state,” he writes, putting Forsyth County at the top – and a scrum of South Georgia counties at the bottom. Click here and Hayslett will quickly draw you into the weeds of national county-by-county rankings.

We will cheat and focus on a summary paragraph in which Hayslett posits that it’s not just depopulated Georgia that’s in trouble, but its smaller cities as well:

I think this is important because I’ve long believed that any effort to improve Georgia’s rural areas has to include – and probably start with – the regional hub communities. Whether they like to admit it or not, rural areas depend on those major population centers for a wide range of support systems, including employment, health care, education and shopping.

If the Macons and Augustas are allowed to slip past some hard-to-discern tipping point, it may well doom dependent rural areas for multiple generations. As a practical matter, it may already be too late for Albany and much of Southwest Georgia, where the population that isn’t already packing up and leaving is among the least-educated and least-healthy in the nation (if not the world).

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On a related note, our AJC colleague Ariel Hart says this worrisome situation has escalated:

State officials revealed that the full number of poor elderly or disabled Georgians they are slated to drop from Medicaid rolls is 30,000, up from the 17,000 they reported earlier this month. They say that the Medicaid system sent out warnings to almost all of them, though, and received no response.

The AJC reported two weeks ago that the state Department of Community Health confirmed 17,000 Medicaid recipients were being cut off.

The people are typically already on Medicare, but are so poor that they also get Medicaid to fill in gaps such as paying the monthly premium for Medicare of more than $100, and paying for medications. The DCH said the people in question didn’t respond to regular annual renewal notices or termination warnings.

But lawyers for some of them said it was a mistake. They said their clients never got renewal notices, and they could prove that in their computer case files.

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We’ve made frequent note of how Democrats in last year’s gubernatorial race put LGBT rights at the forefront of their campaigns in a way never before seen in Georgia.

The same is already happening in the U.S. Senate race. Former Columbus mayor Teresa Tomlinson, the only announced Democrat in the race against U.S. Sen. David Perdue, headlined the Georgia Equality gala over the weekend with a glimpse of what’s to come. 

She kicked off the event by describing a letter-to-the-editor she wrote to the Columbus Ledger-Enquirer, opposing the state constitutional amendment that banned same-sex marriage in Georgia -- which passed in a 2004 referendum. (It was negated by the U.S. Supreme Court in 2015.) Writes Patrick Saunders of Project Q:

“I didn’t care if I was ever invited to another dinner party or placed on another Christmas card list or elected to anything,” [Tomlinson] said. “And though that measure shockingly passed with 76 percent of the vote, they could kiss my ass if they thought I would stand down for this.”Tomlinson, who was introduced by her lesbian sister Tonya Pike, spoke of leaving the Republican Party in her early 20s after seeing people willing to smear a political opponent’s sexuality. 

“I knew that if a person went to the Pandora’s box of bigotry in an effort to acquire power, it would be effective and addictive,” she said. “I was right, and here we are today in a pitched battle for our civic souls. We are constantly being pitted against one another so that others can acquire power.”

Saunders also reports that Tomlinson criticized “the lunacy and downright bigotry” from the Trump administration, including the ban on transgender people from serving in the military.

“We can and we must do better,” she said at the gala, which raised a record $160,000. “And it matters who we send to Washington to lead.”

Her likely opponent, Sarah Riggs Amico, was endorsed by gay rights group Georgia Equality in last year’s race for lieutenant governor and, on the campaign trail, stressed her stance as an evangelical Christian who backs LGBT equality and opposed “religious liberty” legislation. 

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Keep an eye on U.S. Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas. On Monday, the Georgia native urged his colleagues on the high court to be "less bound to upholding precedent," a view that if implemented could have vast implications on issues like abortion. Via Reuters:

Writing in a gun possession case over whether the federal government and states can prosecute someone separately for the same crime, Thomas said the court should reconsider its standard for reviewing precedents.

…“When faced with a demonstrably erroneous precedent, my rule is simple: We should not follow it,” wrote Thomas, who has long expressed a greater willingness than his colleagues to overrule precedents.

In a concurring opinion, which no other justice joined, Thomas referred to the court’s 1992 decision in Planned Parenthood v. Casey, which reaffirmed Roe (v. Wade) and said states cannot place an undue burden on the constitutional right to an abortion recognized in the Roe decision. Thomas, a member of the court at the time, dissented from the Casey ruling.

The conservative George H.W. Bush appointee is currently the court’s longest-serving justice. Over the last several months he’s indicated his willingness to revisit landmark rulings, including a 1964 decision that raised the bar for public officials suing for libel. He also recently discussed abortion and birth control in the context of eugenics. 

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Over at the Bitter Southerner, former AJC writer Jim Auchmutey, author of “Smokelore,” a history of barbecue in the South, tells of his visit to two competing BBQ joints in north Georgia during the 1996 presidential election:

One of them was the Pink Pig, whose owner, Bud Holloway, was a friend of President Jimmy Carter and had catered many Democratic fundraising events. The other was Poole’s Barbecue, famous for the hillside — staked with hundreds of plywood pigs — that rises behind the restaurant to catch the eyes of highway travelers. Its owner, Oscar Poole, had been chairman of the local Republican committee and had hosted conservatives like Pat Buchanan during campaign stops.

The two men were not enemies exactly, but neither were they members of each other’s fan club. Poole called Holloway’s place "the Pinko Pig" and suggested its meat was full of fat, just like the government. Holloway considered Poole’s wooden pigs illegal outdoor advertising and confessed when he overheard diners trash-talking Carter, he had been known to toss them out of the restaurant.

Poole, by the way, is still a fixture at Georgia GOP events, always showing up in a banana-yellow suit and an Uncle Sam hat.

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