The world will now be watching Georgia. In that sense, last week’s long-awaited U.S. Supreme Court ruling on the Voting Rights Act marks another beginning, rather than the end, of the law’s long reach.
Now it’s up to our elected leaders to show decisively whether Georgia wishes to live and compete in the 21st century, rather than the 20th or even the 19th. Much will ride on making correct and courageous choices.
In our view, there’s one right path into the future. It is perhaps best guided by the words of the Old Testament prophet Micah, who long ago posed a rhetorical question, “and what does the Lord require of you but to do justly, love mercy and walk humbly with your God.”
That counsel for the ages can see Georgia through this divisive age. It also applies to a fractious U.S. Congress, which faces a decision on whether to update a key formula in the Act which was ruled unconstitutional last week.
Now is the time for our political leaders to soberly and wisely represent all of us — and not only those who cast “yes” votes for them. Both Democrats and Republicans should take heed here since neither party has shied away from redrawing lines to gain political advantage.
Representing all of the people in matters of governance would be a smart recognition of the increasing diversity of this state, metro Atlanta and the nation. This is a strength, competitive and otherwise, that warrants careful protection.
And the bedrock causes of equity and justice demand no less from each of us, and especially from our elected leaders. How well we fulfill these duties will affect far more than the important safeguards or hindrances to the constitutional right of the vote.
How Georgia and the eight other Southern states long subject to the Voting Rights Act’s provisions behave going forward will, we believe, have a measurable impact on our broader progress and prosperity. Here’s why.
It can be forcefully argued that a non-negotiable given of today’s dynamic global economy is that jobs, people and investment will funnel to states that recognize an increasingly diverse world and act accordingly to welcome and take advantages of the opportunities therein. Those who doubt this should consider that 45 of 100 Georgians were non-white in 2011, according to the U.S. Census.
Thus, we must look ahead and not backward in coming months. That will require bipartisan civil and civic engagement by Georgians from all ethnicities and walks of life.
We’ve done it before. There are clear reasons why Atlanta bested competitors for supremacy as the capital of the Southland. This city faced the new reality being forged by the civil rights movement and chose to move forward through the tumult. We saw opportunity where others saw disruptive threats.
History, zooming economic development and roughly 4 million transplants to the Atlanta region since 1970 prove that we chose the right, proper and profitable course.
That history is analogous to the choice now before the largely conservative leadership of this great state. At this point, politicians can no longer claim to be chafing under what they see as an oppressive stricture of the Voting Rights Act.
With that constraint removed, many will note closely just what we do next. Georgia must do the right things, even if the U.S. Justice Department is no longer watching in the same way. The state’s future progress demands no less.
In truth, actions of the type that landed Georgia and other states in the Voting Rights Act as named examples of how not to behave have been practiced by both Democrats and Republicans. It is the way of politics that either victorious party has naturally acted to cement its majority and power.
So we here urge both Georgia’s current Republican majority and its Democratic minority to keep at hand the state’s motto of “Wisdom. Justice. Moderation.”
That will hopefully keep in abeyance any over-the-top attempts to unreasonably gerrymander voting districts to set the status quo in concrete or take other actions viewed as unduly hindering electoral participation by minorities or the minority party. Such efforts will likely be met with emboldened resistance within Georgia and disdain outside of the state.
In the former instance, that could fuel opposition of the kind that turns out seemingly entrenched ruling parties. On the latter point, it could cause non-Georgians to look elsewhere for the sites of new economic development projects.
Those are real risks for Georgia. It does not have to be that way.
Georgia at its best is better than that. Our state’s growing population and influence demand no less. We should be building, and not unduly bickering.
Many eyes are upon Georgia and the other Southern states singled out by the Voting Rights Act. As Georgians, we have fought unrelentingly to draw the world’s attention to our positive attributes. Now we must show the nation and world what real political and moral statecraft looks like.
If we don’t, our state, its citizens and economy will be the worse for it.
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