Opinion: Georgia Senate race distracts from more relevant state elections

Credit: Branden Camp

Credit: Branden Camp

Elected representatives at the state level are getting things done

With less than 50 days to the midterm elections, political pundits are going into overdrive, constantly updating and analyzing predictions about which party will take the Senate, whether or not the House will really flip to Republican control, and what President Biden will do given a new Congressional make up.

Georgia sits in the middle of the election drama. The Peach State has one of just two Senate elections considered to be a true toss-up. To heighten the stakes further, Nate Silver’s forecasts predict that if the Georgia Senate seat goes to Republican Herschel Walker instead of Democratic incumbent Raphael Warnock, the odds of the Republicans taking control of the upper chamber of Congress go from an unlikely 9% chance to a slightly favorable 52%.

But will a slight advantage in the U.S. Senate really matter? The most likely outcomes give control to the Democrats by Vice President Harris’ tiebreaking vote or by only one or two senators. If West Virginia’s Joe Manchin or Arizona’s Krysten Sinema are those two senators, there will be no ability to get anything done at the federal level, especially given the House is expected to be under Republican control. Alternatively, a slight edge in the Senate for Republicans won’t get them to filibuster-proof numbers or open the possibility of overriding a Presidential veto.

Georgians would be better served to focus on elections closer to home, including the race for Governor and the state House and Senate—where nearly 20% of the seats are open due to retiring incumbents. While politicians at the federal level squabble and scramble for airtime to rally their base, pander to donors, or fan the flames of culture war, elected representatives at the state level are getting things done.

The 2022 Georgia legislative session was full of concrete action on the issues that matter to people in the Peach State. Lawmakers passed major legislation to flatten and lower Georgia’s personal income tax, ultimately ending at 4.99% in 2029. Taxpayers will save an estimated $1 billion starting in 2024, and another $1 billion once all the law’s provisions are fully implemented. Legislators also expanded school choice, increasing the cap on Georgia’s tax-credit scholarship program to $120 million from $100 million. That change should allow thousands of additional students to attend a private school that better fits their needs.

It’s clear that positive policy change can happen at the state level and can even counteract poor policy emanating from Washington. The Inflation Reduction Act, for example, is the federal government’s attempt to help Americans with historic prices, but fewer than one-in-four voters (and a minority of Democrats) actually think it will bring prices down. Instead, the Georgia legislature has taken concrete action to get more money into the hands of Georgians. Another example lies in education. At a time when parents are demanding more learning options for their children, President Biden tried to further restrict charter schools, a popular type of school choice embedded in the public system. While the president ultimately failed, leaders in Georgia took the initiative to expand popular parental choice programs in the state—empowering more families to choose the education environment that fits their unique needs.

This week state leaders and policy experts from around the nation, including Georgia, came together in downtown Atlanta for State Policy Network’s 30th Annual Meeting. This gathering is dedicated to sharing state-based solutions to the problems that matter most to Americans families and helping state leaders customize those solutions to their unique states and populations. Such meetings give Georgia leaders the chance to learn from other states and bring the best ideas and policies home, as well as share the good policy work that is happening here and making the lives of Georgians better.

Federal elections matter but by design our political system allows for far more progress and flexibility in governance to happen at the state level. As the electorate in Georgia considers their November ballots, they will find more potential for influence and progress in selecting their state leaders than their federal ones.

Erin Norman is the Lee Family Fellow and Senior Messaging Strategist at State Policy Network. Kyle Wingfield is the president and CEO of the Georgia Public Policy Foundation.

Credit: Erin Norman

Credit: Erin Norman

Credit: Bob Andres

Credit: Bob Andres

Credit: Brynn Anderson

Credit: Brynn Anderson

Credit: Branden Camp

Credit: Branden Camp