In deepest red Georgia, voters cling to small-town life

North of Athens, Banks County is very white, very conservative
Views of the exterior of Tiny Town Restaurant in Homer, Ga. shown on Friday, April 5, 2024. (Natrice Miller/ AJC)

Views of the exterior of Tiny Town Restaurant in Homer, Ga. shown on Friday, April 5, 2024. (Natrice Miller/ AJC)

HOMER — In their frequent gatherings, the discussion topics run the gamut: Sports. The quality of this spring’s homegrown tomatoes. Upcoming elections.

No conversation is off-limits here among the locals who congregate at Homer Hardware. Anything can be debated. Answers to the world’s problems are in abundant supply around this small blue table, as are solutions for what ails the country, state, Banks County and even local vegetable gardens.

Puny tomato plants? “You gotta pray over ‘em,” said Daniel Wilson, who has owned this place for 37 years.

A couple of mornings each week, sometimes a handful of men, sometimes a dozen, can be found sitting between the cash register and a wood-burning stove. There are retirees and the actively employed. Some stop by for quick one-liners and laughs. Others stay for hours.

“I’d say 90% of what we talk about is all the stupid stuff the government has done,” said Blake Griffith, a 30-year-old who lives in Homer.

A historical marker is located near City Hall on Athens Street in downtown Homer, GA.  (Steve Schaefer/

Credit: Steve Schaefer /

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Credit: Steve Schaefer /

Many people in the county describe themselves as conservative, with small-town values. They aren’t so much pro-big business, like much of the Republican Party, as they are socially conservative — against abortion, in favor of the Second Amendment.

Not long ago at the hardware store, talk turned to the SK Battery America plant, located just across the line in Jackson County. The hardware collective disagrees with governments’ tendencies to give incentives to a business to locate in an area. A company, they say, needs to pay its own way and its share of taxes. For that matter, the men don’t want big industry in Banks County.

Around Georgia and the country, job growth might be a key political issue. But not here. In Banks County, with a population just over 19,000, many residents, including elected officials, say they are happy with things the way they are.

“We’re a rural county, and we want to keep it that way,” said Charles Turk, chairman of the Banks County Board of Commissioners.

People here like that there’s one elementary school, one middle school and one high school. They like the small student-teacher ratio and the familiarity school administrations have with most students’ families. They are happy keeping chain restaurants, hotels and retail outlets confined to Banks Crossing, the corridor at I-85 and U.S. 441, roughly 12 miles from the hardware store.

If those places creep farther north toward the heart of Homer, some say, it could mean property taxes going up for residents and mom-and-pop businesses such as Tiny Town Restaurant and David and Katie’s Amish Store.

Customers shop at David and Katie's Amish Store in Homer, Ga. on Friday, April 5, 2024. (Natrice Miller/ AJC)

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“Property values can increase to where you can’t afford not to sell out to developers,” said Jill Brown, who moved here from Gwinnett County 30 years ago. “That’s what happened in Gwinnett, and it can happen here, too.”

In the 2020 presidential election, 88.5% of voters in Banks County chose Donald Trump. But some in the county say it’s not so much about Trump as it is about the party. Sure, there are Trump die-hards. But whoever wears the Republican label tends to get more votes.

After a recent Rotary Club meeting, longtime resident Jody Parks said protecting constitutional rights, especially the Second Amendment, securing the border and maintaining a small-town feel in Banks County are at the top of her mind.

“There’s people flocking to rural areas from Democrat-ruled big cities, and I feel like northeast Georgia — Banks, Stephens, Habersham, Franklin (counties) — is the last vestige for people to have farms,” Parks, 56, said.

Banks County hasn’t gone for a Democrat in a presidential election since Jimmy Carter in 1980. Still, there are some Democrats here. In 2020, 932 votes were cast for Joe Biden.

“We’re real, and we do exist,” joked Nancy Lehman, a retiree.

A poster of Zell Miller is mounted on the wall of David and Katie’s Amish Store in Homer, Ga., on Friday, April 5, 2024. Miller was a two-term Georgia governor and a lifelong Democrat who later was critical of the party and gave the keynote speech at the 2004 Republican National Convention.(Natrice Miller/ AJC)

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Both Lehman and Elaine Gerke, head of the Banks County Democrats, agreed that maintaining rural aspects here is important. But they’re concerned about access to health care — Banks County has no hospital or medical specialists. The goal in the 2024 presidential election, Gerke said, is to increase votes for Biden by just 3%. Biden carried the state by fewer than 12,000 votes in 2020, which means just 25 more blue votes in Banks County this time around would be a lift, Gerke said.

“What’s encouraging to us,” she said, “is that what we’re trying to do is not unattainable.”