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Opinion

Evolution of political action, a dangerous trend


  • By The Newnan Times-Herald
  • |
  • Apr. 05, 2021 - 9:06 AM

Evolution of political action, a dangerous trend

Marc Hyden is the director of state government affairs at the R Street Institute, and he is a long-time Georgia resident. You can follow him on Twitter at @marc_hyden.

Following the hotly contested November 2020 elections, there was no shortage of impassioned demonstrations from those who felt that the elections were mismanaged, and it became clear that these feelings wouldn’t quickly dissipate. Grassroots activists demanded unilateral action from elected officials to overturn the presidential election, and policymakers from around the country wasted little time identifying fixes to purported flaws in voting systems.

To be fair, laws—even those related to voting—often need modernizing, and in the wake of the first pandemic-era general election in our lifetime, lawmakers determined that voting systems and processes needed improvement.

What followed here in Georgia was a torrent of election reform legislation—some proposals were good, others were downright bad—which piqued the general public’s interest. While the merits of the bills are certainly up for debate, the scorched earth methods employed to derail them portends an uneasy future of political action.

As the Georgia General Assembly began debating a host of elections measures, grassroots organizations and advocacy groups on both ends of the spectrum leapt into action. They issued alerts urging their members to contact lawmakers and ask them to vote a particular way, which engages voters and is a perfectly reasonable mode of advocacy.

Next came mass text messages—of which I received one—demanding that people flood the office of a major company CEO with messages calling on them to “stop funding these GOP officials.” While I am sure that this was an annoyance to this private company, this kind of advocacy is fair game I suppose—albeit a bit far afield from traditional political action.

However, what followed should be cause for concern. Evidently, some groups weren’t pleased with their legislative progress (or lack thereof). So, it seems that they came for lawmakers’ personal livelihoods. To be clear, most lawmakers need their private jobs because the Georgia General Assembly is a citizen legislature. Part-time legislators only earn about $17,000 a year from the state. Consequently, it was particularly painful when the Hancock County Board of Commissioners asked Rep. Barry Fleming (R-121), who sponsored an omnibus voting reform measure, to resign from his post as the board’s attorney after protestors arrived at the courthouse and demanded his termination.

Sen. John Albers (R-56) had a similar experience. A political action committee (PAC) tweeted at clients of Albers’ employer with falsehoods—stating that Albers co-sponsored SB 62, “a bill meant to suppress black votes & institute a new Jim Crow.” Yet SB 62 did nothing of the sort, and in fact, it passed the Senate with bipartisan support. What’s more, Albers boycotted the strictest elections measure to come before the Senate. The PAC has since deleted these tweets, but the damage is done. Like Rep. Fleming, Albers lost his job, and he understandably denounced such efforts from the PAC.

Despite all of this, the legislature passed a major voting reform, and the governor signed it. However, the political fight is still underway. Activists pressed Major League Baseball (MLB) and the Professional Golfers Association (PGA) to institute some form of boycott of Georgia. As a result, the MLB decided to move the All-Star Game out of the Peach State, but the truth is that misunderstandings abound about what the measure actually does.

Nevertheless, the win-at-all-costs mentality in politics demonstrated in this debate should be a red flag, and the Georgia example is also an extension of today’s prevalent cancel culture—with Fleming and Albers being the most recent casualties. It’s increasingly clear that in an effort to ensure the passage/failure of a measure, some groups are willing to go to extremes—even if they don’t know what the bills actually do—like stripping people of their means to provide for their families.

This represents a nasty evolution of political action, but what comes next? Will advocacy groups pressure landlords to evict lawmakers—threatening them with homelessness unless they acquiesce to their demands? If that doesn’t work, then physical violence seems like it could very well be the next step, and in fact, it may already be a currently existing political tactic in the playbook. After all, Secretary of State Raffensperger and his wife received death threats, which is absolutely indefensible, apparently for not cowing to Donald Trump’s election petitions.

The American form of government works best with an engaged citizenry, but a line must be drawn between what is morally acceptable political action and immoral intimidation and assaults on personal lives.

I think many have already crossed that invisible line, and matters could deteriorate even further. Rather than continuing to careen down this undemocratic path, we should look to our founders. They designed a system in which we can retain or remove lawmakers from public office if we don’t like their voting records, and it can be done without destroying lives. Imagine the beauty of that!

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Marc Hyden is the director of state government affairs at the R Street Institute, and he is a long-time Georgia resident. You can follow him on Twitter at @marc_hyden.