By Kyle Wingfield
Butch Miller got in trouble this past week for saying what a lot of Georgians believe.
Appearing on a talk radio show, Miller – the Republican leader in the state Senate and a candidate for lieutenant governor – said the following:
“We have attracted many people to the state of Georgia that don’t think like us. We need to make sure we are attracting people to Georgia that do think like us. And if they don’t think like us, they need to assimilate into our values and our culture.”
This was immediately branded by a few Democrats as somehow being a “racist” statement. Their reaction mostly demonstrates just how far from its actual definition the use of the R-word has strayed.
What many of us understood Miller to mean was what he tweeted afterward:
“Conservative leadership has worked for everyone in this state and that’s a message I want voters to hear.”
There was a time when what Miller said wouldn’t have been construed as partisan, much less “racist.” Georgians over the past half-century prospered under both Democratic and Republican majorities that understood the value of keeping a light government burden on taxpayers and employers alike. That was a brand of conservatism that both major parties, in Georgia at least, generally embraced.
If that line of thinking is becoming partisan, Miller isn’t the one who has changed.
This episode underscores a growing angst among Georgians that newcomers are changing the state, and not always for the better.
If you’ve spent much time in Atlanta, you’ve heard this refrain for years. But we aren’t just talking about transplants who consume less fried food and sweet tea.
An anecdote I heard recently from another state legislator is instructive. This lawmaker, who represents a suburban Atlanta district, was speaking to some new residents. They raved about how much they liked it, how welcoming it was, and – compared to the deep-blue state from which they’d come – how reasonable its governance was. They expressed relief.
The proverbial record skipped, however, when they mentioned they nevertheless planned to continue voting for the kinds of candidates they’d supported back home – the ones who enacted the kinds of policies that turned their old home into a place they wanted to leave.
Again, this need not be a partisan point. Democrats in Georgia used to be, and in some cases still are, perfectly capable of running on and voting for policies that keep us on a growth trajectory. The disconnect seems to be on the part of the people moving here.
Census estimates from 2019, the most recent available, showed the five states with the most people moving to Georgia were the kind that Miller might find copacetic: Florida, Texas, South Carolina, Tennessee and North Carolina. But the next three were California, New York and Illinois. Add New Jersey (11th most inbound movers) and almost 53,000 new Georgians, or one-fifth of those who moved here from another state in 2019, came from a few states known for their left-wing policies.
Granted, some of these folks very likely moved here because those left-wing policies turned them off. But as the above anecdote illustrates, even some of those progressivist refugees haven’t connected the dots between the candidates they supported and the policies that made them want to leave.
If someone doesn’t help them do that, Georgia could very well end up looking like the places they left.
This is too important to become partisan, and Miller’s original phrasing about values and culture was perhaps inartful, not precisely on target. What we’re really talking about are policies: an environment that rewards people for their work and investments, and a business climate that has made Georgia the No. 1 state in which to do business for eight years in a row.
We’re a long way from perfection, but we’re closer to it than a lot of other states. We just need the people coming here from those states to understand how we created the place they find so inviting.
Kyle Wingfield is president and CEO of the Georgia Public Policy Foundation: www.georgiapolicy.