All eyes will be on Georgia this fall

National political observers are watching Georgia intensely during this presidential election year. They want to know which candidate will take our 16 electoral votes.

While that’s an important question, I am more interested in how all of this attention will change us. One particular result from this past week’s primary elections gives me hope that we may yet fend off the worst of the effects.

But first: You don’t need me to tell you that our national politics is broken. It’s not just polarized but crawling with lies and reduced in many ways to its entertainment value as a spectator sport. 

Yet, with few exceptions, legislative proceedings under the Gold Dome remain overwhelmingly civil affairs. True, the majority Republicans sometimes manage affairs with a heavy hand. But there are enough Democrats who remember when they ruled the roost – or, perhaps, can foresee a day soon when they will again – to prevent the minority party from making ugly scenes about it.

What goes around, comes around – and, in politics, surely will come around again.

This cycle runs contrary to those, on both sides of the aisle, who prophesy of some day soon at hand when their allies will win some final victory over the other. There will be no “permanent majority,” even if each party takes turns forecasting one for itself. Instead, we have lived through two of the more tumultuous political decades in American history.

Such tumult calls for humility among its participants. That may be a lost cause in Washington, but it still mostly prevails in Georgia.

Which brings us back to the May 21 primary. Nearly all legislative races went as expected. With no other statewide offices on the ballot, the headline contest was for a seat on the state Supreme Court.

Normally, these are relatively sleepy affairs. The exceptions tend to concern an appointed justice appearing on the ballot for the first time. So it was this time with Andrew Pinson, a 37-year-old whom Gov. Brian Kemp elevated to the court in 2022, less than a year after appointing him to the Court of Appeals.

But this story is less about Pinson than about his challenger, John Barrow. 

Barrow served five terms in Congress, constantly moving across eastern Georgia as Republicans redrew his district time and again to unseat him. He then lost a close runoff for the office of secretary of state in 2018. So, his political experience understandably reflects a rough-and-tumble partisanship.

The trouble came when he brought that mentality to a nonpartisan judicial race. Unlike other states, Georgia’s judges have largely stayed above the partisan fray. 

Barrow essentially ran on a pro-abortion platform, the sort common to legislative and executive elections. For a moment, ignore the detail that abortion was at issue; it disqualifies a judicial candidate to campaign by intimating how he will decide any specific issue. And that’s even truer for such a polarizing issue.

Pinson defeated Barrow 55% to 45%. Whatever you think of either man, or of abortion, it was a victory for nonpartisanship in the branch of government meant to be neutral.

It is noteworthy that as this race was wrapping up, national political observers were obsessing over a flag flown last summer at the vacation home of U.S. Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito. 

Georgians have particular reason to recognize how trivial and disingenuous this attack on Alito really is. Several GOP state legislators during the 2010s wore the flag in question, a white revolution-era banner featuring a pine tree and the words “An Appeal to Heaven,” on their lapels. No one then saw it as a threat to our constitutional order; on the contrary, those lawmakers were staunchly dedicated to restoring adherence to the Constitution.

The fact that one such flag also flew over the crowd outside the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021, changes nothing. This “controversy” is best understood as another effort to delegitimize the Supreme Court because of its conservative majority.

That’s the mentality of national politics today, I’m afraid. Georgians adopt it at our peril.

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