The fallen banner of Regionalism
After incumbents get beat unexpectedly — at least unexpected by the incumbents — pundits usually feel compelled to pundificate on “what it all means.”
I will resist that temptation since I have no idea what “it all means.” I do have a few ideas about what some of it means. (You are free to assign whatever weight you believe appropriate to my pundificating — or my bloviating, as one soon-to-be ex-mayor dubbed my editorial efforts.)
A tip of the hat to old Tip O’Neill, who immortalized the truism, “All politics is local.”
Local. Not regional.
Let me repeat that for the benefit of some other local office-holders who are ready to pick up that fallen regional banner from the last two champions of that new Georgia religion: Regionalism. It’s local, not regional.
If Ken Steele had minded his own business — meaning Fayetteville’s business, defined as contained within the existing city limits of Fayetteville — he would still be mayor in 2012.
But Steele got caught with both hands and feet and his whole heart in the regional cookie jar — defined as influencing decisions in the Atlanta Regional Commission, that hotbed of dead Democrat ideas about imposing across 10 counties experts’ notions of what’s good for us all.
In order to have influence at those exalted levels, a regionally ambitious mayor (and county commission chairman) has to “go along to get along” — defined as voting for stuff on the ARC board that would never fly within the provincial borders of old Fayetteville and unsophisticated Fayette County.
That go-along-get-along play is supposed to buy “influence” — defined as government grants of some of our own tax money mixed with involuntary tax grabs from Waycross, Georgia and Minot, North Dakota to pay for sidewalks in Fayetteville, Georgia.
Ken Steele knew how to play that game: Keep city taxes low and services modest inside Fayetteville and count on regional, state and federal government “grants” to pay for goodies that local taxpayers are unwilling (and unable, in many cases) to be billed for.
For Steele, that preceding sentence is the essence of smart government, since that is how the game is played.
I agree with Steele that is precisely how the game is played — and that is the underlying problem of our dysfunctional federal and state governments. Steele loved that game, and it’s that game that is killing us. We don’t need to just change the rules of the game. We need to change to another game entirely.
Steele’s biggest mistake was this: He considered — and publicly stated in these very pages — that those who disagreed with his governing philosophy were more than wrong; they were stupid.
Voters don’t like for their elected officials to treat them as stupid.
The voters told Steele so last week.
That same fate awaits the three elder members of the Fayette County Commission, should they be so, uh, unwise, as to seek another term in 2012.
Now the big question remains: Who will step forward to raise up that fallen banner of Regionalism? Who will champion passage of the one-cent regional transportation special local option sales tax? Who wants to be the next big local player in that regional game?
I suggest you keep your eye on the Peachtree City Council. And watch two local legislators in January: Matt Ramsey and Ronnie Chance. Do they think their future will be determined by the governor and the ARC princes, or by local voters, who don’t like to be played for fools?
[Cal Beverly has been the editor and publisher of The Citizen since 1993.]