Democrats were deeply disappointed last night to lose the most expensive congressional election in history. The outcome in Georgia’s sixth district might have been disappointing, but it should not have come as a surprise. Sure, the polls were close, but, in the end, the Republicans won by almost six percent, which was three times the margin of victory by which President Trump won.
Hillary Clinton won suburban Cobb County, which has been a Republican bastion since Newt Gingrich was first elected, and, thus, the Democrats had a reason to hope. The analysis of this loss already has been as annoying as the endless television ads from both candidates. What aggravates me is that the pundits all seem to miss the only two reasons for the outcome. I haven’t heard or read a single commentary that really nailed what happened:
- Old white people vote … and in Georgia they usually vote Republican. Minorities don’t vote as consistently in off-year elections, and that number is even further reduced in special election runoffs. Both candidates spent record amounts on TV ads. That is where older white voters are best reached and motivated. The Democrats staked their fate on people turning against Donald Trump and on the hope that white voters (especially women) would come over to their side. Perhaps they did, but not enough to offset the Democrats’ failure to reach minority voters and motivate them to vote.
The same thing seems to happen in churches. Older white members tend to show up for meetings. They are retired and have more time and a lifelong culture of participation because, well, they always have been empowered and privileged. In African-American churches the pastor is much more of an empowered leader. In white and black churches, though, young people tend not to show up for governance. Well, that is what happened in the sixth district yesterday. Old white people showed up, and younger voters and people of color did not.
Why, and what can we do about it? Why are we not asking that question in churches and politics?
- The other reason for the outcome in the sixth is that Republican state legislators from small towns in South Georgia were guided by right-wing organizations like the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) to design this district for the very thing that happened last night. It was carefully carved to exclude enough minority voters to ensure that the Republicans will forever hold a nine-point advantage in the district. “Systems produce the outcome for which they are designed.” By abandoning the basics of small, local elections, in places like Georgia, the Democrats abandoned the system to be designed by others.
So, too, in the church. If “congregationalism” is designed for and by older, long-term members (I write this as an older, white voter/member.) then we will continue to have a system that excludes young people and people of color. Would it kill us to use email/texts/Facebook to reform governance in both systems? Well, it may kill us not to.
Rev. Michael Piazza