Voting Rights and Metropolitan Spatial Justice (UPDATE)

Today, the United States Supreme Court gave indication that it is preparing to turn in a ruling in Shelby County, Ala. v. Holder that will rank near the top of the all-time list of shameful decisions. At least four of the  justices seem intent on overturning Section 5 of the VRA, the part that prevents covered states and localities from taking a “gerrymander and suppress the vote first, defend lawsuits later” approach to elections. One seems intent on doing so largely out of spite (quotes from Adam Liptak in the NYT):

Justice Antonin Scalia called the provision, which requires nine states, mostly in the South, to get federal permission before changing voting procedures, a “perpetuation of racial entitlement.”

Let’s say that Scalia’s right in calling the act a “racial entitlement.” That entitlement comes from a particular history of disfranchisement, and it’s been paid for in blood and then some. Just ask John Lewis.

AP Photo, via National Archives

AP Photo, via National Archives

*Update: Politico did ask John Lewis. One of the small number of useful things Politico has done in its reign as “Tiger Beat on the Potomac.”*

But while Scalia’s remarks will justly garner the most scorn from right-thinking members of the media and the public, it’s probably more important to address the main premise of the plaintiffs, that the Act itself is now irrelevant to public life because the right to vote is secure.

The county’s lawyer, Bert W. Rein, said that the “problem to which the Voting Rights Act was addressed is solved.”

The Court seems prepared, if not positively ecstatic, to accept this argument, as Chief Justice Roberts wrote in the court’s narrower ruling on Northwest Austin Municipal Utility District No. 1 v. Holder:

“The historic accomplishments of the Voting Rights Act are undeniable,” he wrote. But “things have changed in the South.”

He said: “Voter turnout and registration rates now approach parity. Blatantly discriminatory evasions of federal decrees are rare. And minority candidates hold office at unprecedented levels.”

Roberts is correct in noting that minority candidates hold office at “unprecedented levels”–consider the precedent!–but his blithe assurance that this increase in minority representation is evidence of Section 5’s irrelevance beggars belief. We’re mere months from a presidential election that saw citizens waiting for the better part of a day to vote at polls that were understaffed and underequipped. John Roberts would have us believe that the location of so many of these polling places in precincts populated by the poor, racial minorities, and Democrats is mere coincidence, rather than a strategy that will surely get worse without the protection of Section 5. We’ve seen the public cast millions more votes for Democrats than for Republicans in Congressional elections while gerrymandered districts ensure the preservation of Republican majorities.

We can look to the nation’s metropolitan areas to better appreciate the likely consequences of overturning Section 5. There, where racial minorities constitute significant pluralities and even majorities of the potential electorate, we can already observe the gears of gerrymandering and vote suppression turning in anticipation of the Court’s likely decision. I blogged about this last week, in fact. Read it again, but note the way that the current assault on Section 5 is embedded in a decades-long project of partisan and racial political maneuvering that has sought to limit the control of black Atlanta voters over residents of whiter suburbs in north Fulton County.

Step 1: Start with a population of affluent white homeowners angry that Fulton County reassessed their historically underassessed property in the early 1990s to comply with state law. These folks are prepared to take the County and the city of Atlanta to court rather than accept a legally mandated tax increase. Since this reassessment follows the deepening of poverty in the region under Reagan-Bush economic and social policies, and the election of a black Democratic majority on the Fulton County Commission in 1987, resentments get expressed as grudges against black politicians and the poor. As Robert Proctor, one of the plaintiffs in the reassessment lawsuits, told a New York Times reporter in 1994,

“Should we take 50 percent of the wealth of white America and give it to black people, pay reparations, as some of them are urging? When does it end? I think what we need to do in this country, if we’re truly interested in dealing with quote, unquote, racism, is we need to stop talking about race all the time. That is all we talk about: race, race, race, race, race.”

Mr. Proctor, voicing the views of many other whites, said it was blacks obsessed with race and the past who were today’s racists. “I am not a member of the Ku Klux Klan,” he said. “I’m one of those who sat silent for a long, long time. Increasingly, a great many people in the middle and upper middle classes in the South are saying what I’m saying, not publicly, but they’re saying it to all their friends.

Step 2: Mobilize this resentment through the Republican Party. Locally, that means running folks like Karen Handel and tax lawsuit plaintiff “Mitch” Skandalakis for seats on the Fulton County Commission, where their chief role is to antagonize Democrats. At the state level, this means leveraging growing suburban influence within the party to set legislative priorities around suburban interests, including defensive incorporations of cities and proposed secession from the county.

Step 3: Recognize that the presence of black Democrats in the Fulton County delegation of the General Assembly is blocking the achievement of these goals, and gerrymander legislative districts so that more conservative white suburban Republican districts include small parts of Fulton County. Now a majority-minority county has 13 white Republicans and 12 Democrats representing it in the state house and a 7-4 advantage for the GOP in the state senate!

Step 4: Use that majority to propose redistricting the Fulton County Commission. Proclaim the intention to bring county government closer to the people by replacing an at-large seat with a district seat that would, purely by coincidence, serve affluent, white-majority suburbs. Hope no one points out that making all seven seats district-based would put government even closer to the people, but that the seventh district would be government close to people who vote Democratic. Your bigger plans involve enlarging the power of that at-large chair of the commission as the inevitable tiebreaker of a 3-3 logjam among the district Commissioners.

Step 5: Here’s where the Voting Rights Act comes in. If Section 5 isn’t in the way, this redistricting plan can sail through the legislature, and if minority Democratic voters want to challenge it, they have to wait until it’s already implemented.

Step 6: You still have to win that crucial countywide election to chair the commission. Good thing that your gerrymandered GOP majority in the Fulton County delegation of the legislature also introduced a plan to take the selection of the county’s board of elections out of the hands of the County Commission and place decisive authority with…. THE FULTON COUNTY LEGISLATIVE DELEGATION.

Step 7: Install someone like former Fulton County GOP Chairman and Bush II Justice Department attorney Hans von Spakovsky as the head of elections in the county. Speaking of “racial entitlement,” here are von Spakovsky and John Fund’s observations about the NAACP, which had the gall to protest the voter ID bill that von Spakovsky authored for the state of Georgia (and, in a completely conflict-of-interest-free turn of events, shepherded through the Section 5-mandated preclearance process as a Justice Department appointee):

The NAACP has gone so far as to complain to the United Nations that voter ID requirements are a human rights violation. This silly claim would be laughable if it were not so embarrassing for that formerly respected organization, which has morphed from its beginnings as a champion for civil rights to being a subordinate arm of the Democratic Party and an advocate for the racial-spoils system of racial preferences (discrimination) in employment, contracting, and college admissions. (46)

Without Section 5, that person can install any number of Voter ID laws, change polling place locations, challenge the eligibility of voters, and whip up fears of voter fraud that justify vote suppression. Now you’ve got a fighting chance to escape the crushing burden of sharing political power with minorities!

These kinds of plans are already visible in Fulton County, but expect to see them in your state legislature too.

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Hindsight

A find from the Manuscript, Archives, and Rare Books Library at Emory. This is from a market analysis study conducted by a consulting firm on behalf of a prospective developer of a downtown retail complex in 1954:

It is perfectly clear that the completed expressway will vastly improve the competitive position of Atlanta’s downtown retail district. It will bring the heavy population of the north and south areas much closer to the central stores and shops. By putting the huge retail magnet of the downtown as close to these populations as the expressway itself, figuratively speaking, it will serve further to decrease the possibility of successful, large-scale regional competition (which would no longer have a locational advantage except with respect to the relatively low-density immediate suburbs). The possibility of building up a large suburban market by pulling customers from a broad area is considerably lessened when the lines of attraction are cut by an expressway that can get the customers downtown to the major stores in a matter of only a few minutes.

OK then….

Obviously we know that this particular gambit worked out to be, as the kids say, an epic fail. But it raises a set of questions that aren’t so obviously answered. For one, the narrative of white flight and capital exodus from central cities was not a linear process, and within regional real estate markets, there were just as many folks betting on downtown for much of the postwar era. In Atlanta, part of that bet came from the certainty that business leaders like C of C (and later Mayor) Ivan Allen, Jr. had that federal highway and urban renewal policies were a tool at their disposal to make their property more valuable by manipulating and remaking property around it. But I wonder increasingly how much of that certainty was fed by these kinds of market reports. Armed with a set of market reports that said “bail out and buy tracts in the suburbs,” would downtown real estate holders have done differently? Many, including the Rich’s Department Store company began to hedge their bets by acquiring land along the proposed Perimeter Highway route (I-285), but for most of the 1950s professed publicly and planned around the premise that their downtown store was the company’s heart, soul, and meal ticket.

Had these interests bailed, instead of seeking to leverage urban renewal to protect and enhance their property, would central Atlanta be better off today? It’s hard to argue that the investment of millions of development dollars downtown in the era of white flight was a bad thing, but it’s important to recognize two things: the cyclical and repetitive nature of these projects, and the process through which redevelopment priorities were set. Atlanta’s downtown and adjacent areas bear the imprints of successive waves of “improvements” all promising what this report did, without delivering the anticipated returns, and while preventing the development of housing that could alleviate the overcrowding of many of the city’s most impoverished black neighborhoods. Irene Holliman raises important questions in an article in the Journal of Urban History that links the 1966 Summerhill Riot in the area near Fulton County Stadium to the disruptive effects of giant urban renewal projects conceived and executed without regard for the needs of the local public, whose increasingly militant opposition to conditions of poverty and overcrowding was turned against their communities’ very survival by urban renewal authorities who enthusiastically accepted that slum neighborhoods were intolerable, but balked at replacing the housing they destroyed in the name of renewal.

Holliman writes that while the riots shook the city’s complacent image as “too busy to hate,” they

should have come as no surprise to Mayor Allen, city aldermen, or any of the local urban renewal committees. The Council on Human Relations of Greater Atlanta… did not blame SNCC for the riot. In a news release, the council members talked about the city’s failure to delivers services, stating, “SNCC members are not responsible for [creating] parking spaces for 4,000 cars [for stadium goers] in the middle of an area which has no parks for children to play in” (Holliman, Irene V. 2009. “From Crackertown to Model City? Urban Renewal and Community Building in Atlanta, 1963—1966.” Journal of Urban History 35 (3) (March 1): 380. doi:10.1177/0096144208330402.).

Strangely enough, residents of Summerhill weren’t happy about having this

FultonCounty14

dropped next to their neighborhood. From the point of view of downtown, however, the recently-cleared parcel at the confluence of two interstate expressways was a perfect location to put a stadium to attract a ballclub that would flatter the vanity of local elites who had been clamoring for their city to join the proverbial big leagues for some time. If the interstates and the ocean of parking lots was the price to pay for drawing suburbanites and their wallets back into central Atlanta, even if only for 81 games each summer, the costs of the project were sufficiently remote that they seemed negligible.

April, 1964, from Georgia Info

April, 1964, from Georgia Info

The anthropologist James Scott would indict these projects as “Seeing Like a State–substituting the 30,000-foot view of central authority (be it public or corporate, or, as in Atlanta, a regime linking the two) for the locally-situated knowledge of residents. Urban renewal that involved these residents at the core of the planning process would have alienated the city’s business and banking establishment, but might have been able to use a more modest stream of funds to meet basic human needs. Had the city’s establishment not clung to the hope of making central Atlanta profitable, it might have had a better chance of becoming habitable.

“Creative Class” as Euphemism

Courtesy of Creative Loafing Atlanta, a repost of an Atlantic Cities post by Richard Florida making the observation that Atlanta’s “creative” and “service” classes exist in stark separation from one another.

1361467996-atlantacityweb_

Atlantic Cities

This reminds me of something else I’ve seen, but I can’t quite put my finger on it…..

FultonCountyWhite2010Oh, yeah. That.

Want to keep with the pretty colors theme? A student sent me this just today:

FisherAtlantaMap

Map Eric Fisher

The Creative Class enterprise reminds me of the kinds of epicyclical sub-orbits that geocentric astronomers used to explain “retrograde motion” in planets they assumed were revolving around the earth. It’s got more moving parts than it needs, and makes things far more complicated than they need to be because it puts the wrong object at the center. A “creative class economy” is a historical product of educational outcomes and of a harmonious relationship between financial capital and certain forms of human, social, and cultural capital that make those kinds of capital pay for the people who possess them. Given what we know about differential access to that financial, human, social, and cultural capital in Atlanta, and the overlays of place, race, and opportunity structures, who would expect a pattern any different from the one Florida observed?

The other problem with creative class analysis is that it’s not only too complicated, it’s also too simple, and indeed, circular. If an analysis starts with the human capacity for creativity, which is universal and whose sum is theoretically limitless, it seems quite easy to make the places that are low on the creative class rankings look more like those that are high. Just have more creativity. Corporate lawyers in Buckhead, rap videographers in Bankhead, it’s essentially the same (except for the pay, the benefits, and the life expectancy), and the more the merrier!

But centering the region’s history of racial division in our analysis actually forces us to consider the stickiness of these forms of capital in places, and how the material and social preconditions of a functioning creative class economy are contingent on a distribution of resources that white people in the region have for generations chosen to construe as a zero-sum competition. I’m currently teaching Kevin Kruse’s White Flight to my “Making Modern Atlanta” class, and two things about this Atlantic Cities piece strike me as remarkable: First, the highest ranking “service class” areas include the West End, Adamsville, and Lakewood Heights (all primary points of origin for white flight in the 1950s and 1960s), along with longstanding black ghettoes like Vine City and working-class suburbs like College Park that have passed racial tipping points. Second (and hold onto your hats when I tell you), some of the highest ranking “creative class” areas include Sandy Springs, a major receiver of white flight and white inmigration during the boom of the 1990s, along with the Midtown and Druid Hills communities near Georgia Tech and Emory, and the historically wealthy section of Buckhead, which even though it sits within the city limits of Atlanta remains the whitest part of Fulton County. I suppose a third thing that strikes me is that Florida apparently doesn’t consider any of the racial dimensions of Atlanta’s social divisions noteworthy.

Atlanta as a region needs a lot of things. But it doesn’t need paeans to the curative properties of creativity when generations of stratification organized by race and through place pervade the entire opportunity structure of the region. It needs political movements for equity. If a lucrative economy in possum skinning or tightrope walking emerged tomorrow, you’d probably find its practitioners settling in Buckhead and Sandy Springs, and paying out for Kaplan Possum Prep courses and summer circus camp to ensure the next generation’s advantage.

And  even in the favored precincts of the creative economy, things aren’t looking so rosy these days.

Big News for the Fulton County Commission

I’ve been offline with respect to this blog for a while, completing an article on the historical relationship of color-blind racial ideology and political geography in metro Atlanta, arguing that the contemporary movement for secession in north Fulton County is part of a long series of maneuvers to manipulate political geography to favor the interests of north Fulton residents and limit the ability of African American voters and officials in the rest of the county to influence them.

One of the things I like about the kind of history I practice is that it tends to blur the distinction between past and present as objects of inquiry. It’s exciting when the history you write is still unfolding. A major event in that unfolding just happened in a recent state legislative hearing in Atlanta, with the introduction of HB 171, a bill sponsored by six north Fulton County Republicans to redistrict and reapportion the Fulton County Commission. The commission, as Bill Pendered reports in the Saporta Report (invaluable for coverage of metro Atlanta and the General Assembly), now has two at-large seats (including the chair) and five district seats. One seat lies entirely in the city of Atlanta, while two cover south Fulton County, one covers the Buckhead area in north Atlanta and parts of north Fulton, and the fifth covers far north Fulton County. The new districting would eliminate the second at-large district, extend the Buckhead district south to Midtown, and divide North Fulton among two Commission districts.

Fulton-ccp1-2013

Courtesy GA Legislative and Congressional Reapportionment Office, 2013

There are some legitimate reasons for eliminating the second at-large seat; creating a sixth district would make all of the districts somewhat smaller and, in principle, more responsive. It would also eliminate an at-large seat could be considered redundant, since the commission chair currently answers to all of the voters. In the abstract, redistricting Fulton County is a fine idea.

The problem, of course, as J. Morgan Kousser ably demonstrates in a legal history of voting rights and racially-driven redistricting, lies in the fact that districts are drawn not to serve abstract principles but real-world political interests. This graphic of the current commission district, which includes the headshots of the current commissioners, might offer a bit of perspective:

ComMapAnimate_7

Map and Portraits from Fulton County Commission

If the concern were for making the commissioners more responsive and accountable, why stop at eliminating only the at-large District 2? Why not make all seven seats district-based and have the members elect a chair? The answer of course is political advantage. In effect, the bill trades a seat elected by a majority-minority county (now held by Democrat Robb Pitts) for a district election with white supermajority in the electorate. Since the geography of all of the Commission districts would change, there is no single “new district” being created. But the percentages of African Americans of voting age in each of the three proposed northern districts ranges from 10.7 to 15.4%, while the percentage of Hispanics of voting age in each ranges from 7.9 to 10.2%. The proposed district with the largest share of minorities of voting age would be the new District 2, covering Roswell and  Milton and parts of Alpharetta. While a quarter of this district’s voting age population would be a member of these two minority groups, minorities would be well overmatched by a solidly Republican white electorate. And, while the new District 3 would essentially extend the current District 4 southward, it would do so as Pendered notes, only to “10th Street. Tenth Street is at, or near, the historic – and often unremarked in public – dividing line between the county’s black and white communities.”

To put this in a context of electoral math, 71% of the voting power on the Commission, and 60% of the district-based vote, is currently held by black Democrats. Fulton County gave about 67% of its vote to Barack Obama in the 2012 election. In other words, the current commission apportionment, even with two at-large seats, only moderately inflates the power of voters who favored a black moderate Democrat in a presidential election over a corporate Republican with an arch-conservative running mate. It’s a very rough proxy for local voting preferences, but I think it works OK for quick-and-dirty analytical purposes (and, at risk of making a racially reductive argument, see illustration 2 above).

The redistricting plan, however, would split the district-based votes 50-50, and ensure that north Fulton Republicans would control no less than 42% of the overall commission votes–and 57% if they could win the chair. If we use countywide Romney-voting as our yardstick, north Fulton Republicans win under the new deal even if they lose. And, although it would be difficult for white north Fulton Republicans to win a countywide race for commission chair, it wouldn’t be impossible. A Republican has chaired the commission as recently as Karen Handel’s tenure (which ended in 2007, shortly before an unsuccessful primary run for governor and a now-infamous tenure with the Susan G. Komen Foundation), and with three absolutely secure seats in Buckhead and north Fulton, the party would be able to concentrate its funding on one must-win countywide race, rather than two.

It’s not a coincidence that HB 347, another bill being sponsored by virtually the same group of north Fulton House Republicans, seeks to reorganize the Fulton County Board of Elections. Whereas the County Commission now appoints the election commissioners, under proposed legislation, the Fulton County delegation of the legislature would appoint two Democrats, two Republicans, and a commission chair chosen by the House and Senate members of the Fulton County legislative delegation. North Fulton party activists like Hans von Spakovsky, who chaired the Fulton GOP in the 1990s before working for the George W. Bush Justice Department, were instrumental in devising vote-suppression strategies like voter ID laws and stoking fears of widespread vote fraud to justify tightening access to the ballot. Given the demographic balance of Fulton County, it’s difficult to imagine that Republican electoral strategies would not involve significant efforts to shrink the electorate.

These legislative proposals, if successful, would constitute a strong Republican play for power in Fulton County, and one to which observers of urban and metropolitan affairs in the rest of the country should pay attention. They signal another instance in a changing relationship between local governments and the states. While policy historians have devoted valuable attention to the relationship between city hall and Washington, D.C. during the relatively brief heyday of liberal social policy, the consequences of federal retreat from urban policy have more recently come into focus. When it comes to taxation, social services, political representation, transportation, schooling, and any number of other significant metropolitan policy issues, the state houses, and partisan politics at the state level, are becoming more and more consequential.

In Georgia and elsewhere, efforts to undercut the power of urban centers and black voters living in them is old news. The state’s County Unit System prevailed until the 1960s, promoting a “rule of the rustics” in which tiny rural communities routinely undercut state support for infrastructure in Atlanta, hamstrung efforts to secure home rule for the city, and gerrymandered legislative districts to keep black candidates out of state and federal office. Yet, this situation is something quite different–the use of state power as a tool in an intrametropolitan conflict. Unlike the era of rustic rule, this redistricting attack on black Democratic political strength originates within Fulton County’s own legislative delegation. The state House and Senate members who represent Fulton County constituents are supporting a plan that runs contrary to the apparent political preferences of a healthy majority of the county’s voters.

Understanding why this has happened requires a bit of discussion about how it has happened. Some aspects of this situation are unique to Georgia. The era of rustic rule in Georgia valorized the county boss and demonized urban governments. State legislatures in Georgia were thus historically stingy about granting home rule power to the cities; preserving control for the rural-dominated General Assembly over Atlanta’s affairs was a check on racial moderation and other forms of urban degeneracy real and imagined. The consequence of this tight grasp of power was that the legislature was potentially overburdened with consideration of any and all changes to local laws and policies. The compromise that emerged was the “local courtesy” system, in which legislation pertaining to local affairs is largely handled by the delegation of the affected county, which is effectively a gatekeeper to the whole Assembly. Georgia has 159 counties, by far the largest in proportion to state population in the nation. Insofar as most of the counties remain small, rural, and homogenous, the system works reasonably well. But it breaks down miserably for heavily urbanized, diverse, and internally differentiated counties like Fulton. In these settings, and particularly in the Atlanta metro area where suburban settlement spans several counties, control of a legislative delegation is a matter of immense importance and potentially of intense conflict.

After the dismantlement of the County Unit System in 1966 led to reapportionment of the legislature, significant numbers of black Democrats joined the larger Fulton County delegation, and were, until 2005, successful in stopping efforts to incorporate cities in the north Fulton areas of Sandy Springs, Johns Creek, and Milton, which were major goals of north Fulton residents (mostly Republicans) who had come to resent the use of their taxes to fund both public works and social services in the rest of the county. The Fulton delegation was also successful in preventing any consideration of legislation to amend the state constitution to allow north Fulton to secede (the number of 159 counties is a constitutional provision).

As north Fulton’s affluence made it a key territory for the state Republican Party, and the priorities of north Fulton Republicans increasingly revolved around secession, it was inevitable that the growing supermajority of Republicans would seek to remove the local courtesy roadblock by the tried and true method of gerrymanderingredistricting the northern Atlanta suburbs so that more seats crossed Fulton County’s borders with Cobb, Cherokee, Gwinnett, or Forsyth–all prime territory for suburban Republicanism. Thus, the 2013 legislative session opened with a Fulton delegation tilted by 13-12 toward the GOP in the House, 7-4 in the Senate, and Lynne Riley, an active member of the conservative American Legislative Exchange Council, newly elected as its chair.

Redistricting the Fulton County Commission is an example of the kind of change that would typically require preclearance from the Justice Department under Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act, because Fulton County is a “covered jurisdiction”; the county’s history of racial vote suppression subjects it to federal review of any changes in its voting procedures, and it would not require a particularly loose interpretation of the VRA to attribute this redistricting to an effort to diminish minority power. It so happens that current Georgia Attorney General Sam Olens is a cosigner for Shelby County v. Holder, a suit pending before the United States Supreme Court that would invalidate Section 5 and free previously covered jurisdictions to change their voting procedures at will, with the burden falling on minority voters to prove an adverse effect on their voting rights after the fact. Before becoming the AG, Olens was the chair of the county commission in Cobb County, the catchbasin for tens of thousands of whites who fled Atlanta as the city desegregated in the 1960s and 1970s. Olens is thus firmly within the orbit of suburban Georgia Republicans for whom districting and voting are particularly salient.

So, the dominoes appear to be lining up for a series of interlinked efforts at protecting white north Fulton voters’ power. First, redistrict to create a virtually un-losable seat for another Republican on the Fulton County Commission. Then, wait for the Roberts Court to invalidate Section 5 of the VRA so that the new districting can take effect. Third, stack the Fulton County Election Commission with operatives committed to tightening minority access to the ballot, and, ultimately, bet the house on that one key race for Commission chair. Some of these dominoes seem pretty likely to fall (including, unfortunately, the demise of Section 5 at the hands of the Supremes), and others more farfetched (actually winning that commission chair election). And, from the point of view of north Fulton residents, encouraging a racially polarized campaign for the commission chair entails substantial risk. It could spark a backlash at the ballot box in the form of high turnout from south Fulton, and could result in the election of a commission chair with political debts to south Fulton (and grudges against north Fulton). Wouldn’t this reproduce the sort of polarized and dysfunctional government, dominated by the south and oppressive toward the north, that the north Fulton cohort have been bemoaning all along?

I think that’s the entire point.

Lynne Riley, the current chair of the Fulton County legislative delegation, is a north Fulton Republican who served as a County Commissioner from 2004 to 2010. As a protege of Karen Handel, she was committed to shrinking the scope of Fulton County government. And, at the same time as she was serving as a Fulton County Commissioner, Riley served as a member of the Milton County Legislative Advisory Commission convened in 2007 by state House members Jan Jones and Mark Burkhalter to advance the cause of county secession. It strains credulity to imagine that this effort is a good faith effort to fix county government. The proposal is virtually guaranteed to worsen polarization on the commission, and its chief sponsor was working to dismantle the county even as she was cashing a paycheck as one of its commissioners. Rather, it seems that north Fulton Republicans are making a short play to control the county and hedging with a longer game: if it doesn’t work out, it will only prove that the county is irredeemable, and that north Fulton demands for secession are justified.

After all, Riley’s Fulton delegation is also floating HR 275, another attempt to amend the state constitution to allow the secession of north Fulton, which doesn’t suggest a strong commitment to the success of county reorganization. If reforming Fulton County government fails on the terms that most of the public would recognize, i doubt most north Fulton Republicans would mind.

Let me say this again: when it comes to redistricting Fulton County as an ostensible good government measure, FAILURE, NOT SUCCESS, IS THE GOAL. 

And if my account sounds conspiratorial, you could take House Speaker Pro Tem (and another co-sponsor of both HB 171 and HR 275) Jan Jones’s word for it:

“My goal is not to re-create Milton County. My goal is to end Fulton County and bring government closer to the people,” she said. “But it will take convincing.”

The great thing about redistricting is that it can dramatically reduce the amount of convincing your side needs to do.