In 1979, Jimmy Carter was president. Margaret Thatcher became prime minister of Britain. Saddam Hussein assumed power in Iraq.
The nuclear plant at Three Mile Island nearly melted down. Mother Teresa won the Nobel Peace Prize. The first AIDS case was reported.
Closer to home, 1979 was also the last time Georgia ranked as low as it does now in per capita income among the states.
The Peach State now ranks 40th in the nation in per capita annual income, coming in at $36,839. For the competitively inclined among you, Tennessee and North Carolina now rank ahead of us. Alabama is only two spots behind.
As Twain reminded us, it's easy to lie with statistics. So we have to ask if this is significant, and why. Was there ever a time Georgia ranked higher than the bottom fifth?
Yes, actually. Georgia's per capita income gradually increased from 1979 to 2001, mirroring much of the nation's growth during that time. Georgia became competitively more robust as well, rising to a high of 25th in the nation — the median — in 2001.
Not too shabby for the reluctant host of Sherman's march to the sea.
So the next question is: What happened?
We've seen a few things that took place in 1979. Let's list a few things that happened in Georgia in the years following 2001, when the steep decline in personal income began:
• In 2002 Georgia elected its first Republican governor since Reconstruction, Sonny Perdue.
• Also in 2002, Republicans took over the Georgia State Senate for the first time since Reconstruction.
• In 2004, Republicans took over the Georgia House of Representatives for the first time since Reconstruction, ushering in a phase of total GOP control of state government which extends to the present day.
• In 2004, Republicans for the first time became a dominant majority on the Public Service Commission, which determines how state-sanctioned monopolies like Georgia Power do business, and how much they can charge.
• By 2010, no Democrat held statewide office.
Caveat: Many of the Republicans taking over in the early-mid Oughts, like Perdue, began their political careers as Democrats during a time when that was the only way to get elected in Georgia. So there's that.
The picture gets muddy. You can cherry-pick all day long. But...
At some point our critical thinking skills have to kick in. When you have a decade of quickly diminishing per capita income directly tracking a decade-long takeover of state government by one party, it pays to at least take a peek at the trendline.
While our economic difficulties only increased in the wake of 9/11 and then of course the 2008 housing crisis, our legislators in the General Assembly responded by spending more and more time on hot-button socially conservative agenda items. The jobs we have added have tended to be lower-income jobs.
(A conservative website, perhaps inadvertently, laid bare the cynical agenda with this telling gem: "Georgia offers plenty of proof the strategy works. The legislature there front-loaded budget cuts during the recent recession... Georgia teachers were laid off, and parents kept voting Republican.")
In a time of shrinking individual wealth and opportunity, our state government continues to focus instead on limiting abortion rights, making up horror stories about Mexican immigrants, inventing voter fraud in order to push through voter ID laws, and pushing for expanded gun rights — in churches?! — in a state already ravaged by gun violence.
This disconnect was perhaps best symbolized by Sonny Perdue urging everyone to literally pray for rain during a 2007 drought which threatened drinking water supplies.
It's a democracy, and you get what you vote for. But you're always entitled to ask if you got what you wanted.
Others certainly aren't shy about feeling entitled to get what they want.
Current Gov. Nathan Deal embodies the Bush-era ethos of advancing corporate cronyism while making hay on social issues. He attacked the "liberal" Georgia Public Broadcasting system by slashing its budget, and then promptly installed disgraced former Senate Majority Leader and Tea Party loon Chip Rogers — he of the UN/Obama mind-control conspiracy theory — as head of GPB, with a $150,000 salary.
Indeed, Deal has become a virtual Google synonym for "cronyism," stacking state boards with close friends, family members, and donors, from the Georgia Ports Authority to the Georgia Lottery.
Anyone following the Ogeechee River/King America debacle knows the lengths Deal has gone to install corporate polluter-friendly leadership at the state Environmental Protection Division, making a mockery of that already-tepid agency's name.
(Since 2008, Republicans have cut funding to EPD by a jaw-dropping 44 percent and 250 positions.)
In the old days of solid Democratic rule in Georgia, Gov. Eugene Talmadge could say things like, "Sure I stole, but I stole for you!" with a straight face. And voters bought it. Loved it, even.
Seems like the current ruling party has the same talent for larceny, but perhaps without the same, um, spirit of generosity?
If you think the real lesson here is that one party rule is always bad regardless of which one it is, I wouldn't necessarily disagree. But still, it's a democracy, and you're never obliged to stick with the status quo.
You're certainly not obliged to move backwards.
Whether you remember Jimmy Carter when he was president of the United States, or governor of Georgia, or just as the guy your Fox News-watching uncle loves to hate, you have to ask yourself:
Am I OK with going back to 1979?
Stellar job Jim!
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