Who and What Runs Georgia?

By Calvin Kytle and James Mackay

Vol. 22, No. 1, 2000, p. 28

In 1948, four years after the Supreme Court nullified the white primary, Herman Talmadge ran for governor of Georgia equipped with a strategy to keep the white primary intact. Alarmed, George Mitchell, then- executive director of the Council commissioned Calvin Kytle and James Mackay to conduct a study to determine what had precipitated this development and what could be done in response. Below is a segment from the report, first published in book form by the University of Georgia Press in 1998 as Who Runs Georgia?: A Contemporary Account of the 1947 Crisis that Set the Stage for Georgia's Political Transformation.

Money, we repeat, does run the politics of Georgia. But this does not refute the fact that ignorance is the root evil. The powerful men of wealth who back a candidate for private gain, who block legislation for the general welfare to gratify immediate self-interest, are ignorant. If the rich and privileged were not so ignorant, they would prefer to invest their money in honest government rather than pay it to shakedown administrations; they would know that government by the few can only lead to government by the fewer; and they would put their surplus profits in a program for human advancement.

All this considered, before we can plan any campaign to rid ourselves of a perpetuating condition of political injustice, we must answer these basic questions:

Is it possible to educate our people to the responsibilities and sacrifices of democratic government?

If we can educate only those people without property interest who now benefit little from government, would the resistance of men with money now controlling the government be so great as to keep the majority politically sterile?

Is there enough money to be had from people opposed to the present political setup to launch and sustain such a campaign?

If these three questions can be answered yes, then the general pattern of a long-range program is clear. But equally clear is that any potentially successful program will require two complementary statewide organizations--one to awaken Georgians to what "good government" can be, the other to show how good government can be achieved.

An education agency is needed that can effectively reach people of all ages and economic groups. Its purpose should be threefold: (1) to acquaint people with the facts of Georgia politics and government; (2) to stimulate thought and discussion on the needs of the state; and (3) to sell actively a nonpartisan program of advancement. Its program should be directed toward a mass audience, and it should employ the full resources of all communication media.

At the same time, a second party is needed to build a shorter route to reform. Two things argue for this: (1) under the county unit system of the Democratic Party, the state's progressive forces are virtually disfranchised; (2) the current leadership of all too many county election committees is indifferent to democratic values. Since the county unit system perpetuates itself through assemblymen dependent on it for election, the only way to bypass it is to force the decisive vote into the general election, where the winner is determined by popular vote. Similarly, rather than try to replace the present Democratic Party's election managers, it would be easier to elect new managers for a second primary and to ensure an honest count of general election returns by the presence of trained poll watchers.

If these recommendations seem too demanding, then it is only because these are demanding times. The situation is such that nothing less can offer a prospect of constructive government and guarantee its permanency. We can no longer afford to default to the cynical men of wealth and to the politicians of vaulting ambition, whose pursuit of profit and power degrade the idea of democracy and would deny us the right and the means to make it real.

Calvin Kytle is a writer and former publisher who lives in Chapel Hill, North Carolina. James Mackay is a former Georgia state legislator and U. S. Congressman. He now lives in Rising Fawn, Georgia.