Can we put Georgia on pause?
In all the years that I helped manage national news coverage for an Atlanta-based cable network, Georgia never warranted the sustained attention it has received the past year or so.
State Rep. Josh McLaurin recently pleaded on Twitter: “Georgia respectfully requests a brief timeout from national attention. A few minutes will do fine.”
Get The AJT Newsletter by email and never miss our top stories
Free Sign Up
In truth, a few minutes won’t cut it, not by a long shot. It’s exhausting just looking back.
Start on Jan. 21, 2020, when the Atlanta-based Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announced the first U.S. case of COVID-19 and made itself a staple of the news since.
Recognizing that older people – who are more susceptible to the virus – vote at a higher rate than other age groups, the state postponed the March 24 primary until May 19, and then until June 11. That day’s images of people waiting in hours-long lines to vote made Georgia the subject of ridicule.
The primary was held amid protests downtown and throughout metro Atlanta, sparked by the deaths of African Americans in interactions with police and civilians acting extra judicially. The attendant violence and vandalism were juxtaposed with a slogan — “the city too busy to hate” — coined in the 1950s by Atlanta’s then-Mayor William B. Hartsfield.
While COVID-19 took its toll in hospitalizations and deaths, opposing camps formed: Georgians who adhered to the advice of epidemiologists and public health experts and those who dismissed as tyranny any restrictions, even requirements to wear masks. The governor’s edicts on when and how schools, businesses, and other institutions could open satisfied neither camp. Synagogues, schools and communal organizations closed their doors in mid-March; some have reopened in limited fashion, while others remain in the virtual world.
Summer became fall, and the national news media took up temporary residence, as Georgia offered a close presidential race and two Senate contests. Locals tutored the out-of-towners on how to pronounce DeKalb, Albany and Houston, and cautioned that no one calls the city “Hot Lanta.”
On Nov. 3, the election groundhog emerged, saw a shadow and, as both Senate races headed to runoffs, cursed the state with nine more weeks of political advertising. The visitors extended their leases for two more months. But that wasn’t the headline.
As Georgia’s 159 counties tallied the votes, Democrat Joe Biden overtook incumbent Republican President Donald Trump in a state that last backed the Democratic nominee in 1992. While the president and his partisans cried fraud, Georgia audited, counted and recounted the vote, with the same outcome each time.
Gabriel Sterling, who administered the elections, then received his proverbial (and unsought) 15 minutes of fame. He calmly refuted claim after claim and dissected videos frame by frame, until Dec. 1, when he could take no more. Sterling publicly admonished Trump and his allies that unless they toned down their rhetoric, “Someone’s going to get hurt, someone’s going to get shot, someone’s going to get killed.” The riot at the U.S. Capitol was five weeks later.
The abuse heaped on Sterling’s boss, Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger culminated on Jan. 2, when Trump called, cajoled, begged and threatened Raffensperger, for the sake of finding 11,780 votes that did not exist. The ramifications of that call may provide headlines in the weeks to come.
On the fifth day of the 13th month of 2020, otherwise known as Jan. 5, 2021, Georgia turned out its two Republican senators and elected two Democrats — a Black and a Jew — giving the latter party numeric control of the Senate. The Jewish press framed the election of Jon Ossoff as one end of a timeline that began with the 1915 lynching of Leo Frank and reached its mid-point with the 1958 bombing of The Temple.
One month later, just when Georgia might have thought it was out of the spotlight, it was pulled back in. The House majority decided that the newly elected congresswoman from northwest Georgia had spouted one-too-many QAnon conspiracy theories and stripped Marjorie Taylor Greene of her committee assignments. For her part, Greene said she felt liberated by the rebuke.
Throughout, Atlanta- and Georgia-based reporters have busted their backsides; meriting not only respect, but also paid subscriptions. Between the virus and the vaccines, the legislature and Congress, redistricting and voting rights, politics (pssst: 2022 is an election year) and whatever else develops, there will be little rest for these weary.
On their behalf, and for the state in general, I ask: Can we put Georgia in time out, at least for a few minutes?