North Carolina’s model of consensus is slipping — giving Georgia leaders a chance to unite and move forward

By Maria Saporta

When GeorgiaForward was created four years ago, it was modeled after the successful North Carolina Emerging Issues Forum that had been launched by former Gov. Jim Hunt in 1986.

So it was fitting that when GeorgiaForward forum held its first forum three years ago in Macon that the keynote speaker was Anita Brown-Graham, director of North Carolina State University’s Institute for Emerging Issues.

It was through the annual forums and eventually the Institute that Gov. Hunt and the top business, nonprofit and government leaders in North Carolina tackled the state’s toughest issues of health, education, transportation and the environment — finding consensus and often translating that into action and implementation.

The Institute for Emerging Issues — described as a “think and do tank” — was credited for helping catapult North Carolina into one of the leading states in the Southeast and one of the fastest-growing ones in the country.

When Brown-Graham was asked in 2010 to comment on how North Carolina views Georgia, she tried to be as polite as possible.

“North Carolina talks a lot about being a leader in the Southeast,” she said. “The truth is that we are more concerned about being a national leader rather than a regional leader. We are looking at states at the top of the list.”

At the time, the group of statewide leaders who had formed GeorgiaForward envied the statewide consensus that had been reached in North Carolina. And they imagined all the benefits that the Peach State could enjoy if it too could get the various constituencies in Georgia to agree on a shared vision for the future.

GeorgiaForward held its fourth annual forum from July 11-12 at Georgia Tech’s Conference Center in Atlanta, and invited Brown-Graham back to give a keynote address.

But this time, Brown-Graham’s tone had changed.

“When I came to Macon three years ago, I was bragging,” she said. And then she jokingly asked whether she had been set up to speak in Atlanta just days after the New York Times had written a scathing editorial with the headline: “The Decline of North Carolina.”

The editorial blamed the new Republican majority in the state for the “grotesque damage” it was imposing on those less fortunate — leading to weekly Moral Monday demonstrations.

The last paragraph of the editorial may have been the most damning: “North Carolina was once considered a beacon of farsightedness in the South, an exception in a region of poor education, intolerance and tightfistedness. In a few short months, Republicans have begun to dismantle a reputation that took years to build.”

North Carolina Gov. Pat McCrory responded in his own letter to the editor on the July 13th edition of the New York Times saying that the state “is on a powerful comeback: with significant movement on “vital reforms to tax policy, energy, education economic development and transportation.”

The McCrory, who used to be the mayor of Charlotte — the state’s largest city, then went on the attack.

“While it may not be apparent to the very liberal worldview of The Times, North Carolina’s new focus on reform is paying off. Already companies have announced plans to create more than 9,300 jobs in the state and invest more than $1.1 billion in facilities.”

Obviously the consensus that existed in North Carolina, not so long ago, has been splintered — testing the very core of what the Emerging Issues forum has been working on for decades.

All of a sudden, North Carolina and Georgia were back in the same (let’s hope not sinking) boat.

Brown-Graham said that it is estimated that 63 percent of North Carolina’s workforce will need some post-secondary education by 2018; and Georgia will been 61 percent. Currently only 38 percent of North Carolina’s workforce has a post secondary education (university or technical college) and Georgia only 36.4 percent.

A challenge for both states will be to improve the quality of education beginning from K-12 and going through college just to meet the future demand for skilled employees.

Asked to talk about what had changed in the three years since her last visit, Brown-Graham described that the Institute’s traditional formula of getting leaders from business, civic and government to build consensus was no longer enough.

“In the last two years, we have worked much harder to try to find issues where we can find consensus,” she said. “it’s become increasingly polarized with people coming to the table with not just an interest, but with a position.”

That parallels the national trends of having little cooperation or compromise between differing political parties.

“Now I find that our work is much more bottoms up,” Brown-Graham said, calling the current situation a tug-of-war. “It’s harder, but I’m not less optimistic. I think we are in a period of redefinition in North Carolina. How North Carolina sees itself. What kind of state do we want to be?”

Georgia also is facing the same issues. From the 1960s to 1996,

Georgia had been viewed as the progressive state in the South, and Atlanta was seen as a city entering the international stage.

But then after the let-down following the 1996 Summer Olympic Games and a period of economic adjustment with a deep recession, Georgia began losing ground.

But GeorgiaForward is an opportunity for us to reverse that situation.

At the end of the 2013 forum, former Atlanta Mayor Shirley Franklin and August Mayor Deke Copenhaver spoke of ways to unify the state and get away of the notion of “two Georgias” — metro Atlanta and the rest of the state.

“I don’t believe in the two Georgias,” Copenhaver said. “So much of that is manufactured by politicians. I don’t think we are going to solve this through rhetoric. I want a healthy thriving Atlanta.”

“I agree,” Franklin responded. “I do think there are multiple issues around the state, solutions have to be collaborative.”

Copenhaver then told GeorgiaForward attendees how Gov. Nathan Deal had recently been to Augusta to talk about the regional Transportation Improvement Act, also known as T-Splost. The Augusta region was one of the 12 regions in the state to pass the one-percent sales tax.

Franklin said that maybe Atlanta could learn from Augusta on how to pass a transportation sales tax.

But both mayors said that Georgia’s cities need to be healthy for the state’s economy to do well.

“The state has a vested interest in the success of people who live all over the state, but especially those people who live in cities,” Franklin said. “So much of the personal income tax in the state of Georgia comes from cities. If the state were a business, we would care about where our revenue stream was coming from.”

And it’s those kind of conversations that make GeorgiaForward worthwhile.

A.J. Robinson, president of Central Atlanta Progress, said “the concept of

Georgia Forward was really created out of a discussion that started in downtown Atlanta No one was having a conversation across Georgia on what should be happening 20 years down the road.”

Perhaps one day, maybe Gov. Deal or Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed will see the value in joining the GeorgiaForward initiative and co-leading that conversation.

Maria Saporta, Editor, is a longtime Atlanta business, civic and urban affairs journalist with a deep knowledge of our city, our region and state.  Since 2008, she has written a weekly column and news stories for the Atlanta Business Chronicle. Prior to that, she spent 27 years with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, becoming its business columnist in 1991. Maria received her Master’s degree in urban studies from Georgia State and her Bachelor’s degree in journalism from Boston University. Maria was born in Atlanta to European parents and has two young adult children.

13 replies
  1. moliere says:

    I am sorry Maria. I am a fan of your blog but I reject the notion that North Carolina has lost its consensus. It is a common tact that those left of center play. Whenever the left is in power and using that power to enact a liberal agenda, then the left claims that everyone is “united’ and things are “moving forward” and any dissenters are “marginal”, “extreme”, “partisan”, “ideologically driven” etc. In other words, the conservative opposition, the opinions of from 25% to 50% of the population depending on the location, doesn’t matter. But when conservatives get elected and enact their agenda, the left declares that there is division, rancor, exclusion, etc. everywhere and things are going backwards. In that instance, the opposition is all that matters and the conservative opinion is still irrelevant even though the people put them in power.

    From the speed which North Carolina was able to enact a conservative agenda – much faster than in Georgia by the way, where for most of Sonny Perdue’s governorship it was as if nothing had changed – it is obvious that there never was a consensus in North Carolina. There was clearly an alternative viewpoint held by a significant portion of the population that wasn’t being listened to or enacted. Now the people that have been shut out of the decision-making process for so long are finally getting some of their policy enacted and that means things are falling apart?
    Example: North Carolina is finally going to take part in the fracking boom that has lowered energy prices and provided hundreds of thousands (into the millions) nationwide and played a huge role in our tepid economic recovery. Without fracking to provide all those jobs and to negate the effects of the high oil prices, we would probably still be in recession (and Obama would never have been re-elected, just saying). The Democrats kept fracking jobs and badly needed energy production out of North Carolina for years. How did that represent consensus moving the state forward?
    Now there are a lot of things that the GOP has done in North Carolina that is suspect. Big deal. The Democrats weren’t perfect either. If you want your blog to be a consensus promoter of ideas helpful to metro Atlanta that will be taken seriously by all its leaders, ideological pieces like this will not help that cause.Report

    Reply
    • Clmiron says:

      moliere  Except of course that McCrory specifically pledged not to sign any new restrictions on abortion when he was running for office, and low here he is poised to sign such legislation.  I think what is happening in North Carolina is similarly representative of what is happening in several other states.
      SO many of these Republicans ran on a platform of being fiscally conservative, focused on responsible policy to create jobs and economic development…  and then once they have power they have spent a disproportionate amount of time acting as SOCIAL conservatives.  It was a clear bait and switch… “Vote for me and I will work to balance the books and create some good jobs in the state”  and instead what they are delivering in a lot of cases are more low paying jobs replacing middle class jobs, and crafting legislation that is blatantly counter to the interests of women (especially in having reproductive care access and rights), counter to the interests of the poor and disabled, and counter to the longterm interests of most workers. It’s all anti-abortion bills and pro-corporatist tax credits and handouts that don’t have any sound mechanism or guarantee to create middle class jobs.Report

      Reply
      • moliere says:

        Clmiron moliere What is wrong with having the same restrictions on abortion as Pennsylvania has? Why should abortion be the only medical procedure that remains totally free of regulation? And with the left pushing gay marriage, please stop talking about Republicans and social issues. The Republicans should stop pushing their social issues when the Democrats stop pushing theirs.Report

        Reply
        • ScottNAtlanta says:

          moliere Clmiron problem between gay marriage and abortion is that one (opposition to gay marriage) is trying to discriminate against a class of people…abortion is injecting the government into a private medical decision.  I see no correlation there…just red herringReport

          Reply
    • ScottNAtlanta says:

      moliere Spare me the rhetoric…there is a big reason why whats happened in NC happened…money.  Money from none other the the Koch brothers themselves.  They have poured millions into races on the local level there.  Through thier “puppet” Mr Pope as budget director these anti-poor, anti-middle class, pro-monopolistic policies have been implemented.  There was no “groundswell” there…just a lot of money poured into an election that was a wave year for republicans.  Do you think for a second that the tea party gets their funding from “grass roots”?  If you do you are horribly naive.
      NC has the worst broadband record in the country, but under the republicans they passed a bill effectively prohibiting local communities from providing this service themselves despite the success of several towns in doing so.  The bill M. Avilla (R) submitted was written by TWC, and the same bill (pushed by ALEC) has been rammed through many state legislatures.  Luckily it didn’t pass here which at least gives me some hope for common sense at some level in GA.  They (NC) have eliminated …yes ELIMINATED state unemployment benefits and thus forfeited almost 700 million in matching federal funds.  How does that benefit their economy?? Dear God, people are marching in the streets there and you say its “consensus” ???  Get your head out of the sand and take a look at whats really happening…you might be surprised.
      My biggest disappointment though is the Governor.  He did some great things for Charlotte as a moderate republican, but it is now clear he hasn’t got what it takes to stand up to the money and the wack jobs they are funding.  Hopefully those in GA will take a good hard look and realize this is not the way.
      As for fracking…Koch money…energy business…not a big leap there.  Why the hell do you think the TP wing that they fund was so against solar power in GA???  Maybe because its funded by oil and gas money.  People need to wake up and realize we are in a world much different from even as recently as the 90sReport

      Reply
      • moliere says:

        ScottNAtlanta moliere All right ScottNAtlanta, as if the left is totally pure and free of narrow special interests. Can you spare me that? And I never said that there was consensus. I am saying that there wasn’t consensus before. That was the bogus part. When liberals have power and use it to enact a liberal agenda that is not consensus. This ALEC and Koch Brothers stuff … what about when bills by NARAL Pro-Choice America, NOW, the Sierra Club, the teachers’ unions, the Human Rights Campaign etc. get enacted? What makes your special interest groups better than theirs? And you call them wack jobs? Wow. That is respectful discourse. Isn’t that bullying? Well hey if wack jobs on the left get to enact their agenda then don’t complain when the other side gets in and enacts their stuff. It is called democracy.
        People marching in the streets? Remember the Tea Party demonstrations? But you guys compared it to KKK and Nazi rallies. Remember? Such double standards is what I am talking about. I agree with the broadband thing, granted, but the Democrats should have addressed that when they ran that state. Why didn’t they?Report

        Reply
        • ScottNAtlanta says:

          moliere ScottNAtlanta The problem you seem to have is that we are talking about now…not “what ifs” or “they dids”.  The bill I identified IN DETAIL in my previous comment was an ALEC pushed bill written by the monopoly/duopoly incumbent.  That bill put the vast majority of constituents at a disadvantage.  It is a clear example of what the NC legislature has become

          When the sierra club, NARAL, or NOW start tossing a BILLION dollars at elections to buy the outcome, perhaps I’ll be a little more concerned.  They are not in the same league, and you saying so wont make it so.    Oh, and can you name a couple of those “liberal” policies that have so disadvantaged the public…I’d like to know what you consider to be harmful.Report

          Reply
        • ScottNAtlanta says:

          As for the “broadband thing”  They tried to pass it the 2 years prior (once trying to sneak it through on another bill)…and the Democratic controlled legislature defeated it…twice.  When you act as a bully…dont expect people will lay down and take it…thats what discourse is aboutReport

          Reply
    • Clmiron says:

      moliere 

      And for fracking… I think this will probably be the second biggest mistake of our lifetime (Our Profiteering Wars in Iraq and Afghanistan are surely number 1. How shameful that we can’t invest in our own country’s needs because we are paying enormous interest on debt to line the deep pockets of the MIC) .
      Sure, we all LOVE cheap, abundant energy. But the reality is we can’t drink natural gas or oil. We need clean, safe drinking water to LIVE…and we do have other alternative means to get energy.  It seems like stupidity of the highest order to jeopardize our regional water resources for something that is so fleeting in benefit, and assuredly relatively few people will actually see the benefits, while the rest of us will carry the burden of the consequences.
      There was a report that just came out that projects the water needs of the Atlanta metro will likely double by 2020. In essence that means that in 8 months we could completely drain Lake Lanier.  It seems terribly short sighted and misguided for such widespread adoption of fracking… sure, it brings jobs in the short term and money and energy. And when the gas is all out of the ground and contaminated with fracking fluid, and we have less and less safe drinking water … what happens then?  Do we all just move away? Do we pay through the nose to filter and process water to make it “safe”?  Do we import it from some other state who had the good sense to protect their most basic and fundamentally necessary resources? 
       You can’t drink money. North Carolina and so many other states would do well to remember that.Report

      Reply
      • moliere says:

        Clmiron moliere You know what else contaminates water? Nuclear waste. So we can have
        more natural gas or more nuclear power. Which do you choose? Look, there
        are no perfect solutions. Even solar power, of which I am a big
        advocate, produces a ton of dangerous chemicals, mercury, polonium and
        others, while making the panels, and that stuff stays in the panels when
        they have to be disposed of. The opposition to fracking is really just
        more opposition to oil companies, which is proof that global warming has
        little to do with the opposition to oil companies. It’s ideological.
        Look, we need energy. Until your side comes up with solutions to our
        energy needs, stop standing in the way. Better fracking than strip
        mining for coal, a very dirty fuel.Report

        Reply
        • ScottNAtlanta says:

          moliere Clmiron I tried to follow the logic of that comment but its lost on me.  Yes there is no perfect solution, but I think pumping waste water loaded with carcinogens back into the ground at such volumes as it can cause earthquakes is not the best option.  I am no fan of nuclear, but its a better option than that.  Thats why we need to spend more on research.  Solar panels are 50% more efficient then they were even 10 years ago…in time they will be better still.  If you are concerned about all those trace minerals…you might want to toss your cell phone…its got a lot of the same ones…but this is supposed to be about NC…Report

          Reply
        • Clmiron says:

          ScottNAtlanta moliere Clmiron  Well said Scott.  If there was more of a public mandate and incentive to properly recycle electronics, then a lot of those toxins related to them wouldn’t be an issue (this includes computers, tvs, appliance, and especially items like laptops and cellphones with lithium batteries).  
          It certainly makes more sense to have the mercury and whatever else in trace amounts tied up in solar panels (or even CFL bulbs, gasp!) and accounted for in the manufacturing and recycling process that is relatively stable in the environment and exposure to it can be prevented and controlled in the processing relatively easy… as opposed to say, mercury and arsenic raining down over a 50 mile wide area from coal emissions, or a radioactive and carcinogenic liquid poured into the bedrock in mass quantities, or radioactive nuclear waste we have to somehow responsibly store and guard for 1,000 years (even though we have done kind of a bum job of monitoring existing waste sites for even the past 50).
          Given the way some of our current reactors in operation are so badly managed and maintained while they are yet active profit centers, I myself am not particularly optimistic about the long term success of our storage program once nuclear is a dead legacy and someone is still on the hook to guard the waste.  
          I am not wholly against fracking in principle. What I do not understand and support is why they necessarily have to use such a toxic swill in the process, and why it is a foregone conclusion that fracking any and everywhere there is even a moderate amount of natural gas is the best decision, and that NOW is the best time to do it … without much apparent thought for the longterm viability of water resources in the area and the mechanics of the local geography, etc.
          Natural Gas production is already so high at the moment that they are practically giving it away. Much of our national infrastructure for transport and storage of natural gas can’t even meet the current production… so why the huge rush to drill in places like North Carolina?  My personal opinion is that this is the final “gold rush” for the fossil fuel industry and they are chomping at the bit to drill and sell everything they can before the public knows better about the risks and destruction involved, and before wind and solar are better positioned to kick them out of the market. The technology is advancing at such a rate that it shouldn’t be more than a few decades max before we can and will have affordable, clean energy.  We might even be further along that path today, if it wasn’t for the fake pseudo-science to muddy the climate change debate, lobbying to keep large, unnecessary subsidies and tax giveaways for coal and oil production, and a concerted effort to limit available subsidies for renewable generation and related research and development.
          I think moliere is seeing the situation completely backwards. It is not clean energy activists necessarily standing in the way of energy production at all costs… we simply demand that companies take accountability for their destruction instead of making spills and leaks and environmental degradation an externality that the public has to pay for and live with. And then on the other side you have the fossil fuel industry working in a very coordinated effort to run roughshod over everyone and to use their giant monetary influence in Washington to  refuse any action on climate gases that would undeniably, and reasonably shift the cost analysis in the favor of renewable energies. THEY are the ones really operating in a direct and consistent manner to obstruct the will and wishes of the American people. Upwards of 60% of us support the adoption of much more renewable energy, most of us oppose the Keystone XL pipeline, most of us believe climate change is real and want the government to take action. So is it really the diverse environmental activist groups that are “standing in the way” of progress and what people want and need?   I don’t think it is.Report

          Reply
  2. Sidebar says:

    Government can work.  It has worked.  And it can work better.  We have made it work in the past and we can make it work in the future.  But we have to keep working at it.  When the far right (and the media catering to them) throw up their hands and give up on government when the slightest thing goes wrong, we have to say “get real.” 
    Nothing is perfect.  No one has all the answers.  But our lives are better than they were 100 years ago because government got better at interacting with the free market. Protections were put in place to protect workers.  Monopolies were broken up. We do not want to go back to the 19th Century.  We need to move forward and keep making government better.  To do that, we have to admit that government can be better.  
    We are all better off when we are ALL better off.  Not just when a wealthy few are better off.  We need to pick each other up when we fall down, because we will all fall down at some point in this life.  
    Cutting unemployment in NC is not only cruel, it is bad for everyone.  It increases the numbers of people who will go bankrupt or into foreclosure.   That is bad for the economy.  And a worse economy is bad for the wealthy as well as the poor and middle class.
    Let’s stop trying to kill every government program.  Let’s start making government better.Report

    Reply

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