The state of Georgia has delivered the United States from divided government — saving the nation from a GOP-led Senate that almost certainly would have brought effective lawmaking to a halt.
The results from Tuesday night are positive for the nation, despite being overshadowed by events at the Capitol on Wednesday. But even as the riot and insurrection in Washington, D.C., is being investigated, it’s important to take stock of this moment. United government has incredible potential to deliver results for a badly damaged nation.
With Democrats Raphael Warnock and Jon Ossoff winning over Sens. Kelly Loeffler and David Perdue, respectively — the Senate is divided 50-50, with Vice President-elect Kamala Harris the tiebreaking vote for Democrats.
For President-elect Joe Biden, even a fragile majority in the Senate means the ability to get appointments confirmed, pass legislation and concentrate on governing with Congress as a partner, rather than relying on executive order.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell — he of late-term judicial appointments and blocked legislation — is out of power. That’s another good thing, because governing must no longer be about blocking the other side. It has to be about finding common ground.
With narrow Democratic majorities in the U.S. House of Representatives and Senate, it is likely legislation will not be as progressive as many would like. But Democrats will be able to pass laws, with moderate Republicans and centrist Democrats holding a great deal of influence in how they are crafted. There’s a reason Sen. Joe Manchin, the Democrat from West Virginia, was trending on Twitter as it appeared his party was winning the Senate.
Many issues have bipartisan support — and large numbers of Americans behind them — that can be passed and passed quickly. First up is likely to be a better COVID-19 stimulus bill that directly helps individuals and small businesses. Congress can pass infrastructure legislation, which will rebuild roads and bridges. Congress also can shore up environmental protections, pass comprehensive immigration reform, protect voting rights … the list, which lengthened in the past four years, is endless. There will be necessary investigations into the failure of security at the Capitol last week, but Biden and his team must deliver results for the country — quickly, while they can.
For Democrats, the lessons of Georgia are many and the victory sweet, if for no other reason than the state offers a glimpse into the way voting — and voting rights — are central to democracy.
If there was an architect in this transformation, it was Stacey Abrams, who recently had lost a close race for governor of Georgia. Rather than pout in her defeat, she turned her attention to voting rights, access and the often-difficult work of getting people to the polls. Her Fair Fight organization and other groups like it helped persuade 100,000 or more voters who did not vote in November to show up for Tuesday’s special election.
The bet was this: Georgia wasn’t really a red state, just a state where voting rights had been suppressed.
Turns out Abrams was right.
Shifting Georgia from a state that votes for Republicans in presidential races and that sends conservative senators to Washington, D.C., to one that voted for Biden and flipped two seats in the Senate offers lessons for both Democrats and Republicans.
Work close to the neighborhoods, with local people leading the charge. Listen to voters and make the election about them, not you. Invest time and effort; parachuting in for a campaign stop or two is not sufficient. Democrats who are worried about losing support among Hispanic groups — south Texas comes to mind — should start now to organize, using locals to lead the way.
In New Mexico, we could see organizers focusing on the 2nd Congressional District — GOP Rep. Yvette Herrell shamefully objected to Biden’s win in her first act in Congress — to pave the way for Democratic success in 2022. Republican organizers might be wise to look at Northern New Mexico, focusing on conservative Hispanics and showing them why the Republican Party’s position on social issues suits them better. Again, the work has to begin now.
What Georgia teaches us is this: Organizing works and voters will turn out, given the right encouragement. Now, Congress and the president must find solutions to our nation’s problems so voters remain engaged. With narrow majorities, Congress and the president must work across aisles to bring divergent viewpoints together to pass laws. In this moment of sorrow, our nation must seize opportunity — use the narrow majority to govern, deliver results and leave this ugly moment behind us.