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State 's center of gravity has shifted to Atlanta

ATLANTA --- The prevailing sentiment toward Atlanta may be changing.

Generations of politicians have won election running against the state's capital city, its crime, traffic and high taxes. People who've chosen to live in other parts of the state feel their decision is validated every time someone badmouths the big city.

Atlantans have also enjoyed hearing reminders of why they opted to live in the metro area rather than their hometowns.

Last week, the icy relationship showed signs of thawing. It was in the governor's office, of all places, held only once in this generation by an Atlanta native, the accidental governor, Lester Maddox. The current occupant, Sonny Perdue of rural Bonaire, House Speaker David Ralston of equally rural Blue Ridge, and Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle of Gainesville, took turns in front of television cameras and newspaper reporters praising Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed, an act of political suicide for their predecessors.

The occasion was the ceremony for the signing into law of the transportation sales tax. Few present could recall any previous circumstance where the state's top-three elective officials publicly thanked any Atlanta mayor.

Perdue, Cagle and Ralston each gushed about Reed's commitment, attitude and ultimate success in delivering key votes needed for passage of the long-awaited bill.

"I never knew when I named Sen. Kasim Reed to a conference committee on transportation three years ago that it would pay such dividends," Cagle quipped.

Granted, the circumstances represented a rare convergence of all their mutual interests. The state's top three leaders invested considerable political capital in the multi-year struggle to craft a funding plan, and Reed recognized it as the city's best hope for tackling problems with MARTA and traffic congestion.

Another novelty is Reed's background as a former legislator who not only knew his way around the Capitol but had developed a solid reputation as smart, honorable and willing to negotiate. The men heaping praises on him already had a rapport with him and felt a shared connection to their own political careers.

Recent Atlanta mayors have come up though the ranks of City Hall instead of the legislative route Reed and most state leaders took.

More is leading to the change in attitude though than Reed's background or shared legislative goals.

Reed's predecessor, Shirley Franklin, also worked to warm up the relations when she became the first Atlanta mayor in memory to attend meetings of the Georgia Municipal Association, the Atlanta Regional Commission and other multi-city events. At the same time, the leaders of the Georgia and Metro Atlanta chambers of commerce have begun talking in terms of regional logistics and the need to coordinate freight traffic between Atlanta and the ports of Savannah and Brunswick while the city's real estate developers lobby for passenger rail that knits all of the state's major cities together.

As Atlanta leaders are reaching across the chasm toward The Other Georgia, savvy politicians from the out state are recognizing how the state's center of gravity has shifted to Atlanta. They realize that Perdue was probably the last governor elected with a concentration on rural counties while remaining virtually unknown in Atlanta.

Today, two-thirds of the votes cast this year will come from among the 5.5 million people within the orbit of the nation's 12th-largest metropolitan area. Even before next year's redistricting formalizes it, Metro Atlanta is becoming the political behemoth.

Its water shortage has become a statewide problem. It traffic congestion has, too.

When Ralston said, "I want to thank Mayor Reed. His leadership made a huge difference," it's because of the political gravity the area has gained. It's essentially impossible to pass major legislation over the objections of metro Atlanta and soon it will be impossible to accomplish anything without its blessings.

That's also why the speaker added, "This success will be the foundation of other efforts in the future."

(Walter Jones is the Atlanta bureau chief for Morris News and has been covering Georgia politics since 1998. He can be reached at walter.jones@morris.com or (404) 589-8424.)



Web posted on Thursday, June 10, 2010













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