National election results maps from 2012 showed high concentrations of Obama voters in the cities surrounded by Romney voters in lower density rural areas. Romney voters have most of the land in the country, but Obama voters have the higher numbers. Over time, the majority will find ways through taxation, entitlement grants, and regulatory controls, to take property away, or otherwise control it, from voting minorities. The traditional social contracts based on American values of independence and hard work that used to keep people humble about taking advantage of their neighbors, have eroded from the onslaught of public sector redistribution and widespread gaming for higher returns from less work. Who can blame the gamers? Everyone loves a freebie.
Had the Founders anticipated the dramatic population density variance between town and county that came to exist in America, they probably would have constructed more devices with similar purpose to the Electoral College and the Bicameral Legislature to level the playing field and inhibit one segment of the population from dominating another.
Today, Elbert County mirrors the federal urban/rural split with its own suburban/rural dichotomy, and with similar effect. Higher numbers in the suburban corridors overshadow lower numbers in the rural areas. The suburban sentiments tend to be less conservative than the rural sentiments, and with one set of local zoning laws to apply to both suburban and rural areas, the rural areas bear the burden of suburban oriented law and get little in return for it.
Decades ago, the county had far fewer people. Commissioners mostly worried about keeping the few unpaved county roads passable. Each commissioner district had its own road equipment yard and barn, and most calls from voters were about roads needing work. There was a correlation between a commissioners home district, that districts road conditions, and a feedback loop for allocating equipment where and when necessary. The county’s population was more uniformly distributed. The nature of the various commissioner districts was similar. And zoning law was unheard of in the county.
Gradually people moved to Elbert County, however, and with them came one-size-fits-all zoning law to protect their home values. Whether zoning succeeds at home value protection, whether it maximizes the economic potential of an area, and what potential beneficial outcomes zoning precludes from ever happening, can all be debated.
But everyone will readily admit that the nature of our commissioner districts has changed. They are no longer qualitatively similar. Moreover, while the districts retain a geographic orientation, the tools used to manage and serve them have become centralized. We now have one county-wide road and bridge agency, and we have one set of zoning laws to govern all areas. The geographic orientation of a commissioner has become less relevant than it used to be.
With generalized governmental tools, commissioners must now exercise a cross county awareness in their decision making. An orientation to only one geographic area of the county, suburban or rural, is actually a handicap for adequately governing under a generalized system.
So why have this discussion now? Because in January the leaders of the Republican and Democrat parties in Elbert County will meet to reorganize commissioner districts and precinct boundaries. The two main legal requirements are that the districts consist of contiguous precincts, and that total population be spread uniformly between the districts and precincts. There are some other rules but these seem to be the main ones.
Reorganizers are not bound to consider the suburban/rural nature of the districts or the precincts they contain in formulating the new map. But some of the big issues in the county have very different meaning and application for suburban vs. rural citizens.
Reorganizers have an opportunity to create mixed use commissioner districts and perhaps de-polarize future BOCC and planning activities by de-emphasizing our differences. If we cannot have laws tuned to the suburban or rural context in which they are enforced, perhaps we could at least have leadership that is responsive to all types of citizen equally.
America’s federal republic was designed to allow for dissent and argument, and to prevent power from concentrating in any one place, whether it was citizens or a public branch of government. By preserving traditional commissioner districts in Elbert County, districts that have now grown into distinct and increasingly opposed power centers, are we preserving a type of government that the Founders attempted to avoid?
On the other hand, by keeping the now polarized commissioner district scheme, are we enabling a forum for dissent for dissent’s sake, for no greater purpose than to manufacture discordant events to create political sideshows and opportunities for politician self-aggrandizement?
Reorganization of the commissioner districts seems like the time to consider these questions. Perhaps homogenous district boundaries might help mitigate some of the sources of conflict that have, sadly, become routine in Elbert County.