Around 60 years ago Fayette County was run by Democrats. Not only were all the elected offices filled by Democrats, but those who decided who would be elected were Democrats.
That’s because everyone was a Democrat. I grew up in a Democratic family. Republican was a dirty word.
But that’s when Southern Democrats were conservative. They were social conservatives and fiscal conservatives, as well.
Usually a small group of influential people in the county hand-picked the candidates for office. Votes weren’t necessarily “bought” (even though some were), but having the backing of one of those influential folks was enough for many people to vote for the one being backed.
Elections were decided during the summer primaries. There was no real opposition in the November General Elections. Occasionally there was a token Republican opponent in some races, but the chance of one defeating the Democratic candidate was as slim as a snowball’s chance in … the Devil’s domain (this is still a family newspaper).
Nobody called the movers and shakers of the Democratic Party back then a “political machine.” Political machines were in places like New York and Chicago — not in a small rural county like Fayette County.
But political machines were in counties all over Georgia and the South. Heck, they were everywhere.
My, how things have changed. Or have they?
Granted, Democrats no longer have control over the local politics. In fact, Democrats no longer have control over state politics.
Several years ago, around the time Ronald Reagan ran for president, it became fashionable to be identified as a Republican. Everyone jumped on the Republican bandwagon.
Politicians who had run and been elected as Democrats suddenly became Republicans, explaining the move by saying they hadn’t left the Democratic Party, the Democratic Party had left them.
And that was mostly true. As more and more Yankee Americans began moving south, the traditional political values espoused by Southern Democrats began to be over-ruled by the more liberal-thinking arm of the Party.
So, many Southern Democrats did the only thing they could do: switch to a party that was more aligned with their traditional thinking. And naturally what followed was a Republican take over of local government.
For a time the Republican Party enjoyed the success of its new found power.
Candidates were apparently selected by the Party and ran unopposed in the primaries. There was Democratic opposition in November. Elections were actually decided in November and not during the July primaries.
Gradually, however, things returned to way it was. The exception was the Republican Party filled all the elected seats and the Democrats were on the sidelines.
More often than not we had office holders were actually liberal-leaning Democrats masquerading as Republicans. One only had to look at their voting records and their stance on government intervention into our private lives to realize they might be fiscally conservative, but they were far-removed from social conservatism.
And, just as night follows day, the old political machine returned. Look around. It’s not hard to recognize. There are small groups of people who want to tell you how and for whom to vote.
They distort the truth. Sometimes they outright lie. They do a good job of convincing the electorate that they (the so-called power brokers) know what’s best and what they say is the gospel when it comes to for whom you should vote.
Taking a phrase from the Bible: “Beware of those who preach to itching ears.” Be cautious of those who tell you what you want to hear. Do so and you will get exactly what you deserve: poor leadership, poor decision makers and leaders who as far from leading as New York is from San Francisco.
Study the issues and remember that nothing is for free. You can bet the farm that if someone is in the background orchestrating a political campaign, they are in it for one reason: because they will benefit in some way — financially or otherwise.
For heaven’s sake vote this Tuesday. But vote wisely and not because of something you have been told or read that does not meet the smell test. If it smells fishy, more than likely it is. And the longer it’s out the worst it smells.
And remember: you will have to live with that smell for at least the next four years.
Kerlin’s roots go back generations in southwestern Fayette County. He’s a regular columnist for this newspaper.