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Democrats must avoid focusing on losing issues

Bill Shipp

Don't do it, Democrats. Don't spend the next year griping about the new state law to require voters to produce picture IDs.

Don't be misled by the Rev. Jesse Jackson into mounting a full-scale campaign to renew the federal Voting Rights Act and to single out the South again for special enforcement.

Don't fall into the trap of trying to smear Gov. Sonny Perdue as unethical.

None of these issues will help you win the 2006 elections. They will only contribute to another round of humiliating defeats.

Sure, it's true. Even as Perdue depicts himself as the epitome of the ethical public official, he accepts gifts and perks from special interests. His critics say that he has a history of such conduct going back to his days as a legislator. Is that hypocritical? Of course. So what? Such behavior does not translate into defeat at the ballot box.

No governor's election in memory has been decided on the issue of ethics. The voters don't care. Ethics is an inside-baseball topic. The same goes for government reorganization and legislative rules changes. Only the Capitol elite are concerned.

Screaming at the Republicans on the voter ID issue will have one result: reaffirmation that the Georgia Democratic Party is the party of blacks - and no one else. Voter ID is a racial issue. So is the budding campaign to renew the federal Voting Rights Act.

Of course, access to the ballot without fear of intimidation or restraint is important. It was the centerpiece of the civil rights struggle 40 years ago. Protecting minority voting rights remains essential to protecting democracy.

However, one can already sense that some leading Georgia Democrats plan to use voting rights in the 2006 election as a marquee campaign plank to galvanize black voters. That would be a dumb move. The plan may work in a Democratic primary, but it is a candidate killer in a state general election dominated by white independents and Republicans.

Georgia Republicans last weekend staged what has been described as an exuberant state convention. The GOP is ready to go to bat for an incumbent governor and engage in a battle for lieutenant governor that is certain to energize its base.

In addition, Republicans can count on their "faith-based" followers to pour out of their pews and vote en masse for the "morality ticket."

The Democrats' lame showing in the 2004 race for the U.S. Senate indicates the donkeys need to get back to basics if they are ever to re-establish a balance of power in the Statehouse.

Whatever happened to the Democrats' "kitchen table" issues - the items that affect nearly every Georgian - that kept the party on top for so many years?

Those middle-class matters are more pressing than ever. Addressing health care, shoring up the economy, cutting middle-class taxes and restoring dedication to educational improvement - those are only a few basic items that the Democrats (and Republicans) ought to address.

The Republican record of helping working-class Georgians in the past three years has been dismal.

Teachers and other state employees have seen earlier pay increases gobbled up by spiraling health insurance premiums. Prescription drug costs, already at breathtaking highs, are still climbing.

Energy prices continue to soar. We are losing good-paying jobs by the thousands. Illegal immigrants continue to pour in, overburdening schools, jails and hospitals.

Georgia colleges face additional tuition increases of 5 to 10 percent to compensate for a sustained lack of funding. Our once-prospering system of higher education is gasping to keep apace with the region - for the first time since the 1950s.

K-12 school funding is likely to take another $300 million hit before the next election rolls around.

Meanwhile, the transparency of our representative democracy has been shrouded in new cloaks of official secrecy.

Entrenched Republican leaders are sure to respond with promises of working-class tax cuts. They will vow to lower property taxes - by increasing the regressive sales tax. And you can bet that reactionary politicians will produce another gigantic red herring, such as the 2004 anti-gay marriage amendment, to divert attention from pressing empty-wallet problems.

Eighteen months before the election, the campaigns have already started. In the early stages, both sides have dwelled on symbolism - voter ID, government ethics and various religious initiatives that avoid real-people topics.

For generations, reaching back into the fiery rhetoric of racial segregation, Peach State pied pipers of both major political parties have serenaded Georgians with empty tunes. Their only goal: to serve enduring special interests and switch citizens' attention away from their plights of poverty and ignorance. Perhaps next year's voters will be smarter. They should be. They have been deceived long enough to finally wise up.

Syndicated columnist Bill Shipp writes on Georgia politics. Write him at P.O. Box 440755, Kennesaw, GA, 30160 or e-mail bshipp@bellsouth.net . His Web site is www.billshipp.com . His column appears on Wednesday and Sunday.