Charlie Harper: McDonald PSC Win Shows Way Forward For GOP

Charlie Harper

Friday, January 15th, 2021

The first week of January was a long year in Georgia politics.  The most expensive Senate elections in history flipped two seats and control of the entire Senate.  A protest over the result of November’s elections became an occupation of the Nation’s capitol building.  

Along the way many of Georgia’s elected officials and elections staff became part of intra-party skirmishes that are part loyalty tests to President Trump, part blame-game, and entirely unseemly.  As is the nature of politics, much of it was completely shocking while totally expected in the aftermath of such abject failures.

Somewhat lost in the list of events, Republican Bubba McDonald was re-elected as a Georgia Public Service Commissioner.  Given that November’s election awarded the state’s sixteen electoral votes to Joe Biden in addition to the aforementioned flip of the US Senate, winning a seat on the PSC seems like a small consolation prize for Georgia’s Republicans.  

Not only should the victory be acknowledged, but Republicans who are already knee deep into circular firing squad mode should look at McDonald’s win as a touchstone when trying to figure out what went so horribly and epically wrong for them.  It would be a far more productive exercise than pretending November and January elections didn’t happen or that the results are a one-time aberration. 

McDonald’s win complicates the narrative that the elections were a referendum on President Trump.  He was the first state wide elected official in the country to endorse Trump before he was the Republican nominee in 2016 and remained squarely in the pro-Trump camp through the duration.  

Any election is a contest to get a majority of the votes cast.  Each individual voter makes his or her own decision based on individual reasoning, so broad brush explanations as to why someone one while others lost will always be based on best guesses. 

In a contest where the results are roughly 1% of the voters who chose to vote for Democrats for the US Senate but a Republican for the Public Service Commission, we’ll chose to go with an explanation based on the following premise.  McDonald’s record didn’t offend a small subset of Georgia’s voters that wanted a change at the national level but like the trends here at home.

McDonald wasn’t just early to support President Trump.  He was also among the first to publicly embrace the widespread commercial use of solar power as part of Georgia’s long term electric generation capacity.  

At a time when too many Republican opinion makers would mark Earth Day by suggesting you turn on all your lights or drive your SUV around the block to “own the libs”, McDonald began laying the ground work to incorporate additional renewable carbon-free energy into our electric grid. It was dismissed by many when he added 525 megawatts of solar generating capacity to Georgia Power’s Renewable Action Plan back in 2013.  He was getting awards from The Solar Foundation for his work in 2014.

In 2021, the “millennials” that were derided as kids a decade ago by GOP activists are mainstream workers and voters.  They care about the environment.  And they’ve been paying attention.

During much of the last decade, too many Republican leaders’ message to millennials was “you’ll vote for us when you start paying taxes.”  Today, many of those millennials reside in the north Atlanta suburbs.  They have jobs in the high tech and finance that pay them well into the six figures – and the tax liabilities commensurate with their occupations.  They’re not voting for Republicans.

Republican leaders, still preoccupied with an aging voter base, have continued marketing Cadillacs to a generation that wants Teslas.  The result has been an almost obsession with throwing red meat at the dwindling base the party already has rather than marketing to the customers of tomorrow that have loudly and clearly become the voters of today.

But not Bubba.  Bubba got about 2% more of the vote than did 2 Senators who spent far more money and got far more air time, but sold the same messages to a shrinking number of voters. Republicans leaders need to spend some quality time reflecting on why.