Historically, Coffee County, Georgia has voted Republican in most elections and is poised once again to pull the lever for Nathan Deal, Johnny Isakson and Jack Kingston-and one has to ask the question why?
Douglas is Coffee County’s largest city, a majority-minority town that has the largest voting precinct with 12,976 registered voters as of July 20th. The county has a total of 19,092 registered voters.
In the city of Douglas, African-Americans comprise of 45% of the population and Latinos make up approximately 7%.
In 2008 Republican John McCain won 64% of the presidential vote.
Broxton’s voting precinct has the second most registered voters in Coffee County with approximately 2,000. With the exception of the West Green precinct, every other precinct voted (Broxton, Ambrose, Bridgetown and Nicholls) in the range of 34% to 42% for Obama in 2008. In the Douglas voting precinct, 42% voted for Barack Obama on Election Day 2008.
The average median household income is $34,451 (2008 census estimate) in Coffee County which is well below the national average of $50,834.
21% of Coffee County citizens live below the poverty line and the national average is 14.7%.
This is a rural community and has been one of the counties that have been reliably conservative in recent election cycles.
Recently, U.S. representative Jack Kingston of the First Congressional District paid a visit to Douglas to discuss the re-opening of the Pilgrim Pride plant in early 2011.
All the cities dignitaries were there for a nice photo opportunity including the Douglas city mayor and JoAnne Lewis, Executive Director of the Douglas-Coffee County Economic Development Authority (EDA).
According to the Douglas Enterprise newspaper, Lewis told Kingston that the EDA is giving $1 million to Pilgrim’s Pride as part of a state and local incentive package for the company to reopen the plant.
So the government did play a role in helping Pilgrim Pride re-open, despite conservative opposition to things such as the Democrats’ economic stimulus which was passed in 2009.
Georgia businesses and government agencies have received $6.8 billion in economic stimulus funds since the program’s inception, according to a federal website.
Coffee County still has the highest jobless rate in southwest Georgia. 16.7% of the workforce is unemployed. But that could change, because now the area’s largest employer is preparing to reopen and hire 1400 people.
In a 2008 Georgia Trend article Lewis had commented about government assistance by saying “A lot of businesses will ante up first, and then go for assistance.” She says that works better than approaching government funding sources with hat in hand, without any financial commitment from people in the area.
President Barack Obama’s stimulus package may have created or saved as many as 3.3 million jobs last quarter and lowered the unemployment rate by as much as 1.8 percentage points, the Congressional Budget Office said. However, in Coffee County , many residents may believe the same conservative rhetoric that the stimulus didn’t work.
What has Jack Kingston done to help Coffee County? What have Georgia Republicans such as Saxby Chambliss, Johnny Isakson and Sonny Perdue done to help Coffee County?
In Kingston’s August visit to Coffee County, the Douglas Enterprise reported that poultry farmer, Walt Dockery asked Congressman Kingston to support a bill that would allow the growers to receive emergency loans until they get birds back in their poultry houses.
Well, if Kingston was against the 2009 economic stimulus bill and most recently the small business bill, the answer is likely a silent no, but Kingston is not willing to say that during an election year.
Kingston has been against most legislation ranging from an economic stimulus to unemployment benefits to small business help. However, it hasn’t stopped Kingston and other Republicans from accepting credit for the economic stimulus that they voted against in the first place.
While there are still no direct small business grants available from the federal government, many state development agencies offer direct small business grants and other types of financial assistance designed to encourage and assist entrepreneurs in starting or expand a small business.
The federal government, through the SBA (Small Business Administration), offers a variety of loans to start or expand a small business.
The Pilgrim’s Pride poultry processing plant closed last year that stripped Coffee County of more than 1,000 jobs. Shortly afterwards, the Wayne Farms poultry processing plant closed.
The poultry plant had received a promise to reopen in January 2011 (after the November elections), but Republicans are attempting to use Democrat-passed initiatives in an election year to gain credibility-especially when Republicans have sat back in opposition to President Obama’s economic initiatives since Day One.
Georgia governor Sonny Perdue led the conservative chorus of skepticism in regard to the stimulus, and eventually started ‘slowly’ implementing the Democrat-passed legislation after admitting it might not be all that bad.
In a news release Pilgrim Pride president Don Jackson said reopening the Douglas plant is based upon an improving economy.
“Feed costs appear to have stabilized and there are growing signs that the economy is improving. With many retailers and food service operators planning to feature chicken in the months ahead, demand is strengthening,” he said.
The county is generally known as a conservative county from a voting standpoint, but from time to time, the county occasionally votes Democrat.
In a year of economic turmoil for the state of Georgia, Coffee County may have a strong chance of turning blue in 2010.
Former Governor Roy Barnes was the last statewide candidate who ran as a Democrat to win Coffee County in 1998 with an astounding 62 percent of the vote.