10/28/2010 01:46 pm ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Winning is Preferable

True story: This election season, big business in Atlanta aggressively targeted an uncompromisingly progressive state senator. They lost. He won. How? Voters turned out for a primay, in the dead heat of July, and together rejected business's shoddy*. Never give up, never give up, NEVER give up.

Here's the backstory: Chamber of Commerce/developer/old-guard-media types here found themselves a nice enough guy to run against longtime, outspoken and unquestionably progressive state senate incumbent Vincent Fort. On the surface, this opposition candidate (Graham Balch) appeared well-meaning enough. Hey, he lives in my neighborhood. The first brochure we got made a strong pitch for public education. Works for me.

At first blush, I was genuinely impressed. His ads were good. Very good, in fact. I found myself seriously considering for whom I would vote. I knew that Vincent Fort wasn't perfect, and I also knew that no one else is either.

But then things got strange. Suddenly, high-gloss, very smart, increasingly nasty mailings started arriving. In one week, THREE were in our mail box. Now, that's expensive. And I got to thinking, "How come someone's spending all this money for a primary election, for a state Senate seat?" It just didn't smell right.

A little digging showed that this challenger had real money behind him and his negative assertions just did not sound like the Vince Fort I'd gotten to know. Here's what we found, with very little effort, I might add.

The crème d' la crème of Atlanta's business oligarchy* were furious with Senator Fort, an unrelenting thorn in their side. At the top of their long list of objections, Senator Fort had recently stymied their efforts to privatize our vitally important public hospital. (In addition to being an important and highly regarded regional trauma center and an outstanding provider of a full range of specialized care, Grady Memorial takes care of a whole lot of poor people.)

Collectively, according to Balch's campaign, these privateers had forked over more than $133,000. That's a lotta bread. Ah, but wait! Neither Republicans nor Independents were wasting their time running for the seat. So the winner of the primary was ... the winner.

With all that money -- or maybe just to stay out of Atlanta's headlines? -- they'd contracted with a political bunch that hides out in a back corner of Alabama. It's called "Sand Mountain Communications" -- trust me, I've lived in Alabama and you do NOT want "Sand Mountain" linked to your name in public or in private -- and it fronts for all kinds of wrong-wingers. The president of this organization is a guy who, at this writing, lists one and only "group" affiliation on his "Linked-In" page: the Georgia Republican Party. They unabashedly hustle for wrong-wing causes and candidates, including (but far from limited to) a local rash of Tea Party-ites.

Here's how Senator Fort saw things in the runup to the election, "Fort tells Atlanta Progressive News he believes the business community has united behind Balch's candidacy not only to unseat Fort himself, but to send a message to other progressive elected officials that they should think twice before thwarting the Metro Atlanta Chamber of Commerce on anything it wants."

My conclusion? These backers were seriously "dissing" those of us who have been well represented by Senator Fort. Sure, a lot of people have moved into this district since we elected him in 1997, but we try not to be stupid. A lot of us also admire the courage of this feisty guy and have for a long time. Did they really think voters in the DEMOCRATIC primary would somehow fail to notice, or not care when alerted to the fact that their guy repeatedly voted in Republican primaries and had worked at one time for a Republican congressman. Outrageous!

So, for the last couple of weeks before the primary, I talked this up in every check-out line I stood in, every high falutin' meeting I attended and in any parking lot where I could get someone to listen to my disgust. Maybe all those people who assured me they'd go vote really did. Either way, I'd had my say. I'd done what I could.

And so had a lot of other people. Senator Fort was re-elected with almost 68% of the vote.

We, the sovereign people, have all too many good reasons to be cynical. But here's at least one real life success story. Even when reactionary forces plow big bucks into bringing out the worst in us, it doesn't always work. That's of course if -- and ONLY if -- we get out there, stir things up and turn people out to vote.


*-- commemorating the inferior materials provided by war profiteers at the beginning of the U.S. Civil War.
**-- Atlanta Progressive News reported donors including: Tim McCabe of Coca Cola; former Council President Lisa Borders; David Easterly, Board Member of Cox Enterprises; Humberto Garcia of Coca Cola; Paul Topping of Georgia Pacific; April Bohannon of Cox Enterprises; AJ Robinson, President of Central Atlanta Progress; Anne Cox Chambers of Cox Enterprises; Sam Williams, President of the Metro Atlanta Chamber of Commerce (MACOC); Frank McCloskey of Georgia Power; Pete Correll of MACOC; Tom Bell of MACOC, also Vice Chairman of the US Chamber of Commerce; and Jimmy Williams, Chairman of the Woodruff Foundation (former chairman and CEO of SunTrust Bank). Out-of state financial interests also funded Balch's campaign, including Nicholas Apostolator of Morgan Stanley; Joyce Hsieh of Goldman Sachs; and Hunter Pierson of Goldman Sachs.