Vote Once, Vote Twice…

Julie and family *not* at a baseball game…

Steve – What was the first baseball game you went to and what do you remember about it? Also, what was the first election you voted in? What do you think have been the most significant changes in sports and politics since then?

Julie – I’m confident that the first ball game I attended was a small town Kentucky tee ball game.  Most of my childhood major league baseball memories involved watching games on TV with my family.  Our favorite team was the Cincinnati Reds (Pete Rose era), and my grandparents were Pirates and Yankees fans respectively.  My grandfather, a Yankees fan, lived very close to the minor league Jamestown Expos stadium, and I enjoyed walking to see a game with him when we were there visiting.  I’ve always loved the close-up, more personal experience of minor league games.  In college, my friends and I would enjoy baseball (and cheap beer) at the Durham Bulls’ old stadium.   

The first election I remember voting in was Reagan-Mondale in 1984.  Not a great introduction to voting as a Democrat, despite the historic moment of having the first woman on a major party ticket. Geraldine Ferraro was was the first politician I saw speak in person. It was at a rally in Raleigh NC that I attended with some college friends.

I freely admit that despite voting in every major election, I did not pay much attention to politics until relatively recently. However, it does seem that even in the last twenty years, the insertion of huge amounts of PAC money into the election process has changed things for the worse.  Certainly the current climate of ignorance and denial of the truth is not helping.

As for sports, I think they feel much more commercial and impersonal than when I was young. Back then we felt connections to the players and coaches, and it seemed like we knew them.  This is especially true of college basketball, where the era of the “one and done” has forced me to learn a new Duke lineup every year, eliminating the feeling of closeness with the team. 

Steve – Duke obviously has a huge tradition of success in baseketball, and your son was part of the marching band at Georgia Tech. How important do you think the whole culture of sports is generally to a local community – whether that’s a college community or beyond, in a larger town or city? When the Braves are doing well, for example, does Atlanta feel like a different place? On the other hand, when they’re not, does something like the controversy over the “new” stadium still have something of a negative effect on the city?

Julie – I was not a big college basketball fan before going to Duke.  I grew up in Texas, where football is king.  However, the success of the team in Coach K’s early years created an infectious environment on campus.  Soon everyone wanted to attend the games.  Duke had definitely been a basketball school previously, but seeing the team blossom and enter the national stage united the campus and created a collective sense of comradery. 

Atlanta is traditionally thought to be a sports town, although its teams historically have had issues finishing the job when in a high stakes situation.  The recent success of the Braves in the World Series (and the Georgia Bulldogs winning the national championship the same year) created some buzz around town, but not with the same sense of unity as on a college campus. At this point, the controversy over the new stadium seems to have abated.  Personally, I’m concerned that there is not a good public transportation option to reach the stadium, and that situation is unlikely to be resolved in the near future.  There are a few local journalists who are still following the Cobb county tax/stadium story, but it seems like the community concern is low.

(For some background on the city’s relationship with sports, check out a new book: “Loserville – How Professional Sports Remade Atlanta, and how Atlanta Remade Professional Sports” by Clayton Trutor)

Steve – When the 2021 All-Star Game – and, ironically, the planned celebration of Braves legend Hank Aaron – was moved out of Atlanta in response to controversial changes to Georgia’s voting laws, there was both praise and condemnation for MLB’s decision. How do you remember that period and the impact on the city? Did the row inevitably dissipate because the Braves won the World Series that year?

Julie – The loss of the All-Star Game temporarily took up some space on the local news cycle but mainly seemed to be fodder for Republican politicians like Brian Kemp, who tried – wrongly – to blame Democrat Stacey Abrams.  I think it actually made more of a national story than a local one. 

Steve – Talking of Duke, one of their recent excellent innovations has been the Polarization Lab, for the study of political partisanship. I know it’s a multi-faceted problem for all of us, and doesn’t lend itself to simplification, but what do you think are some of the reasons why the nation is so divided at the moment, and do you think we’re all just stuck this way for a while?

Julie – The current level of political division in our country is unprecedented in recent history.  I think part of the reason is the willingness of a large portion of our population to believe anything they are told without applying thought or common sense.  The wilful ignorance even when presented with facts and figures is astounding and misinformation campaigns on social media obviously contribute to these issues. In addition, many folks are willing to accept candidates for office that have no qualifications or experience.  I feel extremely lucky that my family, both immediate and in-laws, share my feelings of frustration with this sort of wilful ignorance, so I’m somewhat removed from political division on a personal level. Other families haven’t been so fortunate.

Steve – Like many people, you’ve been pretty active on social media over the last couple of election cycles – what are the ups and downs of having political conversations online? Do you think online echo chambers inevitably lead to further distance between people and ideas; or do people just want to feel like they’re among like-minded individuals before opening up about something potentially divisive?

Julie – I definitely think that we’re into the “online echo chamber” phase on social media.  I personally have blocked or muted multiple right-wing spokespeople on Twitter because I just don’t want to see their lies and misinformation.  So eventually one does reach a point where most of the posts seen are sympathetic ones.  On the other hand, creation of private groups of people with a similar political mindset can give the members a place to vent in a safe space, especially in situations where they would prefer that their family members or coworkers don’t see these sorts of posts.  I created a group just for that reason in 2016 which I have maintained through the years.

Steve – I’m just assuming you voted in the midterms? Were you surprised at how the results nationally ended up? What were the most important issues for you in casting your vote? The abortion issue has perhaps been more contentious in Georgia than in some other states– how big an issue for you was the Supreme Court’s striking down of Roe v Wade?

Julie – Not everyone got to vote in the midterms twice, but as a Georgia resident, I did!  While there are multiple important issues to address, I do feel that abortion rights is the most important.  I was shocked (although perhaps not surprised) to see the Supreme Court overturn Roe v. Wade.  Once Brett Kavanaugh was confirmed, it seemed inevitable where the court was going, no matter what was said during the confirmation hearings.  As a woman and mother, I felt like I had been personally assaulted by this judgment.  To add insult to injury, I was in the politically destitute state of Texas when the judgment came down.  I do feel like maintaining women’s rights is an important issue for many folks on both sides of political spectrum, as seen in the referendum in Kansas, and I’m hopeful that we can come back to the center on this issue at some point. 

Here in Georgia, the courts are still fighting it out to see if the six-week law can be upheld, and it may be that the near future of abortion rights is donating to groups who are transporting women to states still allowing full access to healthcare.  Apparently the abortion issue has other ramifications in Georgia, as I recently read that applications for gynecology fellowships at quality hospitals in the state have decreased.  On a national level, I was happy to see many of the election deniers defeated in the midterms.  Since my son now lives in Arizona, I was especially happy to see Kari Lake lose.  She is frankly an embarrassment to women everywhere.

Steve – What do you think the broader impact on the state will be of Stacey Abrams losing the governorship to Brian Kemp again, in spite of a massive Get-Out-The-Vote effort in both elections? What’s the significance of the recent court battle over early voting? And will the Fulton County investigation into alleged election interference after the 2020 election have an impact on how trustworthy people think elections are generally?

Julie – It was once again tragic that Stacey Abrams lost to good old boy Brian Kemp.  It would definitely have been nice to have a moderating influence to prevent some of the more radical legislation coming out of our gerrymandered state legislature.  Unfortunately, Kemp is popular with a variety of disparate groups of right-wing and moderate voters who applauded his early abandoning of Covid restrictions in the interest of businesses. 

The impact of the recent voting law on early voting has been most evident in the runoff election for Senate.  While there were weeks of early voting with at least two weekends (in some counties) during the general election, the new law has moved the runoff back a month from January to December which restricts early voting to one week.  Therefore, the lines have been extremely long, at least in Fulton county.  I stood in line for two hours last Sunday while my longest wait previously was about 20 minutes on a Friday afternoon.  All over town, records are being set and lines are long, mostly because there are many fewer days to vote.  I’m not sure how much local attention the Fulton county election interference case is getting.  As a Fulton county resident, I am anxiously awaiting my jury duty summons for that trial.  I’ll give you another interview then if I get chosen!

Steve – Even though control of the Senate no longer hangs on the outcome, Georgia’s runoff election on Dec 6 has been described as the “first contest of the 2024 election cycle”. Currently the race between Raphael Warnock and Herschel Walker has the incumbent ahead, but is still closer than many people expected. With high-profile politicians on both sides descending on the state right up to election day, what do you think are going be the deciding factors?

Julie – It will all come down to turnout and enthusiasm. While early voting numbers were hugely encouraging, there was a big drop-off in mail-in ballots at the initial midterm election, apparently related to the 2021 law changes, so it will be interesting to see if that has an effect on the runoff. With the Senate no longer on the line, it seems like Democrats have more reason to turn out, but like all close elections, we’ll find out afterwards.

Steve – Finally, you and I are both parents, so we’re concerned about the sort of world our kids will inherit. One thing that comes through strongly in the Georgia polling is the age split. Warnock has a healthy lead among younger voters, but Walker is ahead among voters over 50, who actually make up almost two-thirds of the total vote. How optimistic do you feel for the future of your state – and the country as a whole – and our ability to solve the sort of problems that require us to work together?

Julie – It does not surprise me that younger voters prefer Democrats.  My adult kids are vocal in their support for liberal policies which are strongly supported by liberal candidates.  Likewise I am not completely surprised that older voters prefer some Republican values, but it is getting increasingly hard to stomach that conservative voters are willing to “hold their noses” and vote for inept, unqualified and lying right-wing candidates. Do these voters over 50 really want their Social Security and Medicare taken away? Do they even understand what is at stake?  

Based on the midterm splits for Kemp and Walker, clearly there are some conservative voters who were unable to stomach voting for Walker, but the fact that so many did is very disappointing.  I am also very concerned that only a few Republicans have spoken out against election denying and the sedition on January 6.  I am worried about what sort of country we are leaving for our children when so many politicians are willing to ignore or even support such an egregious break in our constitutional process.  I can only hope that when our society shifts and some of these older folks are gone, things will change.

Julie with Katie and Kyle

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