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Marching out of Georgia: Why Mississippi shouldn't fully copy Peach State

By Ted Carter

Role models are wonderful things, but sometimes you want to be careful about them.

Such is the case with the aspirations of Mississippi’s business and civic leaders to be like Georgia.

The Peach State in general and Atlanta in particular have had plenty of success to boast about over the last couple of decades. And Mississippi has good cause for wanting to duplicate that kind of success.

A survey by the Mississippi Economic Council found that more than over three-quarters of the 2,200 business and civic leaders polled believe the Magnolia State can achieve the same kind of success as Georgia in coming years.

Mississippi might want to consider not fully emulating Georgia, however.

Georgia’s elected leaders made a huge mistake recently that Mississippi would do well to take note of and try to avoid. In fact, it’s a mistake that Mississippi nearly made this past legislative session until lawmakers let a get-tough-on-immigration law die.

Seeking to placate anti-immigration fervor, Georgia’s governor and legislators enacted a stringent “papers please” law that goes into effect July 1. They ignored farmers and business leaders from across the state who urged them not to do it.

Elected leaders were hell-bent on driving illegal immigrants out of Georgia. It worked. And now lawmakers seem surprised.

The result is a farm labor shortage so severe that crops are rotting in the field and a panicked Gov. Nathan Deal is mulling the idea of sending 2,000 people who are on criminal probation and unemployed to work farms across the state. The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reports that Georgia farmers have been forced to leave millions of dollars’ worth of blueberries, onions, melons and other crops unharvested and rotting in the summer heat.

The newspaper notes that barely a month ago, Gov. Deal welcomed the TV cameras into his office as he proudly signed the illegal immigration bill into law. Two weeks later, Deal ordered an investigation into the impact of the law he had just signed, an obvious concession that he had not thought through the implications of the law he so badly wanted enacted.

The investigation, which the Journal-Constitution said included a survey of 230 Georgia farmers, found that farmers expect to need more than 11,000 workers at some point over the rest of the season. That number probably underestimates the real need, since not every farmer in the state responded to the survey.

The law is causing real pain for already stressed farmers as well as the small-town businesses that supply those farms with goods and services. As one political blogger wrote: Georgia is going to reap what it has sown even if its “farmers can’t.”

Meanwhile, Georgia’s last governor, two-term Republican Sonny Perdue, is disturbed by the harshness that has set into the state’s politics since his departure in January. He told WXIA-TV that he wants Georgia to be known as a state that was friendly and welcoming to people. Next, with much candor, Perdue noted: “There’s a real legitimate worker shortage where there is a real fear and perception that Georgia is probably not a state to be seen in if you’re of a different color.”


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About Ted Carter