ATLANTA -- The tea party spirit is alive and well in a Georgia county, where less than 20 years ago Newt Gingrich led a national movement that propelled Republicans to control of the U.S. House of Representatives. And while they may not have the power to stop a new Atlanta Braves stadium that is on a rocket-sled pace toward approval by a GOP dominated Cobb County Commission, they have likely been awakened to a frenzy that could be a preview for 2014 in many parts of the nation.
Earlier this month, the Atlanta Braves baseball team announced that it would abandon its current home field in downtown Atlanta in 2017 for one of those mega-fancy new ballparks to be located in the suburban and traditionally conservative Republican Cobb County, which sits just north of the city limits of Atlanta.
When the stadium was first announced, opinion polls showed that most voters in the county approved of the move.
But hidden in even those first flash surveys was not-so-good news for the politicians who negotiated the deal in secret and decided to vote on the project just a few weeks later, with no real public hearing on a massive stadium being created in their county. The earliest of polls showed that if any tax dollars were used to help create or maintain a new home for the Braves, support by the voters dropped to well below 30 percent.
And those polls were taken before it was announced that taxpayers would chip in what is publicly stated to be in the neighborhood of $300 million, but which, according to columnist Kyle Wingfield of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution newspaper, is actually closer to $550 million.
That price tag, along with the new stadium's location, set near an already traffic-clogged intersection of interstates, brought about a visceral reaction from voters who felt blindsided and left out of the process. It seemed for a day or two that the simmering irritation felt by most voters in the area would stay at a muted "low boil" level. But in the past week the local tea party blew the top off of the cauldron.
Thousands of automated phone calls asked voters if they approved, and as one might expect, they did not. They were given the chance to be connected automatically to their individual commissioner's office. Apparently, they chose that option by the thousands, and many a choice word was left on voicemail systems that quickly filled up.
In an effort to stop the calls, county leaders invited the media to film their staff sitting and staring at the phone lines as they rang endlessly. It was supposed to be a photo-op that would garner sympathy for the elected officials. But it instead became a symbol for the frustration these voters were voicing.