For the past five years, Patterson Hood has lived in Portland, Oregon, more than 2,600 miles away from his former hometown of Athens, Georgia. But Hood moved to Georgia from his home state of Alabama in the mid-Nineties. And during his two-plus decades living in Athens, the Drive-By Truckers frontman became weary of hearing that the state would turn blue one day, to no avail.
Hood was overjoyed to see his former home state turn blue for the first time since 1992 last month. Below, he gives his perspective on the importance of the upcoming senatorial-runoff election and dispenses some of the myths about red and blue states.
I moved to Athens in 1994 and I was there for 21 years. I’m still a business owner in Georgia; my band is based in [Athens]. But the whole time I lived there, I kept hearing how Georgia was becoming a purple state and was going to be a blue state. I had become pretty skeptical. I was really active in Jason Carter’s 2014 gubernatorial campaign. I really thought he had a good chance. So I was kind of like, “OK, I’ll believe it when I see it.”
I can’t stress enough the importance of what Stacey Abrams has done. She’s made a world of difference, just with the ridiculously high number of people she’s helped register to vote and her ability to really motivate people. I’ll go to my grave thinking that [Governor] Kemp basically stole the [2018 gubernatorial] election from her; all the things they did to disenfranchise voters. I really give [Abrams] a whole lot of credit. She’s just an amazing human being and has done so much for the state.
I’ve been really encouraged to see what happened with the election, with Biden winning Georgia and seeing Rev. Raphael Warnock and Jon Ossoff make the runoff. They’re both really strong candidates with a lot of to say. They have a lot of good ideas and are really passionate, and they’re both running against pretty bad candidates. The extent of insider trading that Kelly Loeffler and David Perdue were involved in is pretty horrific, as far as getting access to information in the early days of the pandemic and then profiting from it. And all the while, [they were] playing down the dangers of what was happening. I just feel guilty that I don’t live there so I’m not still able to vote.
Georgia has always been such a diverse state, even though it was known as this red state. Atlanta has been one of the fastest-growing cities in America for decades and is an extremely diverse city. Athens, of course, is tiny, but there’s a lot of diversity and progressive-mindedness in that town, too.
Here in Oregon, we’re notoriously this super-liberal blue state, but if you go outside the city limits of Portland, it’s not that different from rural Alabama or rural Georgia. Portland just happens to be the population center of this state, and I think that’s more and more true all over America. It’s really easy for people to make fun of the South because, Lord knows, we often make it easy for people to make fun of. There are no shortage of people who live out some of the stereotypes that people think of when they think of Southerners.
But take a state like Alabama, where Trump won by a massive margin. Doug Jones was such an admirable man on so many levels and was defeated, basically, by an idiot. But still, when you look at the actual numbers of people, 40 percent of the state of the size of Alabama is still a very substantial number of people. Biden actually got more votes in Alabama than in Delaware; it was just a smaller percentage because there are still so many people on the other side. Georgia, thanks to having Atlanta and Savannah and tiny but super-blue Athens, is kind of turning that tide.
I know everybody’s really burned out on all of this, having gone through what everybody had to go through in order just to vote in the first place, and now being called upon to have to go through it again. But it’s so important, because if we can’t win these two positions in the runoff, it’s going to set us back so much: Any hope for some of the changes that those of us who supported and voted for Biden in the presidential race have, it’s going to make it so much harder for any of that to come to fruition. So I really just hope that everyone will go the extra mile to do what they have to do to get out there and vote and make this happen. Georgia does have early voting and you can write in, so, by all means, please do it.
As told to Jonathan Bernstein