Pat Looney is a Sun Belt immigrant, an upwardly mobile executive who moved his wife and three children from Chicago to Boston to Houston to Atlanta, settled into a $95,000 home in suburban Cobb County and, last week, voted for Republicans and whiskey.
The Republicans didn't make it. But whiskey did.
Cobb County was one of three suburban Atlanta jurisdictions to pass liquor referendums last week by narrow margins. Their passage is attributed largely to new residents like Looney, who flock here from the North and Midwest, altering cultural values and bolstering two-party politics.
"We'd like to start a border patrol to keep them out, or change the immigration laws," said Tommy Coleman, executive director of the state Democratic Party. Neither is likely.
Democrat Joe Frank Harris won the governor's race easily, but his Republican opponent took Cobb County and 37 percent of the vote statewide. In 1980, Cobb voters played a key role in upsetting Sen. Herman Talmadge for Republican Mack Mattingly, after the Democrat railed against "carpetbaggers."
Strategists, meanwhile, pore over referendum results for a message in a bottle. What they are finding is that whiskey, for two decades a never-on-Sunday affair in Cobb County, is another chapter in the Sun Belt saga, with settlers like Looney, 37, elbowing aside traditional Bible Belt values and asserting their own.
"You hear Democratic officeholders complaining that we got these folks to locate their plants here and now they're voting us out of office," said state Sen. Roy Barnes, 34. "They've changed the landscape."
Upon arrival, Looney, a hotel manager, was as surprised at the liquor laws as he was at the composition of his "Yankee" subdivision. There were natives of Ohio, Michigan, New York. "I thought I'd be living with more southerners," he said. Most of his neighbors are Republicans.
"Either we change them to our way of thinking or they'll become a force to be reckoned with," said Bert Lance, state Democratic Party chairman. Such New South Republicans, he believes, can be converted by educating them to the conservative ways of the Southern Democrat.
Cobb County is to Atlanta what Orange County is to Los Angeles, a conservative enclave of 300,000. One of the fastest growing counties in the nation, its population has surged 50 percent since 1970, fueled by white flight and new settlers like Looney. Lockheed-Georgia, the giant C5A contractor, calls it home, as do 77 foreign firms and a Grand Dragon in the New Order of the Ku Klux Klan.
Mercedes Benz cars rival pickup trucks in towns like Kennesaw, which passed a law requiring a gun in every home. Scientific creationism is taught in one high school.
Suburban growth remains explosive. Census figures show that between 1975 and 1980 Atlanta drew almost as many out-of-state migrants for its size as Houston. "Twelve years ago this was farm land," said Len Pagano, Chicago-born PR director for the Cobb County Chamber of Commerce. "Now you can get fresh bagels -- and whiskey."
Five Catholic churches and one synagogue have sprung up in the last decade. Parking lots are filled with out-of-state tags.
Twenty years ago, beer sales were approved in Cobb County. But rivals waged a bitter court fight over mixed drinks before locals finally in 1971 won the right to order scotch every day but Sunday. Last week, many of the same newcomers who bolstered Republicans in the Sun Belt tipped the scale for liquor on Sunday. In Clayton and Gwinnett counties, residents approved mixed drink sales.
Proponents argued that high-tech jobs would follow whiskey to the suburbs, making these counties competitive with the city of Atlanta, which allows sales of mixed drinks every day. Fancy chain restaurants that won't build without a liquor license would draw new hotels, conventions, factories. "You don't take an industrial prospect to the Waffle House," scoffed Tom Collins, a pro-whiskey man who fended off calls from whiskey foes who identified themselves as Jack Daniels.
Baptist ministers fought back from the pulpit, but they didn't succeed, and some natives are embittered.
"If you give them liquor, will they want prostitutes next?" wondered Democrat Harmon Born, a prominent Ford dealer.