Georgia On My Mind: Saxby’s Term is Up


Johnny Isakson is commonly introduced as “Georgia’s favorite Senator” by just about everyone down in the peach state. Including his senior colleague Saxby Chambliss.

In a state where most politicians are referred to by their first name, this Senate duo shares a unique history. They were good friends in college, their wives were in the same sorority together, the two served in the Georgia state Senate together, then the House of Representatives and now the Senate. They are roommates and probably have eaten more meals together than any other two Senators.

Saxby’s term is up. It’s hard to forget the booing from state delegates and guests at the GAGOP state convention in 2007. Many in the state, including myself (I spent three and a half years in Georgia, tangled in the rich political landscape) understood this second term to be his final term. It was implied in many of his speeches and surrogates flat out said it while campaigning for his 2008 bid for reelection which resulted in a runoff.

His runoff must be put into context too.

This was a purposeful runoff. It was one of the most masterful measures of political will I’ve ever witnessed. All across south Georgia, activists were buzzing, “I want the Democrat to lose, but Saxby isn’t getting my vote unless there’s a runoff.” Tens of thousands of first-time black voters coupled with reduced Republican turnout and some of those Republicans who did show up not voting on the Senate line of the ballot, sent Saxby to a runoff with the liberal state Senator Jim Martin. Mind you, Martin was a fantastically poor candidate who couldn’t take a good picture to save his life. This was one of the first signs of the tea party—before there was one.

Things were so tense that RNC Chairman Mike Duncan marshalled the full resources of the national committee, pouring them into Georgia. On victory night, Duncan and Saxby’s team refused to allow GAGOP state Chairman Sue Everhart on stage.

Saxby seemed to be drifting left, with he and Isakson scoring a measly 76 with the American Conservative Union that year; considerably lower than his lifetime rating of 92.89 at the time.

Republicans on the ground believe they can be bolder in the Senate. For them, while 2005 (the time Georgia was represented by two Republicans in the Senate) was a short numerical time ago, it was forever ago in politics. The map across the south has seen more of that political change than any other region of the country, with conservative Democrats in exodus from their party of their parents and grandparents.

Georgia stands as one of the red states where its representation in the Senate doesn’t match its political base or House delegation. Georgia deserves representation inside the Senate that more accurately reflects its conservative positions in a chamber that has grown more liberal as the nation grows more conservative.

Saxby is to be commended for his service. While Speaker John Boehner and Senator John McCain are personal preferences of mine (and friends of Saxby) as far as politicians go — the statesmen looking for compromise, Georgia needs a conservative fighter. Georgia has a chance to be bold in 2014 when Republicans choose their U.S. Senate nominee.

At least one man in particular (although there are a few good options to consider) should be talking to his staff—like yesterday. Congressman Tom Price, outgoing Chairman of the House Republican Policy Committee is a doctor, the leading legislative author for the bill that would replace Obamacare, a proven conservative fighter, and can raise the money should he face a tough primary. Price puts this race outside of any Democrats hopes of stealing the seat from conservative Republican hands.

Consider this a recruiting call. I’ll stand with Price regardless of what Saxby decides to do. This is for Georgia.

Should Price seek the Senate seat, his congressional seat will be heavily fought over. The sixth district is full of affluent Republican voters. Former Secretary of State Karen Handel, who is also Fulton-based, would easily be the heavy favorite sending Georgia’s first Republican woman to the halls of Congress.

Saxby’s graceful exit will make Georgia stronger and his legacy will be better for it.

There’s more good news for Georgia. If an idiot is not nominated again, 12th district blue dog Democrat John Barrow will be gone. He’ll raise a lot of money, go out kicking, slandering, and screaming, but the last deep south white Democrat will be gone. This is a perfect opportunity to elect another Black Republican or bring Ray McKinney or Col. Wayne Mosley (Ret.) back to the district. Sometimes, admittedly rarely, I have half a mind to run myself.

Some species ought to be extinct. The moderate Georgia Senator and the deep south blue dog Democrat chief among these species.