Some thoughts for Gov. Brian Kemp on his first year in office

Published 2:56 pm Friday, December 13, 2019

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Forgive me for not writing you sooner. I didn’t want you to think I had forgotten you, but I know you have been busy.

It is hard to believe it has been almost a year since you were sworn into office as Georgia’s 83rd governor and the second member of the Nu Zeta chapter of Lambda Chi Alpha at our beloved University of Georgia. The other, of course, is Joe Frank Harris of Cartersville. Charles Gowen of Brunswick should have been the third one, but when he ran in 1954 the state wasn’t ready for a moderate, thoughtful governor.

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Speaking of moderate, I think you have surprised a lot of people with several of your appointments this year, including the first Hispanic person to serve as a constitutional officer and the first black (and female) person as Cobb County’s district attorney. Of the eight Superior Court judges you have selected, five are women and three are black.

That is quite a change in perception from the guy running those good ol’ boy commercials with the shotgun and the pickup truck during the Republican primary, trying to out-right wing your opponents. You shouldn’t have worried. One got foot-in-the-mouth disease and the other had all the magnetism of a tree stump.

Of all your appointments, however, none has created the stir as that of selecting Kelly Loeffler to replace Johnny Isakson as United States senator from Georgia. (As if he can be replaced.) The announcement was met with mild applause from supporters and howls of protests from those who thought you should have appointed Rep. Doug Collins of Gainesville, a strong supporter of Donald Trump.

They are throwing the term RINO (Republican in Name Only) around like rotten tomatoes. (By the way, have you ever heard anyone referred to by Democrats as a DINO? Me, neither.)

You might be interested to know that I am going to interview the venerable Bob Shaw next week. Mr. Shaw, a former state chairman of the Republican Party and one-time vice chairman of the Republican National Committee, was a Republican when the GOP could have held their state convention in a phone booth and when most of today’s righteously indignant were a gleam in their daddy’s eye. I can’t wait to see what he has to say about all of this.

Loeffler’s appointment is a calculated risk to be sure. No doubt it was designed to win back women, particularly in the metropolitan areas of the state, who have shown signs of defecting from the GOP. Whether they will identify with a multimillionaire who owns a professional women’s basketball team is the question.

I assume you are betting they will and that the hard-rock conservatives will come around next year when she runs in a special election and again for a full term in 2022, a time when you will also be running for reelection.

You have probably already figured out that conservative Republicans who have always shown a penchant for ideological purity over getting elected can either get with the program and back Loeffler in 2020 or get into an intra-party fratricide and end up losing the Senate seat to some Democrat owing their allegiance to Chuck Schumer or (shudder!) Bernie Sanders.

There is always a danger with gubernatorial appointments to high office. In 1970, Jimmy Carter appointed Atlanta attorney David Gambrell and head of the state Democratic party to fill the seat of the late Richard B. Russell. Two years later, Gambrell ran for a full term and was defeated by a little known state representative from Perry, Sam Nunn. And, as they say, the rest is history.

Then there was the appointment of former Gov. Zell Miller, a staunch Democrat, by Gov. Roy Barnes, following the death of Republican Sen. Paul Coverdell in 2000. We all know how that turned out. Zell Miller turned into a staunch conservative and strongly supported the Republican Party. How will Kelly Loeffler turn out?

You have told me previously that you are going to do what you think is right, political considerations be damned. From the passage of the anti-abortion bill to the Loeffler appointment, you seem to be doing just that. Good for you.

I’ll let you get back to running the state but before I go, I want to thank you for your role in getting the field at Sanford Stadium named for Vince Dooley. That is one decision on which both Democrats and Republicans can agree.

Merry Christmas and stay in touch.

— Dick