February 2, 2017 10:00 AM
One thing for sure, Sally Quillian Yates sure knows how to make an exit. With only a few days remaining as a career prosecutor at the Justice Department, she chose to go out with a bang. By tradition, the Deputy Attorney General from an outgoing Administration – in this case Ms. Yates — becomes Acting Attorney General for a short time until the new Administration’s selection of the nation’s chief law enforcement officer is confirmed by the Senate. This is usually a quiet caretaker role to ensure a smooth transition.
Then came President Trump’s decision to issue last weekend an Executive Order temporarily suspending travel to the U.S. of citizens from seven Muslim countries. Despite the Justice Department’s own Office of Legal Counsel’s prior review and determination that the Executive Order was legal, Ms. Yates’ personally found the order objectionable on policy and legal grounds and instructed the Justice Department to not defend it in court. For this act of [insert here your personal or political preference among the following nouns or adjectives: courage, arrogance, conscious, or partisanship], she was summarily fired and replaced.
Within hours of this showdown, Ms. Yates was heralded back home as the future savior of the Georgia Democratic Party – and even Republicans should recognize that she would be politically formidable. Despite how one might feel about her final twenty-four hours as a federal government employee, her career as a federal prosecutor has been impressive. She tackled political corruption in Georgia on the local and state level in a bipartisan fashion, successfully prosecuting corrupt Atlanta officials in an Airport bribery scandal, Mayor Bill Campbell, Fulton County Commission Chair Mitch Skandalakis, and State School Superintendent Linda Shrenko. As U.S. Attorney from 2009 to 2013, she helped raise awareness of the scourge of human trafficking in our state and directed her office to successfully attack and prosecute this crime.
If Ms. Yates chooses to enter the Democratic political arena, she faces tough odds. Georgia under Republican leadership has a great deal to be proud of in recent years. Governor Deal and the Republican dominated General Assembly have together helped navigate Georgia through the worst economic decline since the Great Depression, maintained Georgia’s AAA bond rating, made progress on saving the HOPE scholarship, launched criminal justice reform, improved the state’s business environment making Georgia the number one state in the nation to do business, expanded school choice through the Charter School Constitutional Amendment and special needs scholarships, deepened the Savannah Harbor, tackled human trafficking, conserved water, and significantly stepped up funding on transportation.
However, much more needs to be done and next year’s statewide races for Governor and other constitutional offices will be about Georgia’s future challenges and not past accomplishments. Small town Georgia continues to lose jobs and population. Urban, suburban, and rural school districts alike must find a way to reach students at the youngest ages who come from challenging socio economic backgrounds, and high school students who don’t want to go to college must still learn job skills to help them compete in the 21st Century. We have a road transportation system that needs greater attention despite recent gains and our mass transit network in Metro Atlanta remains a patch work of disjointed “Tower of Babel” systems. Our statewide network of trauma centers is inadequate. Medical care for the neediest among us must be addressed. We have a growing legal immigrant population struggling to assimilate. The necessary broadband infrastructure must be developed to keep Georgia regionally, nationally, and globally economically competitive. These are just some of the issues that must be addressed by our future leaders.
Strong political competition from serious-minded candidates on both sides of the political spectrum generally improves the quality of political debate and, more importantly, good government. Therefore, even Republicans should — albeit reluctantly — welcome Ms. Yates to the political arena if she chooses to enter it.
Game on in 2018 and may the party that addresses Georgia’s future best win.