I’m an Augustan by birth, and no matter where in the state, country, or world I may live, Augusta politics has always held a special place in my heart. That’s saying something, because at times, Augusta politicians can be horribly frustrating and demoralizing. We’re responsible for both Linda Schrenko and Charles Walker, for example.
We’ll leave Schrenko for another day. Let’s discuss Walker.
For much of the 1990s, Augusta was represented in the state senate by Charles Walker. He rose from humble beginnings to own the Augusta Focus, the African American newspaper for the area, as well as numerous other entities. He had an eye for business, but politics was his forte, and it showed. He rose to the rank of Senate Majority Leader in 1996, the first (and only) African American to have held that position. He was nicknamed “The Hammer,” and was a close ally of Governor Roy Barnes. He’s referred to Barnes in the past (though I cannot find the link) as an eagle in a flock of sparrows. Clearly, there was mutual admiration there, as Barnes trusted Walker to ensure his agenda passed the senate.
As with too many in power, Walker took some unfortunate liberties with all that public trust and ended up being convicted of tax evasion, mail fraud, misuse of campaign funds, and conspiracy in 2005. He’s since served his time and has returned to Augusta.
Walker never lost the interest in or talent for politics. He maintains a Facebook page where he sporadically expresses his opinions, and I’ve found later in life, I tend to agree with him more than I thought I did in my younger days. (See the baggy pants post, for example.) Every so often, however, he throws a notable curveball. That brings me to yesterday.
Anyone reading this page is surely aware there is a runoff election for Secretary of State and Public Service Commission on December 4th. Depending on turnout, we will either maintain all statewide elected offices being held by Republicans or elect the first Democrats statewide since 2010. And make no mistake, participation in runoffs is always abysmal, so these races can go either way, even though the results rarely change from election night.
The man vying to be the first Democratic Secretary of State of Georgia since Cathy Cox left office in 2007 is John Barrow. A bit of history: John Barrow represented GA-12 in Congress from 2005 to 2015. Reapportionment reinstated that district and created GA-13 after the 2000 Census. GA-12, as originally drawn, was heavily Democratic, yet none other than Charles (“Champ”) Walker, Jr. lost to Max Burns, a Republican (and, full disclosure, a former boss of mine) in the 2002 election. That, two years later, Barrow was able to do what the younger Walker was not — win in a heavily Democratic-leaning district drawn by his dad for his political advancement — had to rub the elder Walker the wrong way.
It apparently still does.
After being completely silent throughout the closest races in nearly a decade, Walker posted this note on his Facebook page yesterday:
Recently, I’ve had the opportunity to review the voting records of former Congressman John Barrow, and I walked away very disappointed. He prides himself on being a Blue-Dog Democrat. However, he recently ran a commercial telling the community that he is a Democrat, but implies to Republicans that he “won’t bite them.”
I don’t believe that we have to vote for the lesser of the evils. When it comes to matters important to our community, we need to support people who say what they mean and mean what they say. We don’t have to vote Republican; we can skip the vote altogether. There is no reason why African-Americans should race to the polls to vote for John Barrow. His presence will not improve our political participation.
He followed up today with this note:
In response to yesterday’s post, I don’t want to discourage people from voting, but I do want them to think before they vote. See, you must understand that I am free-I think for myself and I encourage others to think for themselves. Do not become lured into thinking that you have to get out and support John Barrow, or any other candidate, just because they say they are Democrats. The world is not going to come to an end if you don’t. There is no such thing as the lesser of two evils.
We must find a way to free ourselves from the myth of being the backbone of the Democratic Party. We should vote based on merits and not tricky deeds. Thank God, Almighty, I am free at last. Are you?
While disagreeing with the former senator on the fact that every election is more or less the choice between “the lesser of two evils,” because it is, because candidates are people who are human and imperfect, I am struck by the follow-up almost more than the original message. Let’s pick these statements apart, shall we?
I don’t for a second believe that Walker has only recently reviewed Barrow’s congressional record because I did not fall off of a turnip truck yesterday. If you didn’t either, know that Walker has surely meticulously watched Barrow for years. Studying politics, especially the words and deeds of local politicians, is as necessary as breathing to Walker. And, as I noted, Barrow is a special case.
The senator and I find some common agreement on Barrow’s commercial. I thought it was going really well until that “I won’t bite ya!” line. It’s terribly weird. Further, it obviously wasn’t meant to be taken the way Walker has taken it, but it I can see why he took it that way. (Not to mention, does Barrow not look slightly crazed when he says that line? It can’t just be me…)
Walker is correct, of course, that voting strictly party line allows a constituency to be taken for granted. I hope that all of us, not only African Americans, take a look at the individual candidates before we make our choices. It’s not just Democrats who blindly vote party line and are therefore written off as “given votes,” for the record. All of us should take notice.
Jumping over to the second post, the phrase “free at last” sticks out. Walker spent time locked away from society, so he is now literally free at last. Perhaps he is also spiritually free at last. But more so, I see this statement as a declaration of freedom from what he sees as the Democratic Party of Georgia’s groupthink.
In past posts, Walker has criticized the state party for running candidates like Jon Ossoff because they didn’t excite African American voters. Given that Lucy McBath is now the congresswoman-elect from GA-6, on the surface, it would seem he was correct. But was he? Did McBath succeed where Ossoff failed because she is African American, thereby motivating more African Americans to the polls for her? Or was it because she ran a grassroots campaign that personally touched a larger amount of voters? Or was it her personal story about losing her son? Or was it that the top-ticket race excited enough Democrats to the polls to put her over the top? Could Ossoff have easily won in a normal election cycle? Could Karen Handel successfully have fought off the anti-Trump wave by distancing herself from him more? Probably most or all of those things are true, and they collectively add up to McBath’s success.
Many Georgia Democrats were motivated to vote in the midterms because of their anger at Donald Trump. Others were excited about the prospect of electing the first African American female governor anywhere in the United States. Some were motivated by Stacey Abrams’ call to expand Medicaid. Some were motivated to vote against Brian Kemp. The Secretary of State’s race… is definitely not any of that.
Brad Raffensperger, Barrow’s opponent in the race, isn’t Trump or Kemp. Barrow isn’t Abrams or Obama or Pelosi. As much as they seem to want to run a negative race, they can’t get the majority of us on board to see “the other guy” as a villain. (Sorry, guys.)
So, in a way, I agree with Walker. Barrow isn’t going to “improve our political participation.” Obviously, Walker meant African Americans specifically, but it works for Georgians in general — and it’s not a flattering statement of us.
I am, in truth, one of the most unlikely defenders of Barrow in the state. Even though I worked hard (three times!) to prevent him from being elected or reelected due to policy differences, I never doubted his sincerity or his capability in doing the job of congressman. He made sure his office was excellent at constituent services. He showed up for votes. He proposed ideas and tried to work across the aisle. Sure, none of that is exciting. In fact, competent governance is, and should be, remarkably boring. But it’s also completely necessary and terribly lacking these days as we choose to elect those who say the right things with no intention to follow through instead of those we know will do the right things but don’t spark our fancy.
I don’t know Brad Raffensperger personally, but I hope he’s as boring and capable as Barrow. If he is, vote for whichever one fits your worldview. If you know that he is not, vote for Barrow. Either way, please, do vote.