Monday, August 22, 2005


Iowa Governor Tom Vilsack greeting Democrats at an August dinner in Macon. A preview of the 2008 Presidential Primary?

(This column will run in the 8/25/05 THE ALBANY JOURNAL)

“What do you say to a woman who has just lost her husband- the father of her two children- in Iraq? I had just finished expressing my condolences to the widow of Chief Warrant Officer Bruce Smith, a helicopter pilot who had seconds to make a decision after his chopper was struck by an enemy missile- he could try to save his own life, or try to save the lives of the men whom he was carrying. He saved 18 of the men, but later died of his wounds. His widow interrupted me and simply said: “Those 18 men needed Bruce more in those few seconds than his children and I will need him the rest of our lives.”

Iowa Governor Tom Vilsack, addressing the Democratic Party’s County State Chairs’ dinner in Macon, Georgia, on August 20, 2005, referring to the Iowa National Guardsman who posthumously won a Bronze Star and Purple Heart when his CH-47 (Chinook) helicopter was shot down in November of 2003.


This was a first for me. I put on a coat and tie on a very hot August Saturday afternoon and drove to Macon with my date. But this was no night out to dinner and a movie. We hit the road to the Holiday Inn Conference Center to attend the Democratic Party’s County Chair dinner which honored Georgia’s Attorney General, Thurbert Baker, with its Public Service Award. Disregarding the 98 degree heat outside, inside there were well dressed politicians from near and far pressing the flesh and fanning the flames of hope that eternally arise at the beginnings of political campaigns.

Bainbridge’s own Cathy Cox was there. A highly regarded Secretary of State who shepherded Georgia into the computer age of voting, she is vying with Lt. Governor Mark Taylor for the privilege of trying to unseat Governor Sonny Perdue next year. Looking far younger than her 47 years, feisty and fresh after a two hour dinner complete with numerous introductions and speeches, Secretary Cox appeared more than ready to take on Albany native Mark Taylor in a campaign that will most likely produce few substantive differences but will most likely set records for cash raised and spent in a Democratic Primary.

Mark was absent- understandably so, given the unfortunate accident involving his 21 year old son Fulton Fletcher Taylor only two days earlier, in a fatal wreck resulting in felony drunken driving charges (and most likely a vehicular homicide charge). The Atlanta Journal Constitution (AJC) reported that Fletcher’s SUV was weaving so badly that another driver telephoned the police to report a drunk driver moments before the Navigator flipped, ejected the unbelted passenger through the sunroof, then rolled over him. The Charleston police report obtained by the AJC stated:

“Fletcher Taylor had "glassy and bloodshot eyes, slurred speech and . . . a strong odor of an alcoholic beverage on his breath" after the wreck.

According to the report, Taylor told an investigating officer, "I was in Charleston Beer Works. I killed my best friend. I might have had four, I might have had three. Either way, I killed my best friend."”

We’ll find out in the next few months whether the accident and criminal prosecution of young Fletcher Taylor will impact Mark’s campaign for governor. His campaign workers at the dinner- including Albany’s Marci Prisant- appeared unfazed and upbeat as they handed out campaign literature.

In the race which nationally will have a higher profile than the top of the ticket in 2006, Georgia’s Democrats have finally found some contenders to compete for the Lt. Governorship that Mark had planned on vacating in his gubernatorial bid. Jonesboro’s Greg Hecht, a practicing attorney (UGA Law class of 1988), former State Representative and former State Senator, is running against Atlanta’s Jim Martin, another attorney (also UGA Law, class of 1972), also a former State Representative, who was Commissioner of the Georgia Department of Human Resources under Governor Roy Barnes.

The main attraction in the primary race for Lieutenant Governor-and the bulk of the millions of dollars that will be raised- will come from the Republican side, as faux choir boy Christian politico Ralph Reed tries to escape his tawdry association with indicted Republican fundraiser Jack Abramoff. Using Reed’s political and religious connections, Abramoff famously squeezed millions from Indian tribes trying to get casino gambling licenses in Texas and Louisiana. With remarkable hubris, Abramoff managed to get millions more from their competitors (also Indian tribes) trying to derail the competition! Reed and Abramoff reportedly manipulated sincerely religious members of Focus on the Family, a Colorado Springs based Christian organization which opposed gambling casinos, to crush the efforts of the tribes seeking the licenses

Reed’s primary opponent, Republican Senator Casey Cagle, is outgunned financially in this race, but will have buckets of mud handed to him on a platter to heave at Reed’s juggernaut.

Returning to Saturday night, the evening’s final speaker was Iowa Governor Tom Vilsack, testing the waters for a 2008 presidential bid. Laying the groundwork for his presidential aspirations, Governor Vilsack spoke simply and directly of the need for Democrats to be more than a party that just says no to outrageous Republican efforts to defund health care programs for children and Social Security protections for the elderly. Without touching on specifics, he made clear that among his priorities were restoring integrity and openness to a government which, under the Bush Administration, has set records for attempting to classify routine documents and which has routinely fought efforts to discover what it has been doing with lobbyists behind closed doors.

When I asked the governor if he’d be back in Georgia in March of 2008 (the month of the Super Tuesday Presidential Primary), he promised he would return to Georgia to campaign for Democrats in the 2006 election. During our conversation I discovered he was originally a Pittsburgh native who actually attended games during the 1960, 1971, and 1979 World Series. Be still my beating heart! (I can still name the starting 9 and many reserves for the legendary 1960 Pirates squad.)

For political junkies, 2006 and 2008 can’t come too soon.


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