Sunday, September 25, 2005

THE DEMOCRATIC CANDIDATES ROAD SHOW COMES TO ALBANY

(from right: Jim Martin, Shyam Reddy and Greg Hecht were three of the candidates appearing at Winfred Dukes' (center) invitation in Albany on 9-24-05)

(This column will appear in the 9/29/2005 THE ALBANY (GA.) JOURNAL


Most of the time the average voter can’t get within a million miles of the real human being who is running for high public office. Typically, candidates are carefully packaged and wrapped in an image paid for with thousands or millions of dollars in bribes, er, “contributions.” Slick commercials with catchy slogans in 15 or 30 second sound bites (“compassionate conservative” “family values” “strong national defense”) define the candidate and probably do far more to determine a voter’s selection than news articles, editorials, and face time with the office seeker. In recent years campaign appearances have become scripted and brief, with meaningless but pleasant sounding general slogans being mouthed by virtually every contestant. (I’m still looking forward to meeting the office seeker who promises a weak national defense, who vows that he’s out of touch with traditional family values, who admits that he’ll spend public money like a drunken sailor, and who avers that he’s not like you or me- he’s better and he’s from somewhere else. Humorous as this may seem, those statements would probably be true if uttered by the country’s highest elected officials- Republican or Democrat.)

But on a warm and breezy Saturday morning in September, for the 75 to 100 South Georgians who took the time to visit the auditorium at Albany Technical Institute, it was a very low keyed, relaxed opportunity to meet, greet, and have one-on-one conversations with the Democratic candidates for next year’s races for Lieutenant Governor, Secretary of State, Superintendent of Schools, and Insurance Commissioner.

Greg Hecht and Jim Martin, two capable and experienced veterans of the Georgia legislature, are squaring off for the Lieutenant Governor’s position that Mark Taylor will vacate as he attempts to move up to the Governor’s mansion. More accurately, they aren’t “squaring off” as the pugilistic metaphor suggests, because they each genuinely like and respect the other and made no secret of it in their prepared remarks. If you want fun, games, and political combat, the election to watch will be whatever race Ralph Reed is in, primary or general. In fact, Greg Hecht’s website has no less than fifty-five links to stories blasting Reed for his cynical manipulation of fundamentalist Christians (motto: “we take the “fun” out of ‘fundamentalist’”) to aid his casino gambling clients. http://www.greghecht.com/gh_reedwatch.html.

Both Hecht and Martin are able speakers, have long resumes filled with civic accomplishments, and each promises to roll back some of the worst legislation spawned by the Republican takeover of the Georgia legislature. Martin named the voter ID bill as his top choice of Republican enacted legislation to repeal. (In an earlier column, “REPUBLICANS TO ELDERLY VOTERS WITH SOCIAL SECURITY CARDS: GET LOST” (June 10, 2005), Ms. Amanda Ruckel and I pointed out that Georgia’s voter ID law was passed in spite of the fact that the Republicans had not produced evidence of a single instance of a voter ID fraud in Georgia. We also noted that the legislation did not originate in Georgia, but came down from the top Republican in Washington (that’s Karl Rove, not George Bush) as part of a national campaign to disenfranchise likely Democratic voters in future elections.) Hecht’s choice of a rollback was Sonny Perdue’s decision to trim the state budget by cutting back on Medicaid funds for nursing home residents.

One intriguing candidate is Shyamsundar (“Shyam”) Komati Reddy, who is running for Cathy Cox’s soon to be vacated Secretary of State position as Cathy and Mark Taylor compete for the gubernatorial nomination. Shyam Reddy is young (30), handsome, and confounding to those voters who make their selections based on stereotypes. He’s of Indian (the subcontinent) descent, but he grew up a country boy in Dublin, Georgia, then attended Emory University (Georgia’s top academic institution according to U.S. News & World Report) and University of Georgia Law School. Although he’s economically joined the upper crust- he’s an associate at a silk stocking Atlanta law firm, Kilpatrick-Stockton, he’s also committed to civil rights for the least among us, having joined other lawyers in a voting rights lawsuit challenging the voter ID law as violating the rights of the poor, the elderly, and African Americans. In a field of unknowns running for the position, this accomplished and bright young man may be the surprise of 2006.

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