Mar. 5, 2007: Politicos Are Dead Wrong About This Mountain Man

The last thing Zell Miller needs is to have me springing to his defense. Zell can take care of himself, thank you very much. But he has taken a couple of gratuitous shots recently that I feel need further commentary.

First, state Sen. Regina Thomas (D-Savannah) was quoted in news reports as saying that while she approved of a statue of Miller being added to the Capitol grounds, she was doing so “in spite of what appears to be senility and erratic behavior the past couple of years” on Miller’s part. The story goes on to say that her comments “brought laughter” from the audience. I’ll just bet that the audience was members of the Georgia General Assembly. They are very familiar with laughter. They know we laugh at them every day.

In fairness to Sen. Thomas, I was not there to see if her tongue was planted in her cheek when she made her remarks, but I am going to assume she was serious and will therefore attribute her zingers to the fact that she hasn’t spent much time around mountain men like Zell Miller. Mountain men are not senile and erratic. They are cantankerous and short-tempered, and they suffer fools poorly. Sen. Thomas wouldn’t know this because there are no mountains in Savannah.

Then there was Bobby Kahn, the recently retired chairman of the state Democratic Party, who told veteran political observer Bill Shipp in an interview that his advocacy of Zell Miller to replace the late Paul Coverdell in the U.S. Senate turned out to be “a huge disappointment.” Kahn didn’t indicate where that disappointment ranks with his others, such as managing Roy Barnes’ well-financed re-election campaign into the dumper and losing the governor’s office to an underfunded Republican state senator named Sonny Perdue.

Besides, Kahn has only himself to blame for Miller’s success. If only Kahn could have persuaded Miller to let him run Miller’s special election campaign for the remainder of Coverdell’s term, Zell would probably have finished third in a two-person race. Without Kahn’s help he won 60 percent of the vote.

You have heard from Thomas and Kahn. Now hear from me: With Zell Miller, what you see is what you get. There is not a phony bone in his body. He is as direct as a beeline. I know up close and personal. I was responsible for dealing with the state and federal governments during my tenure with the Atlanta Committee for the Olympic Games, which put me in regular contact with then-Gov. Miller. There were times when Zell wasn’t terribly pleased with our organization and he let me know in fifty words or less. Over my career, I have had my hide peeled by the best, but you don’t know what a major-league hide-peeling is until Zell Miller gets hold of you.

Political pundits have tried to make a big deal out of the fact that Miller somehow changed when he went to Washington. He didn’t change. Washington did. He didn’t like what he saw when he got there, and he said so. If the national Democrats were looking for a sycophant, they were sorely disappointed. Mountain men don’t march to anybody’s drum.

Of course, Zell Miller’s enduring legacy will be the HOPE scholarships he created while governor. Since the lottery-funded program began in 1993, HOPE has provided more than $3 billion for tuition, fees and book allowances to some one million Georgia students attending the state’s public universities or technical colleges. Thanks to HOPE, our brightest and best kids are staying in the state and getting a quality education. The positive impact that HOPE has had on higher education in Georgia is immeasurable, and it came on Zell Miller’s watch.

That is why they are going to erect a statue to Zell Miller. He has earned it with a distinguished political career and outstanding contributions to Georgia. Take my word for it: Regina Thomas and Bobby Kahn are dead wrong. Zell Miller is not senile, erratic or a disappointment. He is a ferociously independent mountain man who does things his way — like it or lump it. I happen to like it.