Jun. 10, 2002: Dooley Foe a Clue to GOP Failures

What the state of Georgia needs more than a good five-cent cigar is a competitive two-party system. The Democrats not only run this state; they own it. Without a strong Republican Party to counter the Democratic monarchy, we will be doomed to a continued purgatory of demigods like Tom Murphy and his court jesters who act as if we don’t exist.

But it is not the Democratic machine that impedes Republican progress or that accounts for the drubbing they took in the redistricting session this year. The biggest obstacle Republicans face in their efforts to make this truly a two-party state is themselves. They can’t seem to grasp that the enemy is the other party.

When Republican U.S. Senator Paul Coverdell died unexpectedly in office two years ago, there was no question that Governor Roy Barnes would appoint a Democrat to replace Coverdell. The surprise was the appointment of his predecessor, Zell Miller. Barnes and Miller were not exactly bosom buddies but Barnes wanted someone who could hold the seat for the Democrats. He could not have made a better choice. Based on his performance to date, Zell Miller could win reelection to the United States Senate by acclamation if he chooses to run again and Barnes, who put party before petty piques, looks like a genius.

Contrast that with the Republican approach to party unity. One of our state’s most respected political figures –Republican or Democrat – is 6th District Rep. Johnny Isakson. Isakson should have been elected to the U.S. Senate instead of Tom Daschle’s lapdog Max Cleland, but he was denied the nomination in the Republican primary because of his moderate stance on abortion. Isakson would have beaten Cleland, no two ways about it but he couldn’t beat the right wing zealots in his own party. The Republicans gave the nomination to charisma-challenged Guy Milner. Of course, Cleland defeated Milner and is one of the strongest supporters of abortion rights in the Senate. How is that for astute political thinking?

It gets worse. Barbara Dooley, the dynamic wife of UGA athletic director Vince Dooley, has announced as a Republican candidate for the new 12th congressional district carved out by state Democrats for Champ Walker, son of state Senator Charles Walker, of Augusta, a member of the Democratic inner circle. You would assume the Republicans are doing handstands that someone with Barbara Dooley’s high profile and influential contacts is getting into the race. Not so. Her candidacy doesn’t sit well with 10th district representative Charlie Norwood. The Augusta congressman is opposed to Dooley because, according to sources, she used to be a Democrat. I wonder if anybody has told Norwood that Ronald Reagan was once a Democrat?

Rather than join other state GOP notables like Senate Minority Leader Eric Johnson, of Savannah, and 1st District Congressman Jack Kingston in supporting Dooley and presenting a unified front for what is going to be a steep uphill battle for the Republicans, Norwood has implored another candidate to enter the race. Evidently, he feels that a good old-fashioned divisive primary, ala the Isakson-Milner debacle, is just what the Republican Party needs these days. While he’s at it, maybe Norwood can offend all the people in Georgia who would like to see more women running for public office.

Georgia has not elected a Republican governor since the days of Reconstruction and that isn’t going to change in 2002. Many Republicans truly believe that Roy Barnes is going to be defeated for reelection because of the way he engineered the state flag change. That is so ludicrous that I have quit trying to explain the political facts of life to those people. The people will just have to find out for themselves this November that the 19th century has come and gone. If the Republicans hope to be competitive in the current century, they had better get busy recruiting blacks and Hispanics and women and let the flag issue go. Democrats are hoping the Republicans don’t do either – and they probably won’t.

It seems the Republicans would rather ride their ideological high horses than be elected. The Democrats would rather be elected. And that, my friends, is why we don’t have a strong two-party system in Georgia.