"It just won't be the same without you Larry." - Larry Walker, private citizen, great Georgian & great Democrat.
But even more than being a fixture during his 32 years of service to his district and state, Larry Walker became an icon, an icon of the Democratic Party of Georgia.
As stated in an editorial in The Macon Telegraph earlier this month:
"In his 32 years in the Georgia Legislature, Perry native Larry Walker did his home district proud. . . .
"He did the state proud, too, in the way he handled his fall from grace in 2002 after his unsuccessful bid for the speaker of the house position."
The following are excerpts from a 12-31-04 article in The Macon Telegraph by Gary Tanner:
Leaders of more than 20 Georgia organizations will soon find out they were on the Christmas list of retiring state Rep. Larry Walker, D-Perry.
Walker announced Thursday he has donated $102,000 in leftover campaign contributions to local charities, churches and other causes.
"The checks went out yesterday," Walker said Thursday morning while sitting in a rocking chair in his law office. "Unless they've got it already in the mail today, they don't know. I didn't tell them I was going to do it."
Walker made 24 donations ranging from $1,000 to $25,000 from a campaign warchest built over 16 terms in the state House of Representatives.
Walker has in the past supported Democrats with contributions from his own campaign accounts, but chose to give at the end of his career to local groups doing good works, he said.
After 32 years in the Georgia General Assembly, the 2005 session will be absent its longtime majority leader and a man renowned for bringing bacon back to his district.
"Pork is what you got that somebody else wanted," Walker said. "In Macon, the Georgia National Fairgrounds and Agricenter is considered pork. In Perry, the Georgia Music and Sports halls of fame is pork."
Walker said he has no apologies to make about bringing state money from Atlanta for projects in and around Perry.
"I always saw my job as producing for the district more than its fair share," he said. Nowhere is that more evident than off Larry Walker Parkway in Perry, which runs beside the 1,100-acre fairgrounds which host the annual Georgia National Fair and other events throughout the year.
Walker was first elected to the General Assembly in 1972, serving 15 years as majority leader, and lost a bid to succeed longtime House Speaker Tom Murphy, who was defeated in 2002.
"This is the first time in 32 years I haven't been rushing to finish things here and get ready for the session," Walker said. "I am totally, 100 percent content with my decision not to run again."
The Democratic Party icon . . . said he plans to work at his law practice four days a week. He also plans to try his hand at fly fishing.
University of Georgia officials have asked Walker for his official papers and he has agreed to donate them.
Like many powerful politicians who retire or are defeated, Walker has been asked about becoming a lobbyist.
"I'm not going to lobby," he said. "I might not ever go back to the Capitol."
Walker has been asked to speak to new lawmakers about the potential pitfalls of service in the General Assembly.
"I guess I'll tell them how not to lose their business, their family and not get indicted," he said.
Walker would not rule out running for public office again, but called the possibility "extremely remote."
And while his grandfather and father were both involved in politics, Walker said he hopes his children and grandchildren are "smart enough" not to follow that example.
"I will not forbid it, but I will not encourage it either," Walker said. "Politics is a mean business."
We all recall the tense battle between Rep. Terry Coleman and Rep. Walker to succeed Tom Murphy as House speaker after Murphy was defeated in Nov. 2002.
From personal knowledge, I know that many legislators agonized and fretted over this decision of whom to support for speaker of the House. For many, close bonds and years of friendship were something they shared with each candidate.
I feel certain that many legislators told each candidate he or she was steadfastly in his corner.
I recall one legislator, when asked in a public meeting who he would support, give an answer that reminded me of what Gov. Marvin Griffin once said: "Some of my friends are Democrats; some of my friends are Republicans. I like my friends."
In this epic battle for speaker of the House, the top Democratic brass, including Lt. Gov. Mark Taylor and Secretary of State Cathy Cox, pulled out the stops to help Coleman.
As alluded to above, and being the gentleman that he is, Larry Walker was graceful in his defeat. The man is a class act.
I think it got lost in the shuffle later on during the 2003 legislative session, but it was Larry Walker who first came forward with the bill that finally put to rest the divisive flag issue. Walker's bill proposed repealing the ''Barnes'' flag, then installing immediately thereafter a new flag similar to the one we have now, and then holding a nonbinding up-or-down referendum on the newly adopted flag in March 2004.
It was a stroke of genius.
But it would take until the 40th and final day of the marathon legislative session dominated by the flag issue to finally put to rest Gov. Perdue's desire to have -- or at least his desire to appear that he wanted to have -- the referendum giving Georgia voters the option of going back to the 1956 flag, the one with the St. Andrew’s cross that served as the Confederate battle flag.
[I share my feelings and a little bit of history on the St. Andrew's cross and our present flag in the second part of my 11-25-04 post.]
And it would take white rural Georgians -- who had the most to lose politically -- to come together to fill Gov. Perdue's leadership vacuum and end the quarrel, and say hey, it's time for Georgia to put this divisive issue behind us and move on. And of course among those brave souls stepping forward and taking such a stand and voting his conscience for what was best for Georgia if not himself politically -- Rep. Larry Walker.
In the Macon Telegraph article Walker indicates that the possibility of his seeking office again are remote. While I knew this was his position in 2003 and 2004, I was among those who wanted him to at least consider running for the U.S. Senate last year when no known, viable and electable Democrat would step forward.
We got to discuss this and old times at the Commerce Club in early May last year the week after I qualified. Over lunch I said, "Damn Larry, you're the one who ought to be doing this rather than me." He just laughed.
Our host for the meal was Joe Sports, veteran Democratic operative, former Chairman of the Democratic Party of Georgia, now publisher of Georgia Beat (gabeat.com), and one experienced political consultant who has been there and done that.
Joe, another great Democrat and Georgian, commented -- such comment sort of summarizing it all of Georgia -- "It just won't be the same without you Larry."
Thanks Rep. Walker. Thanks for all you did for Georgia during your many, many years of service.
You did indeed do your state proud, and I am proud to be able to call you a friend. We need more like you.
And if you get tired of fly fishing . . . .