Shipp: Son's car wreck could change Mark Taylor's political future.
Mark Taylor's 21-year-old son, Fletcher, narrowly escaped death in a wreck in South Carolina last week that killed his companion, Victor Gennert, 22, of Charleston, S.C.
Even as they are saddened and shocked by young Gennert's death, Lt. Gov. Taylor and his family must feel a sense of relief or even thankfulness that Fletcher survived. However, at this writing, Fletcher, the driver of the death vehicle, is in jail, charged with DUI and other serious crimes that could result in long-term imprisonment and immense fines. Lawyers' fees are certain to be massive. Lt. Gov. Taylor departed immediately for South Carolina.
Just hours before the accident made the news, Rick Dent, Taylor's political consultant, phoned my office to declare emphatically that the lieutenant governor would never abandon his campaign for the Democratic nomination for governor.
Several leading Democrats, including allies of rival candidate Cathy Cox, suggested several weeks ago that Taylor drop out of the governor's contest and seek re-election as lieutenant governor.
Whether the highway crash will alter Taylor's announced plans remains uncertain, yet it is bound to cast a shadow across his campaign, regardless of the office he seeks.
Wherever Mark Taylor goes and whenever he speaks, the death of Fletcher's companion and the resultant criminal accusations will become part of the candidate's permanent profile.
His opponents are not likely to publicly use the calamity to advance their own ambitions. Even so, the incident will quickly morph into the gorilla in the living room of the 2006 election season.
Taylor is a first-rate politician with sharp instincts. In 2002, he wisely distanced himself from fellow Democrats Sen. Max Cleland and Gov. Roy Barnes, two activists destined for defeat. Mounting a soft-spoken, cheerful campaign as "the big guy," Taylor easily won re-election against seemingly formidable GOP opposition.
Though he was stripped of much of his official power in 2003 by the new Republican Senate majority, Taylor has remained tireless as a populist advocate for health care, education and transportation.
Four years earlier, he first won the lieutenant governor's office against a well-financed personal smear campaign launched by whacked-out reactionaries. (One was later imprisoned on government corruption charges.) Before that historically abusive attack, then-Sen. Taylor served Gov. Zell Miller as Senate floor leader and managed the legislation that gave Georgia the HOPE scholarship program.
Now, to Taylor and his family, those challenges and achievements must seem almost trivial compared to what may lie ahead.
The highway fatality and his son's tribulations inevitably will change Taylor's future and conceivably even conclude his productive political career. No matter what path he chooses, political or otherwise, the tragedy will influence him for the rest of his life.