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Cracker Squire

THE MUSINGS OF A TRADITIONAL SOUTHERN DEMOCRAT

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Location: Douglas, Coffee Co., The Other Georgia, United States

Sid in his law office where he sits when meeting with clients. Observant eyes will notice the statuette of one of Sid's favorite Democrats.

Sunday, February 04, 2007

Bill Shipp describes Labor Commissioner Michael Thurmond as "perhaps the smartest politician in the Georgia Democratic Party."

Bill Shipp writes:

"Democratic candidates must treat Sen. (Barack) Obama just like any other candidate. They must not treat him differently because he is an African American."

That bit of guidance for white Democratic presidential candidates comes from perhaps the smartest politician in the Georgia Democratic Party - Labor Commissioner Michael Thurmond, the only black candidate to win statewide office without first being appointed.

[I]f Obama insists on running as the Black Candidate, he's a dead duck, Thurmond thinks.

"The last frontier for black candidates is being able to win in white jurisdictions. When I run for election, I tell my audiences, regardless of their race, 'Don't vote for me because I'm an African American, and don't vote against me because I'm an African American. Vote for what I stand for,' " Thurmond said.

The Georgia official knows how to avoid the race trap.

In his three contests for labor commissioner, Thurmond has routed a half-dozen white Democratic and Republican contenders.

In 2002, he won re-election with 51 percent of the vote and with blacks comprising 21 percent of the turnout. Last year, he captured 55 percent of the ballots, as black representation in the election hit a near-record-high 24 percent, according to official election numbers.

First elected to the state House in 1986 from Clarke County, Thurmond was, at one time, the only black lawmaker from a white-majority district. He also was the first black legislator since Reconstruction elected from Clarke County. As Thurmond racked up one political achievement after another, he watched his Democratic Party collapse around him, losing the governor's office, control of the legislature and both U.S. Senate seats. He saw his Democratic mentor Gov. Zell Miller throw in with the Republicans and endorse President Bush and Gov. Sonny Perdue. (In the mid-1990s, Miller appointed Thurmond to direct his welfare-reform program.)

On the campaign trail, Thurmond joked with white audiences about being blood kin to the late ultra-conservative white Sen. Strom Thurmond of South Carolina. In each of his elections for commissioner, Mike Thurmond swept several mountain counties where only a handful of black voters reside. To be sure, the labor commissioner election is a down-ballot, low-profile contest that draws only a fraction of the attention devoted to, say, a presidential primary or a governor's race. Still, Thurmond's success in reducing the race factor in an Old South state is remarkable.

At the recent contentious Georgia Democratic Committee meeting, Thurmond worked feverishly behind the scenes to defeat labor union-backed Michael Berlon for party chair. Thurmond feared the controversial Berlon would marginalize the party's importance. Instead of Berlon, Democrats finally turned to former state Rep. Jane Kidd of Athens as their chairwoman, and they installed Thurmond as first vice chair.

Thurmond is expected to play a pivotal role in vetting Democratic challengers to Republican Sen. Saxby Chambliss next year. How Thurmond reacts to the anticipated Senate candidacy of DeKalb County CEO Vernon Jones, also an black, might be a key to whether Democrats have any hope of retaking the post captured by Chambliss from Max Cleland in 2002.

3 Comments:

Blogger Button Gwinnett said...

I heard Mike speak once when he made an "Uncle Strom" reference. We all got a big laugh out of that one.

8:53 AM  
Anonymous Trackboy1 said...

"marginalize the party's importance"

Ummm...GA Dem's are already the most marginalized Dem's in the country. Thurmond may be smart, but smart doesn't always cut it. Mike, you know you should have run for US Senate, but you chickened out. GA Dem's stand for nothing. There are so many things to make a stand on (mass transit, the environment & GA coast, equitable school funding, Peachcare, etc.).

But the wussies that are GA Dem's stand for nothing, and that's why they'll be lucky not to be passed by Liberterians in 2008.

8:43 PM  
Blogger Thomas Nephew said...

There are so many things to make a stand on (mass transit, the environment & GA coast, equitable school funding, Peachcare, etc.).

Add labor issues to that list, apparently -- and give Thurmond his fair share of the blame.

I'm not from Georgia, but if you act like your natural allies are an embarrassment, you're going to run out of natural allies.

10:27 AM  

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