Former House Speaker Terry Coleman named as deputy commissioner of agriculture.
In a 1-24-05 post entitled "'It just won't be the same without you Larry.' -- Larry Walker, private citizen, great Georgian & great Democrat," we paid tribute to the loser of the tense battle between Rep. Terry Coleman and former Rep. Walker to succeed Tom Murphy as House speaker after Murphy was defeated in Nov. 2002.
Today we pay tribute to the victor, former speaker of the House Rep. Terry Coleman of Eastman.
During their epic battle Bill Shipp wrote:
"Coleman and Walker have been waiting in the wings for years to become speaker. Each once believed that Murphy might gracefully retire and anoint one or the other as his preferred successor. It didn't happen that way. After more than 40 years as a member of the House, Murphy was defeated in the Nov. 5  election.
"As a result of Murphy's abrupt downfall, the House is on the verge of chaos. Coleman and Walker, former business associates and close pals, are locked in a bitter struggle that is being conducted mostly out of public view. . . .
"Both Coleman and Walker were ardent supporters of Gov. Roy Barnes. The outgoing governor could never have gained approval of the new Georgia flag without the open and enthusiastic support of Walker and Coleman."
After emerging the victor, and despite Gov. Perdue's doing his best to block Coleman from becoming speaker of the House, Coleman assumed the role of the dominant figure in the record-long 2003 session of the legislature.
He cast the deciding vote on a new state flag -- a vote that earned him a position as the ace of spades in an "enemies" deck of cards issued by the flaggers.
More importantly, as Bill Shipp has written, "Coleman maneuvered the ship of state through the shoals of a budget disaster."
During Coleman's tenure and leadership in the state House, Georgia thrived. Georgia's higher education system flourished. Economic development and jobs creation blossomed as never before, partly because Terry Coleman helped create a pro-business climate.
Whenever possible during his tenure as Speaker, Coleman sought consensus -- and he ran a much more democratic House than autocratic Murphy ever dreamed of.
Jim Wooten, associate editorial page editor for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, recently paid homage to Rep. Coleman in one of Mr. Wooten's finer pieces. His column follows:
Coleman still great resource
For more than a quarter century, two Georgia legislators labored in the shadow of the man who was the nation's longest-serving speaker of the House, waiting their turn.
Two years ago, one of them, state Rep. Larry Walker of Perry, saw the wait come to naught. The job he wanted as successor to House Speaker Tom Murphy, went to his long-patient colleague, Terry Coleman.
Walker, an able and thoughtful legislator, did not stand for re-election. On Monday, the reign of the man who defeated him will end as well.
A certain sadness comes with events as they have unfolded, the sadness that came too in watching Republicans of vision, intelligence and skill, such as former state Rep. Bob Irvin of Atlanta or state Sen. Jim Tysinger of DeKalb County, and lots of others, who waited their entire careers for opportunities that never came.
Walker and Speaker Coleman had their rewards, of course, that Republicans never did. Perks and power. Nice offices, fawning flatterers and fobs. But ultimately, for those of substance and vision, government is an instrument of change, an instrument with the capacity to contribute larger than, and beyond, this mortal life. Only small men and women pursue public office for small things.
My first real memory of Coleman came years ago, at a chance encounter at a regional planning agency in Dodge County. As we talked, I heard a practical dreamer brimming with passion and willing to embrace grand ideas, as he demonstrated in an opinion article last month supporting development of research and technology initiatives along Ga. 316 between Atlanta and Athens.
Like all legislators in positions of power, and certainly during his dozen years as chairman of the House Appropriations Committee, Coleman tried to send one of everything the state makes or does to Eastman and Dodge County. But rural Georgia is still an area that, in the spirit of the New Deal, can be uplifted by intelligent and attentive public investment, something the suburban-dominated Republican majority needs to bear in mind.
Coleman's pork, and the businesses his influence brought to his district, such as a contractor who processes Medicaid claims, are ventures that can be performed as well in rural Georgia as in the Atlanta area. In those instances, as well as with state jobs, every opportunity should be taken to push them to other parts of the state.
He was never afraid to push ideas out, even when they were not readily attractive. He popularized in rural Georgia the concept of prisons as businesses providing employment to job-starved communities. An awful lot of children are able to stay on family land because the supplemental income of prison employment makes it possible, and an awful lot have access to technical and college educations to prepare themselves for better jobs that might come. His contribution to that is not inconsequential.
As of Monday [January 10, 2005, when the General Assembly convened], his brief two-year stint as speaker of the Georgia House will end. In defeat, he has been enormously gracious, even offering to vacate the speaker's office within days of the November elections.
Coleman's experience could be invaluable on issues like tax reform, how to make the Legislature more effective, how programs work, the relationship between the university system and elected officials, and in general ways to streamline state government. He's now a free man, free of the politics, obligations and responsibilities that drove his career.
Nobody in Georgia is more knowledgeable about the budget and about what taxpayers are getting for the money we're spending.
In some respects, he's a prisoner of that experience. But he's also a liberated man in possession of a state treasure. If the opportunity presents itself, and it should, Gov. Sonny Perdue and the new Republican majority should find a way to channel that knowledge and experience into further service to the people of Georgia.
(1-9-05 ajc.) Thanks Rep. Coleman, for all you have done, continue to do, and will do in the years to come as a great Georgian and a great Democrat.