Jim Galloway in today ajc's Political Insider
has penned a vintage Galloway keeper. Doing a Reader's Digest version would not be fair to either Mr. Galloway or my readers. He it is, word for word:
Eight minutes into his chatty encounter with reporters last week, but before he announced his attempt at a comeback, former Gov. Roy Barnes apologized to the voters who removed him from office in 2002.
“I realized that I was impatient, and that I had an aggressive agenda,” Georgia’s last Democratic governor said. “I didn’t take time to explain why I thought certain issues were important.”
To teachers in particular, the former governor said his mistakes had been of the head and not the heart.
To the rest of us, the Marietta attorney and Methodist church-goer noted, “The law, as well as the Gospel, allows a place for repentance.”
But voters are a tribunal with their own rules, and can be more unforgiving than the Old Testament or any hanging judge. Neither you, me, nor Roy Barnes knows what their verdict will be.
To see a defeated governor of Georgia make a comeback is rare enough. Gene Talmadge, the namesake of Roy Eugene Barnes, did it in 1946.
When a Georgia governor ousted by voters begins his comeback campaign with an act of contrition, we have truly entered uncharted territory.
Apologies have become commonplace elsewhere in American politics — so common that we catalog them by degree.
Newt Gingrich has offered up mea culpas
time and again, the latest only last week — when the former U.S. House speaker confessed he probably shouldn’t have Twittered that U.S. Supreme Court nominee Sonia Sotomayor was a “racist.”
We have taken to calling such moves “step-backs,” implying that the retreat is more about strategy than sincerity.
In 1979, George Wallace showed up unannounced at the Dexter Avenue Baptist Church in Montgomery, Ala., a church once pastored by Martin Luther King Jr., to express full-bodied regret for the pain his segregationist policies had caused African-Americans.
He was elected governor of Alabama for a final time in 1982.
But at the bottom of Wallace’s apology — we all hope — was a change of heart. Barnes’ statement of regret last Wednesday was for the style of his four years as governor, from 1999 to 2003. Not the substance.
It was regret for the arms that were twisted and the heedless pushing through of decisions. “I didn’t slow down and explain,” Barnes said.
But not for the decisions themselves.
It is a fine but important line. For, more than anything else, Barnes will be pitting himself against what he sees as eight years of Republican stagnation in the state Capitol — particularly when it comes to education and transportation.
Barnes will offer a return to action, but this time with less arrogance.
Significantly, Barnes said his close friend and former chief of staff, Bobby Kahn, who famously kept track of lawmakers’ loyalty on a computer program, would have no formal leadership role in the campaign.
“[Barnes] still has his core principles and core values and his core method of being decisive and making the trains run on time — in effect running the state like it ought to be run,” said another close friend, former congressman Buddy Darden of Marietta. “You’re selling competence. At the same time, you’re saying this is a kinder, gentler Roy Barnes, I suppose.
“The world loves a reformed sinner. Too many people don’t admit their mistakes,” Darden said.
A humbler Roy Barnes is also a financial necessity. In 2002, his campaign used the clout of incumbency to wring $20 million from supporters.
In a brutal economic downturn, money for a 2010 race will be hard to come by. Barnes estimated he’ll need between $10 million and $12 million — which will have to be raised through charm, not intimidation.
An apology, anthropologists and theologians tell us, is the required first step in the restoration of a relationship that has been bruised or broken.
Usually, a single display is not enough. Nine centuries ago, Henry IV spent three days, barefoot in the snow in front of a pope’s castle, begging for his excommunication to be lifted.
Barnes’ penance will last slightly longer, but he will be allowed shoes and the heat of a Georgia summer.
A campaign contact said that, over the next few weeks, the former governor will continue to meet privately with small groups of voters across the state, introducing the new and improved Roy Barnes.
But the man who offers an apology has no guarantee that it will be accepted. This is the risk that Barnes has taken.
“Uncertainty and the possibility of rejection — those were the factors that really entered into Roy’s decision. That’s why the decision was so difficult,” Darden said. “Roy Barnes knows this is going to be a difficult campaign and it’s going to take every ounce of his energy. At the same time, he knows he could lose.”