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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, December 26, 2010

For outgoing Rep. Marshall, transition has never been hard

Bob Keef writes in the ajc:

Georgia's 13 U.S. House of Representatives members are home and the 111th Congress is complete. For Democratic Rep. Jim Marshall of Macon, so is his political career -- for now.

Marshall was the only incumbent Georgia congressmen voted out of office, making him the state's only congressional victim of the anti-Democratic sentiment that swept the country and flipped control of the House from Democrat to Republican.

As he prepared to leave the job he's held for eight years, Marshall said he was not bitter or overly disappointed. In a recent interview, he actually seemed surprisingly upbeat.

"There's a lot of things I'll miss about this job, but I'm not ... pining away to stay here," Marshall said in the hallways of the Cannon House office building. He had a fifth-floor office there until he and other outgoing members were unceremoniously moved out in early December to make way for incoming freshman lawmakers.

"At some point, it was going to end," said Marshall, 62. "And this is ending at a time in my life when I can easily move into something else that will be productive and fulfilling.

"I'm looking forward to that, actually."

A long time coming

It's a little surprising Marshall lasted as long as he did as the representative of Georgia's 8th Congressional District. A transplanted northerner, he is reserved and soft-spoken to a point that some suggested he was arrogant and out of touch.

"He's never been a good ol' boy, and the Democratic base in this district is a good ol' boy base," said Chris Grant, Mercer University political science professor.

Marshall has rarely had anything but a close race, always forced to walk a precarious tightrope as a Democrat in a conservative district in the middle of a Republican state. As Georgia turned increasingly Republican, his fight for survival as a Democrat turned increasingly tougher, even if he was one of the more conservative Democrats in Congress.

"He had been squeaking by," Grant said. "He'd been able to swing some Republicans for a long time, but I think in 2010 Republicans weren't interest in voting for Democrats of any sort."

Added Republican Rep. Lynn Westmoreland of Coweta County, who managed recruitment efforts for the National Republican Congressional Committee: "He got caught in a wave. We've been through three wave elections in a row now. I think Marshall benefited from the first two, and he got caught by the third."

Marshall said he doesn't regret how he ran his race against Republican Austin Scott of Tifton. The 41-year-old former state representative beat Marshall by 10,500 votes by portraying the incumbent as a close ally of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, which Marshall is not. Marshall paid little attention to Scott until the waning weeks of the election, and then was forced to scramble to defend himself and his record.

Marshall said also he doesn't regret remaining a Democrat in a state where party switching is common, even though he regularly voted with Republicans during his time in Congress.

Asked if he could've won re-election if he switched parties, Marshall said, "certainly that's true."

It would have been an easy move for Marshall to make. Most of his family is Republican, he said, and while he leans liberal on social causes, he is conservative when it comes to fiscal issues, defense and other areas.

His connection to the Democratic Party runs deep, though, reaching back to his teenage years, when Marshall's family moved to Mobile, Ala., in the 1960s.

"I had never actually seen race discrimination and I've never seen the depths of poverty that black folks there were suffering from," Marshall recalled. "I just thought Republicans were on the wrong side of that issue back then."

A lifetime of changes

Of Georgia's congressional delegation, perhaps no one is more suited to find a new job than Marshall, given his lifetime of changes.

Prior to representing the 21 counties stretching from rural southern Georgia to the suburbs south of Atlanta in Congress, Marshall was the mayor of Macon. He is no lifelong politician, however.

He was a U.S. Army Airborne Ranger in Vietnam, a university law school professor in Macon and also has worked as a welder, hunting guide, logger, short-order cook and mechanic.

He was educated at Princeton and at Boston University, but he's as comfortable at a south Georgia barbecue as he is in a banquet room full of academics.

"I've done lots of things in my life; I've gone through lots of transitions," he said.

His next transition will likely mark a return to his past. Marshall said he's been offered a teaching position at the Woodrow Wilson School of Public & International Affairs at his alma mater, Princeton -- a place where many ex-politicians have landed over the years.

The timing is good: Marshall's daughter graduated from the school last year and his son is a sophomore there.

"I've talked about doing this for a while," said Marshall, who taught law at Mercer University for nearly 20 years before running for Congress in 2002.

"The president [of the school] told me, "Geez, it would great because unlike some of the others we get, you have experience as a university professor; you know how to do this," Marshall said.

But Marshall also knows politics, something he doesn't rule out returning to as well.

"I don't preclude it," he said, "but I don't have plans to do it either."

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