Zig Zag Zell points to end of an era

By Tom Baxter

In this legacy year of Georgia politics, we have a Carter, a Nunn and a Perdue on the ballot. But the voice from the past we’ll remember from this election — if only because we’ve heard it so often — is likely to be that of Zell Miller.

Is there another politician in the country who would be asked to cut a spot for a Republican candidate for governor and a Democratic candidate for U.S. Senate, and is there another politician with the gall to accept both offers?

Miller’s endorsements of Nathan Deal in the governor’s race and Michelle Nunn in the U.S. Senate race makes a fitting counterpoint to all the PAC-fueled partisanship of this political season. He has managed to put his persnickety stamp on this election, even without a descendent on the ballot. In an era of increasing regimentation by the parties, the old Marine is still doing it his way.

Miller’s cross-party endorsements may have puzzled newcomers, or voters too young to remember the famous zigs and zags of Miller’s career. There will be more of those voters when the state votes again in two years, and fewer of those who retain some attachment to the politics of Georgia in the last century. The youngest voter in the 2000 special election, which was Miller’s last run for office, turned 32 this year.

Regardless who wins at the polls this week, the electorate they’ll encounter two or four years down the line will be generally less familiar with all the famous names that marked this year of passage from one political generation to another.

This sense of passage is perhaps best encapsulated by Clayton County, which for years was represented by the powerful tandem of House Rules Chairman Bill Lee and state Sen. Terrell Starr. Lee, who died last week at the age of 88, represented a political era a world apart from the one in which Clayton County voters will decide whether or not to become part of MARTA.

The voters who will be casting their first ballots this year have known little other than Republican control over virtually all state government, and even with a big upset or two that’s not going to change for a while. But the close races waged by the Democrats in this year’s marquee bouts set the stage for what could be a very lively presidential election year in Georgia.

These are big races this year, with important implications for the state and the balance of power in Washington. But in terms of the state’s future, the most important races may not be those at the top of the ballot, but the little-noticed contests in which a new generation finds its way.
Check back after the election for some parting thoughts about what it all meant.

Tom Baxter has written about politics and the South for more than four decades. He was national editor and chief political correspondent at the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, and later edited The Southern Political Report, an online publication, for four years. Tom was the consultant for the 2008 election night coverage sponsored jointly by Current TV, Digg and Twitter, and a 2011 fellow at the Robert J. Dole Institute of Politics at the University of Kansas. He has written about the impact of Georgia’s and Alabama's immigration laws in reports for the Center for American Progress. Tom and his wife, Lili, have three adult children and seven grandchildren.

1 reply
  1. Burroughston Broch says:

    I’m no fan of Zell Miller, but I applaud him for publicly supporting the candidate rather than the party. No party always offers the best candidate, and history has proved that voting a straight party ticket leads to all sorts of undesirable consequences.
    I have enjoyed Shirley Franklin calling for a change in State government by voting Democrat. She neglects to mention that Democrats had total control of State government for 131 years (1871-2002) and accomplished little during the time. After 12 years of Republican control she wants voters to toss the rascals out.Report

    Reply

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