Since I came to LaGrange College, I’ve had an easy time of bringing in Republicans, but it’s been hard to have a major Democratic Party candidate come by. But Michelle Nunn changed that with a visit to LaGrange, and the college.
I’ve done my best to get students to see candidates of both political parties. While teaching at Florida State University and the University of Delaware, I was able to attend events, or get students to go to them. Some campaign events were actually held on campus. And Washington, where I worked before I came here, well …. it was hard to avoid them!
But it’s been a different story since I came here in 2001. Believe it or not, there were plenty of Democrats in office. Both U.S. Senators were Democrats (Max Cleland and Zell Miller). The governor (Roy Barnes) was a Democrat. Most of the cabinet officers were Democrats, as were several members of Congress. But it was hard to get them to come to a college campus and meet with students. The lone exception was Buddy Darden, and he had a LaGrange College connection too. Mike McGraw spoke in the evening, and Steve Camp agreed to a debate with Representative Westmoreland. State Representative Carl Von Epps also came to a candidate forum as did candidate Bob Trammell. And now look how many offices Democrats hold!
Republicans, on the other hand, were more than willing to visit, or invite us to their events. We saw Congressman Lynn Westmoreland (on several occasions), Congressman Bob Barr, State Senators Seth Harp, Josh McKoon, Mitch Seabaugh, Dan Lee, State Representatives Jeff Brown and Randy Nix, and congressional candidates Dylan Glenn and Tom Mills. U.S. Senator Johnny Isakson skyped with my class from Washington. Even Bill Hamrick from Carrollton came to talk about Georgia education in the legislature with our students, even though this wasn’t his district! And did I mention Herman Cain was one of my first campus speakers?
Georgia Republicans also invited us to a gubernatorial debate, where we met Nathan Deal, John Oxendine, Karen Handel and Eric Johnson. Handel and Johnson made campus talks, as did Representative Phil Gingrey. The list goes on. Meanwhile, the only Democrats I could for higher office were Vernon Jones (a Senate candidate) and Carl Camon (who ran for governor). John Lewis and Michael Thurmond was a great graduation speakers, though.
Pundits have said that Democrats shouldn’t go anywhere but Atlanta, with occasional quick trips to Athens and Savannah. But Republicans, by the same token, could have taken this area for granted. Yet they haven’t. Colleagues of mine have been similarly dismayed at the absence of Democratic candidates at their colleges over the last decade.
But it would be just like Michelle Nunn to do things differently. Her father was easily one of the most respected members of the U.S. Senate, ever. She’s shown a willingness to abandon the traditional party line on some issues, even opposing having Harry Reid as the Senate Majority Leader, or support the Common Core.
I’m also told that David Perdue plans a visit to LaGrange and the college. Like Nunn, he’s shown a willingness to break with his political party on some issues. With a pair of Senate moderates willing to come to West Georgia to meet with people, instead of camping out in Atlanta, the race promises to be one of the most exciting ones nationwide, and not just in Georgia history.
John A. Tures is a professor of political science at LaGrange College in LaGrange, Ga. He can be reached at email@example.com.