May 13, 2014

Mark Millican: Party gone out of bounds

— The call came in on a recent Monday morning from a candidate’s advance team, alerting the newspaper their guy would be speaking at an Ellijay civic club at noon. Being a member of said club and having already talked about this politician’s appearance with a club officer a few days earlier, I stopped the aide in her tracks and told her we already had a local speaker but he was welcome to attend.

She said, “Oh,” and then hung up to confer with other staffers — or to let the candidate know he wouldn’t be allowed to make a political speech. Moments later she called back to let me know he’d still be there.

Sure enough, at noon such-and-such candidate — whose name you and everyone else in Georgia knows well by now if they watch TV — arrived to shake hands and work the crowd. But he never got over to me. Was it because someone told him I was the newspaper guy who shut him down?

Then he sent someone around the room asking if there were other gatherings of people in Ellijay that day where he could go and shake hands — on a Monday, are you kidding me? — and left after eating lunch. In other words, he cared nothing about our local speaker talking about a critical local problem, and he left looking for votes elsewhere.

At another lunch gathering several months ago, an elected official who was “districted out” to represent another section of north Georgia appeared at a local eatery. I’d been invited there to hear him, and after he spoke for awhile I asked him a question about a national topic during Q & A time.

He gave a boilerplate, party answer and I couldn’t help it — the reporter in me just came out — so I said, “I want to know how you feel about it, Congressman, not what the party line is.”

The room got real quiet and he glared at me like “How dare you question my answer.” He hemmed and hawed a bit and I let him off the hook by not asking the follow-up question I wanted to, primarily so the host wouldn’t be embarrassed. Well, I’m not the sharpest knife in the drawer, but you’d have a better chance of sneakin’ sunrise past a rooster than give me a load of political BS at a public forum and think I’m going to accept it. Pardon the cliché, but this ol’ cowboy’s been in too many rodeos to ride with that.

You just get the feeling that if some of these people running for office showed a real interest in solving problems rather than just getting elected by back-slapping and slinging mud, you’d feel a lot better about voting for them.

Which brings us to the flap on an early May Sunday when an out-of-town political operative visited a local GOP pre-election rally and called the late Willard Ralston a “snake,” and said Ralston’s son David, the speaker of the Georgia House of Representatives, was just like him. He was sorry for it later — but more so, it seemed, that someone recorded his words. That’s because they went viral across the state a couple of days later.

As a general rule, you don’t denigrate the people of the area you’re visiting, especially out loud while in their midst. Specifically, you don’t run down Willard Ralston in Gilmer County, an exemplary public servant who even during the course of his duties always took time to speak to the lowest person on the totem pole. Doing it after he’s already passed on is just extremely bad taste. And if you call yourself a Christian you don’t hold grudges. Period. Especially for more than 20 years and then say it’s just politics.

The mainstream media does a pretty good job of depicting Republicans as a divided party of in-fighters, but when the Democrats do the same it’s only a “big tent.” Years ago the Athens band known as The B-52s did a song called “Party Gone Out of Bounds.” Interesting, isn’t it, how one person from out of town can come and talk about serpents, yet spread venom that seems to have infected his own political party?

After all, why do Republicans need Democrats to fight against when they’ve got one another?

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