All politics are local. This may seem old-school to many, but it has always been my belief that it is my responsibility to represent the views of my citizens, regardless of political parties — to be their voice in state government.
During my 20 years in the House, I have always been proud of my reputation as an independent voice, representing people first over any partisan political platform, and was considered one of the General Assembly's most fiscally responsible/conservative members on either side of the aisle. While Georgia — especially rural Georgia — has changed to a solidly Republican state over the past decade, I was re-elected in contested races by 60 percent of the vote in 2002 and 66 percent in 2006 ... as a Democrat. (I ran uncontested this year.) I also was the Legislature's last elected Democrat in all of rural northeast Georgia.
When I was first elected in 1990, the Democrat Party was institutionalized, the only ticket to run on in rural Georgia. That has changed with the demographic changes in our state. Georgia's results in the Nov. 2 election brought an effective end, at least for the foreseeable future, to the two-party system in state government. Not only did Gov.-elect Nathan Deal take a decisive victory in the gubernatorial race, the GOP won every statewide constitutional office and strengthened its majorities in the state House and Senate. I said back in August that this was the exact scenario that would result in my giving consideration to changing party affiliation going into the 2011 legislative session.
Over the past six years, since the Republican Caucus took control of the House, being a minority member has restricted my ability to influence policy and direction even though my philosophy and institutional knowledge were shared by the majority. Even though my voting record and credentials were acceptable, the "D" next to my name kept me from being an influence on issues of importance.
In the days following the Nov. 2 election, I met with friends and citizens from my district, and the questions asked were: How effectively could I represent the 29th District from the wilderness of a shrinking minority? Could I ignore the fact that Gov.-elect Deal carried the three counties in my district with 70 percent of the vote? Should I deprive the people of my district a seat at the legislative table and let 20 years of legislative experience and institutional knowledge effectively go to waste?
I have never been a stridently partisan representative. I always vote for the best interests of the citizens of Franklin, Hart and Madison counties, rather than in support of a political party. I have crossed party lines many times, including voting last January to elect House Speaker David Ralston. It is likely I will vote across party lines in the future when that is in the best interest of my district and the state.
I did not create the system that we have, and I am not here to bash anyone.
In fact, I am grateful to state Democratic Party Chair Jane Vandiver Kidd, my longtime friend and former House colleague, for her very kind public statement following my decision, and I appreciate the warm words of welcome to the Republican Caucus from Speaker Ralston and other House leaders. They all know my style of service based on people and issues.
The bottom line is this: I changed party affiliations because the Georgia General Assembly has some serious issues in front of us when we reconvene in January, including a $2.3 billion budget deficit, reform of our tax system, protection of our water resources, and legislative and congressional redistricting. The people of the 29th District deserve more than a representative on the sidelines.
To do the best job I can of representing the views of my constituents, I am convinced I made the right decision.