Politics 2003Week of June 16

JOHNNY ON THE SPOT IN GEORGIA “[A] little too far to the left to be a true Republican” is how University of Georgia political scientist Charles Bullock has characterized Rep. and now U.S. Senate candidate Johnny Isakson (R.-Ga.). Although Isakson’s voting record is by no means liberal (lifetime American Conservative Union rating: 84%), it is easily the least conservative record of any of the seven Republican House members from the Peach State. Isakson’s styling of himself as “the pro-choice Republican” in his losing bid for the GOP Senate nod in 1996 fueled much of the doubt about him on the right. In addition, the Atlanta-area congressman has the reputation of being “more of a country club Republican,” according to Merle Black, Emory University political scientist and author of several studies of the modern Republican trend in the South. Hence, the call for a “more conservative” alternative to Isakson to enter the Republican primary to succeed retiring Sen. Zell Miller (D.-Ga.) next year. Two weeks ago, that plea was answered when both Rep. Mac Collins (R.-Ga.) and Godfather’s Pizza founder Herman Cain signaled that they, too, would seek the GOP Senate nomination in the March primary. Should no candidate receive a majority of the votes cast, the top two vote-getters will meet in a run-off. A high school graduate and truck driver who launched his own trucking business and made himself a millionaire, then-State Sen. Collins won the 3rd District seat in 1992 by unseating Rep. (1982-92) Richard Ray (D.-Ga.). The 58-year-old Collins (lifetime ACU rating: 95%) is popular with cultural conservatives for his strong pro-life stand, and with blue-collar voters for his reputation as a self-made man who doesn’t take his position or wealth too seriously; When he first came to Congress and saw colleagues signing letters with their signatures followed by “Ph.D” or “J.D.,” the former trucker began signing his name “Mac Collins, R.F.D” (for Rural Free Delivery). The Almanac of American Politics summarizes his record well: “He voted to pare spending at almost every opportunity, except for defense and 3rd District projects. He made a point of opting out of the congressional pension plan. On Ways and Means, since his second term, Collins backed welfare reform, a lower tax on earnings by Social Security recipients, and temporary repeal of the federal gasoline tax. He voted for the Freedom to Farm Act. On trade issues, he voted against NAFTA, GATT and PNTR with China.” To be sure, Isakson has grown more conservative in Congress; rated 88% by the ACU in ’01, he saw his rating shoot up to 96% in ’02. Last week, he picked up the endorsement of two-well known Atlanta-area conservative leaders—radio-TV personality Joe McCutcheon and Col. Oscar Poole, both of whom were strong Pat Buchanan boosters in 1996 and 2000. In terms of geography, the bulk of Republican primary voters still come out of Atlanta and, more often than not, since the GOP had its first statewide primary in 1970, the nominations for governor or U.S. senator have been won by Republicans from the capital city and its surrounding suburbs. But times are changing and Republican strength in other counties is growing. Last year, for example, voters elected Republicans Sonny Perdue and Saxby Chambliss as governor and senator respectively; neither is from Atlanta and, in fact, both defeated primary opponents from the city. His supporters point out that Collins has represented such counties as Fayette, and Henry—areas of fast-growing Republican strength. RAISING CAIN The political prospects for Cain—a multimillionaire black entrepreneur —are difficult to assess because he has neither held nor sought office before and has not been visible at party functions or in campaign activities. A past chairman of the Godfather’s Pizza chain, Cain turned the troubled company into a thriving business. And then sold his interest. He is also a past chairman of the Kansas City Federal Reserve bank, a national leader in Steve Forbes’ presidential campaign in 2000, and former president of the National Restaurant Association. Cain is considered an excellent speaker and wins high marks for his performance on the lecture circuit. He has been a strong proponent of Reagan-Forbes tax cuts as ways of creating more individual opportunity. During a recent luncheon in Washington, Cain sounded a strong pro-life stand (“life begins with conception”) and support for the 2nd Ammendment. But the Atlantan’s views on issues outside taxes are generally unknown. Moreover, while a registered Republican and a backer of conservatives such as Forbes, Cain in 1999 also contributed substantially to liberal Democrat Brenda Council, who was running against conservative Republican Mayor (1995-2001) Hal Daub in Omaha, Neb. (site of Godfather’s corporate headquarters). Cain’s donations to Council brought sharp condemnation from Daub and then-State Republican Chairman Chuck Sigerson. Cain explained that his donation to Council was based on “local issues” and he has almost always backed Republicans. With Democrats unable so far to come up with a substantial standard-bearer for Miller’s seat (Secretary of State Cathy Cox has just announced she will forgo the Senate race), it now appears that Republicans will have the luxury of a highly charged primary that won’t endanger their chances of winning the seat in the fall—something unthinkable a generation ago. FRANK WHITE, R.I.P. Recalling a conversation we had in November, 1980, shortly after Republican neophyte Frank White had unseated then-Democratic Gov. Bill Clinton of Arkansas in a spectacular upset, Fred Radewagen—then deputy director of the Republican Governors Association—remembered that he had explained to me that “[RGA head] Ron Rietdorf had first pointed out that Clinton, whom most people considered unbeatable, got an unusually high number of votes cast against him in the Democratic primary. Joe Allbaugh, our man on the ground [and, until recently, head of the Federal Emergency Management Administration], was reporting that there was a lot of dislike for Clinton for the prison riots that occurred after he accepted many prisoners from Cuba. So we put the money in the race and Frank won.” (Ironically, as a graduate student at Georgetown University in the 1960s, Radewagen had been prefect to undergraduate Clinton and the two Had a “Dear-Bill” “Dear-Fred” correspondence until the Lewinsky affair became public. Radewagen never told him about his work with White. The upset of Clinton, who turned the table on White and won back the governorship in 1982, was what most people who knew White remembered about him when he died May 19 after a long illness. A successful banker before he ran for governor, White had served as director of the Arkansas Little Rock Development Commission and president of the local Jaycees and Rotary Club. As the second Republican governor of the Razorback State since Reconstruction, White established a vocational education position in his Cabinet, brought Arkansas’ prison system into compliance with federal regulations, and re-established a state industrial commission to woo fresh business into his state. He also appointed segregationist former Democratic Gov. (1954-66) Orval Faubus as head of the state veterans office in a move that outraged blacks and liberal Democrats. “And knowing the consequences, I’d do it again tomorrow,” White told me in 1985. “Orval did a superb job for us.” Because of such controversial actions as the Faubus appointment and the fact that Clinton had two years to mend fences, White lost the rematch in ’82 when Arkansas for the first time elected a governor for a four-year term. In 1986, White at first ruled out another race, but changed his mind and won the GOP nod for another crack at Clinton. In an excellent Democratic year, Clinton won with 64% of the vote. White remained active in political and community affairs. When Arkansas next found itself with a Republican governor (present Gov. Mike Huckabee, who succeeded to the office in 1996), White was tapped as state banking commissioner. At the time of his death, he was 69.