One-time legendary state House Speaker Tom Murphy said, "You've got to be careful with election legislation. More often than not, it doesn't do what you're trying to do, and eventually it backfires."
Well, Georgia's presidential primary schedule certainly didn't take long to backfire.
Georgia finds itself doomed to obscurity in 2008 by having placed its presidential primary on Feb. 5. The current crowd of political kingmakers and talking heads in the Republican Party came up with the bizarre notion that if you move a primary to the same date as larger states (including, mind you, California, New York and Illinois), then the candidates would pay attention to you.
Note to the ruling class: You don't attract additional political attention by joining the crowd; you draw attention by standing apart. And in a year when the Republican Party nomination is up in the air, it is strategically best to be toward the beginning or the end of the primary season, not clumped in irrelevance with 19 other states.
Why does this matter? Because for the first time since 1992, Georgia had the opportunity to really have an impact in a presidential election. That was the year Gov. Zell Miller helped his then-kindred political spirit, Arkansas Gov. Bill Clinton, by moving Georgia's primary a week ahead of the other Southern states. Unlike the current crowd, Zell actually used strategy to make his decision.
Democratic parties in many Southern states came together in 1988 to create a Southern Tuesday in March of that year with the goal of nominating a moderate candidate who could use it as a jumping-off point to win the national nomination. Al Gore and Jesse Jackson split the votes that year, helping Michael Dukakis win the Democratic nomination. Democrats flat lined in the general election later that year.
In 1992 Zell knew Bill needed an early primary victory to win the nomination. So Gov. Miller moved Georgia's primary up a week. Clinton later said the Georgia sweep was his "most important step" to the Democratic nomination.
The Miller-Clinton strategy team made Georgia the most important election on a particular date, not by burying the state in a pit of obscurity.
Fast forward 16 years. Now the GOP controls every facet of Georgia government. It's hard to understand what the 2007 Georgia Republican leaders were hoping to accomplish by lumping the primary with a stampede of other state contests. The elephants weren't even wily enough to agree on a candidate in the nominating fight.
House Speaker Glenn Richardson, R-Hiram, is in bed with Rudy Giuliani, and Republican Sen. Eric Johnson is apparently continuing his somewhat tepid relationship with the somewhat tepid Fred Thompson. Presumably, Gov. Sonny Perdue is with Mitt Romney, but his leadership on this one is reminiscent of the last legislative session and his absence on the water issue.
If they wanted to draw attention to Georgia by changing the date of the primary, they achieved just the opposite. If this crowd were in charge when we were bidding on the Olympics, Athens, Greece, would have hosted the games in 1996, not Atlanta. This isn't boosterism; its buffoonery.
Perhaps it's just another effort to rip a chapter from the playbooks of the chambers of commerce in Mississippi and Alabama: "How to Marginalize Yourself as a State." If we'd thought this out, the Georgia primary would be later, giving Sonny the chance to be a power broker and increase his odds of being VP. That will certainly not happen now.
There's another old saying in Georgia politics: it's best not to be too rich or too smart. This time the Georgia Republicans were too smart for their own good. They took an opportunity to make Georgia the featured state in a presidential contest and blew it.
You can reach Bill Shipp at P.O. Box 2520, Kennesaw, GA 30156, or e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org.