Political Insider

An AJC blog about Atlanta politics, Georgia politics, Georgia and metro Atlanta election campaigns. Because all politics is local.

The Jolt: That day when Stacey Abrams was invited to Zell Miller’s house


Last month, during a forum that featured the two Democratic candidates for governor, former House minority leader Stacey Abrams rolled out an anecdote that has become a significant part of her campaign.

In 1991, she was valedictorian of her Avondale High School class. Along with others from high schools across the state, she and her parents were invited to the Governor’s Mansion, then occupied by Zell Miller. A guard stopped the African-American family at the gate, Abrams said.

A day after the gubernatorial forum, a campaign spokeswoman allowed that Abrams and her parents were eventually allowed into the event.

Last week, ">her campaign sent out a video via Twitter, in which Abrams again recounted her experience:

A partial transcript:

“We got off that bus and walked up the steps, walked up the driveway, to get to the Governor’s Mansion, when we were stopped by a guard. The security guard was guarding these big black gates.

“When my dad said what were there for, the guard looked at us and said, ‘No, this is a private party. You’re not allowed. You don’t belong.’ My mom and dad argued with him, and we got in.

“But what I remember from that day is that I was told that I didn’t belong in the Governor’s Mansion.”

You will not hear from Zell Miller on this – his health is too frail. Which is perhaps one reason why Keith Mason, who served as the governor’s top aide, was incensed by what he took as a shot at Miller. He sent this note:

"I have not endorsed either candidate in the Georgia Democratic primary for governor. Both Stacey Abrams and Stacey Evans are impressive leaders. But I am shocked to hear Representative Abrams say she was treated with disrespect and hostility at the Georgia Governor’s Mansion in the 1990s. I was Gov. Zell Miller’s chief of staff in his first term, and I can tell you he would have never tolerated such conduct. 

"In his first term, Governor Miller appointed the first African-American woman justice to state Supreme Court, appointed the first African-American constitutional officer since Reconstruction, settled a major civil rights case affecting our judiciary, and became the first Southern governor to call for removing Confederate battle emblem from the state flag.  Miller earned the support of civil rights icon John Lewis in every campaign he ever ran. 

"If Ms. Abrams was implying any racial animus or bias on the part of Gov. Miller or his team, that is unfortunate, unfair, and unfounded.  I am hopeful she will clarify the record and not leave the impression that she was besmirching a public servant who was committed to equality, dignity, and opportunity for all Georgians."

Mason didn’t stop there. He somehow was able to find, in the boxes of Miller’s papers at the University of Georgia library, the July 29, 1991 guest list for the Governor’s Mansion. The names of Stacey Abrams, and her parents, are at the top. (It was in alphabetical order, by student.)

I also had a chat last night with Sid Miles, who was a lieutenant in the State Patrol and was in charge of Miller’s security detail during that period.

Miles said he presumes he would have been on site during a day that had more than a thousand students and parents, representing 360 schools, troop through the mansion, but doesn’t recall an incident like the one Abrams described coming to his attention.

“The people who were working there were sensitive to that,” Miles said. “They’re first job was to protect the governor. But their second job was to be nice to the public.”

The Abrams camp said the incident was settled with the guard --and so wouldn’t necessarily have made its way up any chain of command. The statement sent by the Abrams campaign last night:

“Mr. Mason is correct that Governor Miller played a key role in helping move Georgia forward, and Stacey’s story was not casting a shadow on the strides made under his leadership.

“Stacey was recounting a defining event in her life where despite having achieved commendable academic success, her family still wasn’t treated fairly by a security guard at the mansion.

“This story isn’t to make a point about Governor Miller or his staff but rather the culture of the time. The fact that in the 1990s Governor Miller made strides to achieve equality for Georgians underscores this point.

“Too many Georgians feel like they don't belong, or that they have been left behind or left out. Stacey Abrams is running for governor to open the gates of opportunity for every single family, no matter who they are or where they live.”

***

Cathy Woolard, who finished a strong third in the Atlanta mayoral race on Tuesday, announced this morning that she plans a staged "discussion" with the two surviving candidates, Keisha Lance Bottoms and Mary Norwood, "in order to continue the discussion about how the next mayor can create a world-class Atlanta."

The implication, of course, is that the most impressive candidate will win her endorsement. Time and place have yet to be determined. From the press release:

“I’m convening the #FightingForATL Conversation so the thousands of voters who supported me in this election can get clear answers about whether the remaining two contenders share our commitment to the values and vision that galvanized my supporters on Tuesday. I’m thrilled both candidates vying for the top office have agreed to participate.”

***

A nothing-to-see-here defense of Roy Moore, the Republican candidate for U.S. Senate, that confirms many of those Alabama jokes that Georgians like to tell:

Judge Roy Moore, the Republican candidate for Alabama's upcoming special Senate election, denies allegations that he romantically pursued teenagers as young as 14 when he was in his 30s. Even if the allegations are true, one statewide elected official in Alabama said it's "much ado about nothing."

“There is nothing to see here,” Alabama State Auditor Jim Ziegler told the Washington Examiner. “The allegations are that a man in his early 30s dated teenage girls. Even the Washington Post report says that he never had sexual intercourse with any of the girls and never attempted sexual intercourse.”

After all, Ziegler points out, Mary was a teenager, too, when Joseph married her -- and look what came of that. In conclusion:

“There’s just nothing immoral or illegal here,” Ziegler concluded. “Maybe just a little bit unusual.”

***

A Georgia College & State University poll is giving casino supporters some reason to cheer.

The school's State of the State Poll found 58 percent of Georgia voters support casino gambling. It's a debate sure to be revived next year as lawmakers consider a constitutional amendment to legalize casinos and funnel some of the proceeds to the HOPE scholarship.

Among the other findings:

-- About 55 percent of Georgians said they were not satisfied with public education and the same proportion said they'd be willing to invest more money to improve the system.

-- About half of Georgians back legalized same-sex marriage, and three in four favor legalizing medical marijuana.

-- Gov. Nathan Deal's 52 percent approval rating was slightly higher than last year, while approval ratings for Sen. Johnny Isakson (43 percent) and Sen. David Perdue (46 percent) dropped. Only one in three voters gave the Georgia Legislature a favorable review.

-- About 61 percent of voters strongly oppose the campus carry legislation that allows college students to carry concealed guns on public campuses. (Greg Bluestein)

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The Democratic takeovers of two northeast Georgia House districts is less about a Democratic wave and more about the resurgence of liberals in Athens-Clarke County. That's the take from University of Georgia journalims professor Lee Becker, who took a deep dive into the results in his Oconee County Observations blog. (GB)

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The U.S. Senate on Thursday confirmed Albany lawyer Charlie Peeler to be the Trump administration's second Georgia-based U.S. attorney for a four-year term. Peeler will take over the U.S. attorney slot in Georgia’s Middle District, which spans from Albany northeast to Athens. A former attorney with the King & Spalding mega-firm in Atlanta, Peeler moved to Albany about a decade ago to start a boutique litigation firm.

Peeler and a dozen other U.S. attorney picks considered non-controversial were confirmed as a block on the Senate floor Thursday evening with no debate. The Senate approved former state Rep. B.J. Pak to head the U.S. attorney’s office in Atlanta in September. (Tamar Hallerman)

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A former governor of Georgia has been dragged into an international trade export crisis of astounding import by Chris Sununu, governor of New Hampshire. From the Union Leader:

Sununu released on Thursday a letter he had sent to Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue and Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke seeking their assistance.

Gibson Bagpipes LLC has been in business since 1978 and moved its operations to Nashua in 2014 after having been based in Willoughby, Ohio.

The firm learned last January that it would need going forward a permit from the Department of Agriculture because its wood product had been covered by the parties of a Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Flora and Fauna.

Given that bagpipes are heard best when heard from a great distance, we anticipate quick action on Perdue’s part.


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About the Author

Jim Galloway is a three-decade veteran of The Atlanta Journal-Constitution who writes the Political Insider blog and column.