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Interview with Bobby Kahn, August 21, 2009

Richard B. Russell Library for Political Research and Studies, University of Georgia
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00:00:31 - Early interest in politics

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Partial Transcript: You've been in Georgia politics for many years.

Segment Synopsis: Kahn talks about growing up in Savannah, Georgia and remembers being one of a few Democrats in his majority-Republican private school. He talks about volunteering on Carter's presidential campaign as a senior in high school, and working on Phyllis Kravitch's campaign for state court. Kahn talks about attending Emory University, UGA law school, volunteering on Governor Harris' campaign while in law school, and working at a law practice after graduation. Kahn also recalls the first campaign he coordinated for Robert Benham's election to the state court of appeals.

Keywords: Jimmy Carter; Latvia; Lithunia; Phyllis Kravitch; Robert Benham; Savannah Country Day; Savannah, Georgia; University of Georgia; private school

00:07:30 - Working closely with Roy Barnes

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Partial Transcript: You're best known as a political consultant, as a mentor and campaign manager for Roy Barnes.

Segment Synopsis: Kahn focuses on his relationship to Roy Barnes, including helping run his campaign for governor in 1990. He recalls the two other candidates running for governor--Andrew Young and Zell Miller--and describes their respective campaign strengths. Kahn talks about having worked with Young on organizing the 1988 Democratic Convention in Atlanta, and mentions having declined Young's invitation to run his campaign for governor.

Keywords: Andrew Young; Atlanta '88 group; Democratic Convention; HOPE scholarship lottery; Roy Barnes; Zell Miller; gubernatorial race; runoff

00:20:10 - Working relationship with Zell Miller

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Partial Transcript: Did that cause any hard feelings with Miller?

Segment Synopsis: Kahn talk about practicing TV litigation after finding out that the TV stations had overcharged the political candidates in the 1990 election for governor. Kahn reflects on Zell Miller's U.S. Senate appointment following Paul Coverdell's death. Kahn talks about his position as Chair of the Democratic Party of Georgia, and having to reprimand Miller when he crossed party lines to speak at the 2004 Republican National Convention.

Keywords: FCC; Federal Election Commission; TV stations; litigation; media buying; overcharging; political ads

00:29:26 - Barnes' 1998 governor race

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Partial Transcript: Let's get back to a minute, if you will, to that period between 1990 and 1998 when you and Roy Barnes were vacationing.

Segment Synopsis: Kahn discusses continuing to work on the TV litigation case after the 1990 governor race, while Barnes served in the Georgia House of Representatives from 1992 to 1996. He recalls Barnes' second governor race in 1998, and how Barnes and Pierre Howard negotiated for Barnes to run for Lieutenant Governor in order to avoid a contentious seven-person primary. Kahn recalls his surprise at later finding out that Howard had withdrawn his campaign. He briefly mentions the Gang of Five, a group of reform-minded senators in Congress, of which Barnes was a member.

Keywords: Gang of Five; Lewis Massey; Pierre Howard; experience; judiciary committee; lieutenant governor; primary; runoff

00:45:54 - Chief of Staff for Barnes

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Partial Transcript: So Roy Barnes become governor and you move into the Capitol.

Segment Synopsis: Kahn talks about his role as Chief of Staff in pushing Barnes' legislative agendas, including legislation on transportation and education reform. He talks about the idea for the Northern Arc, a highway that would connect I-75 and I-85 north of Atlanta. He also talks about education reforms that included the implementation of the No Child Left Behind model, and the Fair Dismissal Act for Tenure, which removed teacher tenure eligibility.

Keywords: George Bush; education; highways; interstate; testing model; transportation

00:55:07 - Changing the Georgia flag

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Partial Transcript: Changing the flag also became an issue.

Segment Synopsis: Kahn describes the growing tension surrounding the push for a change to the Georgia flag early on in Barnes' term as governor. He talks about balancing public opinion with legislative foresight, by moving quickly to pass the bill in the legislature before it was stopped by a public backlash. He describes the focus on functionality rather than aesthetics when creating the new flag.

Keywords: Confederate flag; controversial; heritage; media coverage; public opinion; race; race tension; sensitivity; social change

01:07:07 - Reapportionment politics

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Partial Transcript: Another thorny issue was reapportionment.

Segment Synopsis: Kahn talks about reapportionment after the 2000 census and explains the strategy behind reapportionment.

Keywords: Democrat; Republican; incumbent; politics; reapportionment

01:11:01 - Re-election campaign, 2002

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Partial Transcript: Northern Arc. You move into reelection in 2002.

Segment Synopsis: Kahn recalls the context of Barnes' 2002 re-election campaign, citing September 11, the dot-com crash, and repercussions of the flag change as issues that contributed to Barnes' loss in the election. Kahn also describes the role that party-switchers played in bolstering the Republican vote in that election. Kahn also anticipates Barnes' campaign for governor in 2010.

Keywords: Republican majority; challenges; incumbent; party switching; re-election; reelection

01:18:01 - Decline of Democratic Party in GA

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Partial Transcript: Well, Bobby, you served as chair of the Georgia Democratic Party. Let's talk about that for a minute.

Segment Synopsis: Kahn discusses the Democratic party's strategy following the establishment of a Republic majority in Georgia in the 2002 midterm elections. He describes the difficulties facing both parties: candidate recruitment, training, and fundraising. He addresses how diverse constituencies affect the Democratic Party, as well as how national elections affect local elections.

Keywords: Independent candidates; Mark Taylor; Sonny Perdue; diversity; federal elections; local elections; party caucus; party organization; reapportionment; recruiting

01:29:52 - Lifetime achievements and legacy

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Partial Transcript: Let me ask you a very personal question.

Segment Synopsis: Kahn reflects on how he would like to be remembered. He talks about his love of party politics, and his most memorable experience serving as executive director of the Democratic Party in Georgia.

Keywords: moderate; work ethic