Partial Transcript: So with your permission let’s start talking about the Clay family.
Segment Synopsis: Clay talks about his family history in Georgia, dating back to William Clay settling in Cobb County before the Civil War. He then remembers his great-grandfather, Alexander Stephens Clay, and his achievements, including being President of the Georgia Senate and a Senator to the U.S. Congress.
Keywords: Henry Clay; Herbert Clay; Kentucky; Leo Frank lynching; Lex Clay; Marietta, Georgia; Milledgeville, Georgia; Progressive Movement; Sherman's March to the Sea; Spanish-American War; University of Georgia Law School; annexation of Hawaii; women's suffrage
Partial Transcript: But the youngest- my Grandfather, Lucius Clay-went to West Point.
Segment Synopsis: Clay discusses the military merits of his grandfather, Lucius Clay, Senior. Clay primarily focuses on his grandfather's role in managing supplies during World War II, as well as acting as military governor and ambassador in West Germany during the Cold War.
Keywords: Berlin Airlift; Civilian Conservation Corps; Continental Can; Eisenhower presidential campaign; Interstate highway system; Jimmy Burns; Red River Dam; Rickenbacker Field
Partial Transcript: My father and uncle, on the other hand, both graduated from West Point in 1942.
Segment Synopsis: Clay recalls his father's service in Army Air Corps during World War II, and later in the Air Force. Clay then relates his experiences growing up on various military bases around America and how that shaped his character.
Keywords: Belgium; England; France; Frank Clay; Lucius Clay, Junior; NORAD; Pacific Air Forces; Tampa, Florida; bomber pilot
Partial Transcript: And you chose law?
Segment Synopsis: Clay explains why he chose a career in law instead of in the military like his father and grandfather. Clay then details his time working at the Solicitor General's Office in Marietta, Georgia.
Keywords: District Attorney's Office; Herb Rivers; Phi Beta Kappa; Socratic method; Tom Charron; University of Georgia School of Law; University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill; West Point; mathematics
Partial Transcript: I left the D.A. office for a year or so.
Segment Synopsis: Clay describes how he first got interested in politics and what convinced him to join the Republican Party over the Democratic Party. Clay then elaborates on what he did in his first elected position as Cobb County Commissioner.
Keywords: "good ol' boy" system; Babe Atkins; Babe Barr; Bill Atkins; Bob Dole; Carl Harrison; GOPAC; Johnny Gresham; Johnny Isakson; Republican National Committee; Warren Herron
Partial Transcript: Went down to the Senate- was lucky enough to get elected in '88.
Segment Synopsis: Clay reminisces about his service in the Georgia Senate, mentioning his thoughts on the ten Senate Republicans he joined.Clay then emphasizes that he had to compromise on issues, both with his fellow Republicans and with Democrats.
Keywords: Culver Kidd; Frank Albert; Jim Tysinger; Joe Burton; Joe Frank Harris; Paul Coverdell; Roy Barnes; Sallie Newbill; Skin Edge; Ted Land; Tom Murphy; Zell Miller; minority leader
Partial Transcript: Let me ask you this question.
Segment Synopsis: Clay gives his thoughts on how Democrats managed to keep control in Georgia until the end of the 21st century, despite Lyndon Johnson's belief otherwise. Clay then details the expansion of Republicans in Georgia during the 1980s and 1990s, which he ascribes to strong candidates like Guy Milner and strong party organization.
Keywords: Bo Callaway; Lester Maddox; Paul Coverdell; Roy Barnes; Zell Miller; conservative; liberal
Partial Transcript: Let's go back, if you will, to your service in the Senate.
Segment Synopsis: Clay tells of his duties as the minority leader in the Georgia Senate, including brokering deals with Democrats at some points, but also stalling their legislation at others. He then notes the role of leadership in the Republican Party, such as that of the party chairman and the governor.
Keywords: Alec Poitevant; Chairman of the Georgia Republican Party; Charlie Tanksley; Clay Land; David Duke; David Ralston
BOB SHORT: This is Bob Short, Reflections on Georgia Politics, sponsored bythe library at Young Harris College and the Richard B. Russell Library for Research and Studies at the University of Georgia. Our guest today is Chuck Clay, Cobb County Commissioner, State Senator and Chairman of the Georgia Republican Party. Welcome, Chuck.
CHUCK CLAY: Ah, great to be here. Its always a pleasure.
SHORT: Chuck, with your permission, wed like to divide our conversationtoday into three parts. First, your family and your early life. Secondly, your career as a public servant. And lastly, your role in the growth of the Republican Party in Georgia.
CLAY: Watch out.
SHORT: So with your permission lets start talking about the Clay family.
CLAY: Its going to grow grander by the minute. I can assure you. I can00:01:00assure you. Its funny, and Ill backtrack a little bit. I grew up in a military family which means, and were sitting here at my law office in Marietta, Georgia, right now, but I grew up moving around and did not come here until I left the University of Georgia Law School in 1978. However, for a vagabond that I was, coming here was fascinating because I suddenly walked in and there was this big bronze statue on the Square here in Marietta with A.S. Clay on it. You went down Clay Road. Theres Clay plazas, Clay schools, Clay, Clay, Clay, and it was - - youre not owed anything for that, but it was a wonderful sort of sense of coming home, if you will, for a guy who never lived more than two or three years anywhere in my life, to be in Marietta where there was this sense of sudden belonging. Now some of it was very impressive. Some of it might have been more nefarious, but thats probably true of any family and it makes for good reading and even better stories over time. But then to build 00:02:00on that, the Clays though were one of the early pioneer families here in Cobb County. Came here in about 1850. Came up from the South Georgia area. Had originally come in in Virginia. Part went to Kentucky that wound up being the Henry Clay side of the family. The horse thieves and bootleggers came south down around Milledgeville, and one of the older sons back then with a division of land, if you didnt get the land, you were kind of out of luck. And so like a lot of small landless working farmers, they came to places like Cobb County to settle, and it was a hard scrabble, you know, independent William Clay in 1850 and settled down here. He was a pretty tough guy. Somebody once told me he whipped a - - was still fist fighting well into his 90s if somebody said anything bad about any of his kids. But then certainly others that were involved, uneducated, scrabble, hard scrabble farmer. One of his sons by the name of Alexander Stevens Clay, certainly named after one of the great figures 00:03:00in Georgia history, was one of the younger. He got a minimum of education. Was a 10 year old about the time that Sherman came marching through, and interestingly everybody--history becomes one sided, but William Clay was an antisessetionist [ph]. He refused to serve in the Confederate Army, thought the whole thing was absurd and for rich folks that really wasnt his fight until the fight came to Marietta, and he did like everybody at that point in time, enlist in the home guard. The young boys were carrying water and firewood up. The older guys were digging trenches or helping to supply or fight if you had to. And of course the town was utterly destroyed. Senator Clay, my grandfather, remembers his father once or twice mentioning had not Union troops fed him in 1865 they would have starved to death. This place was utterly devastated. And secondly, as he began his career both in law and politics, and while he died at a fairly young age, my grandfather said I never once heard my grandfather 00:04:00mention the confederacy, say the word confederacy. And it wasnt because he was bitter or angry at it. It was the imprimatur of the tragedy, if you will, I sometimes want to contrast that some of my friends and some of the flagger movements and that type of thing now, which I respect certainly the historical side of the SCV and those that would be interested, I find it interesting that those who lived through the hell and the horror, like most folks who do, want to get on with their lives and not look back but look forward. He became a lawyer here and later was elected to the U.S. Senate. Actually one of the three people in Georgia history served as Speaker of the House, President of the Senate and then became of United States Senator. His portraits down there at one of the large portraits down at the State Capitol in Atlanta. Ive often though how I could sneak it out at night if I could just build a room big enough to put it. But an interesting guy. Was the first person to introduce a bill for womens suffrage. Absolutely adamantly opposed the Spanish-American war and the 00:05:00annexation of Hawaii, but was very close friends with Teddy Roosevelt on domestic policy, the trust busting, the progressive side, if you will, of the republican movement, and often was a coauthor of his legislation on the floor of the U.S. Senate when they wanted democrats signatories. He was one of them, and I had a couple of old timers tell me he may have been a national figure on a national ticket as maybe one of the first southerners as a VP. Collapsed on the floor of the United States Senate of ulcers and literally bled to death internally and died when he was 56 years old. My granddad spent a year or two as a page in the Senate, but died as a relatively young man on something ironically today we can cure with a pill. He had five kids. Four sons - - six kids. Five sons and a daughter, and almost sort of Faulkner-esque family in terms of accomplishments and tragedy and living life too large too early, but very, very 00:06:00interesting and dont have time to go through necessarily the Lex Clays, the Herbert Clays, the Robin Clays, Frank Clays, his sister, but my grandfather, the youngest of all these boys, one of the older brothers was one of those implicated as one of the ringleaders in the infamous Leo Frank lynching. He was the Solicitor General of the Blue Ridge Circuit at that point in place in time. Lex Clay was supposed to be the most brilliant lawyer and he got a little bit caught up in a life of dissipation. Herbert was the youngest President of the Georgia Senate; died in his 40s from again probably living a little too large. As I once said, the President of the University wrote to Senator Clay about whether or not he should let Herbert go to a football game because he had been partying a little too hard and not attending to his studies. Maybe things havent changed all that much in some respects at the university, other than I bet the President doesnt have time to write dads about recounts of your children anymore. But the youngest, my grandfather, Luscious Clay, went to West 00:07:00Point, graduated from Marietta High School, wanted to go to Georgia Tech but he was too young, so he went back, lied about his age and got into West Point. Graduated right at the end. It was a three-year class because of World War I and was sent to Europe, did not get into the combat side of things. Got over there at the very end with the need for the combat engineers, as you might expect, toured Europe. But went on to have a sort of a fascinating career. His life was to me of great interest because it spanned literally World War I through almost the 70s to the cold war negotiations over Berlin and places like that. And again not necessarily time to do so was worked in the CCC. It was very interesting. He got assigned to a project in Dennison, Texas, the Red River Dam, that happened to be Sam Rayburns district out there, and became very, very good friends over that period of time. One of the interesting aspects, he headed 00:08:00up the crash airport development program that built 600 something airports in the prelude to the second World War, one of those being here in Marietta, Georgia, that was called Rickenbacker Field. It was going to be the second airport that weve talked about ever since, but Rickebacker Field was placed here as a preparation to military needs. When the war broke out, he certainly like any officer at this time and place wanted to combat command, but was assigned to Washington, D.C. where he spent most of the war in charge of supply and material, every tank, rifle, plane, sock, piece of underwear was produced out of their office with about six folks. Another sort of prominent southerner got involved in that was a guy named Jimmy Burns who later went on to be a very, very dear friend. In fact, my granddad gave his eulogy at South Carolina when he died. But helped in building what anybody today would say was the most 00:09:00miraculous overwhelming power of the United States to produce the quantities of both men, women too, and material. So while its not something he wanted to do, I think the success speaks for itself. Was briefly brought into Normandy. Dwight Eisenhower was a good friend going back to the sort of the pre-war 20s and 30s, had both worked on the McCarther staff in the Philippines which would be another story for another time. Went to Normandy where the beaches had been clogged and they couple get supplies out. And I always remember, and Ive tried to remember this in business and politics, is that "I arrived and I could figure out very quickly he had a perfectly good harbor master and nobody would let the poor SOB do his job. So my orders are very simple. Youre in charge. Nobody else is to talk to you, and youre not going to hear from me, and in 48 hours if things arent moving, youre going to be fired. So yes, sir. And he said he had it running marvelously. So sometimes its empowering the right 00:10:00people to do their job and then leaving them alone and let them do it. And, you know, nothing profound, but a pretty good philosophy. But he then went on to be interested. He was asked by Roosevelt at the end of the war of 1945 brought into his office and I think little footnote, my granddad was possibly the last person in D.C. to see Roosevelt alive. He left after that meeting, went down - - as an official appointment - - went down to Warm Springs and died a day or two later, and he said "youre going to be the military governor of Germany," and he said "yes, sir. And walked out the door and said to Joe Marshall "by the way what is a military governor of Germany," which is how much preparation folks were given. You know, Roosevelt liked to keep things secretive. There had been discussions with the Soviets, the French, what was going to be, but the fact of the matter is you arrived in an utterly destroyed country with horrible human beings that needed to be punished, millions of innocents that needed to be repatriated and treated and gotten back to whatever family or home they could 00:11:00get to, and then somehow instill democracy with a pro-western government with an institutions that mirror our own. And the fabulous thing about it is they did. Its probably one of the greatest not just American and not just generals, but privates and sergeants and civil folks, civil servants, French, Brits, under some pretty remarkable circumstances punished bad guys not perfectly, but certainly better than anybody else out there. Set up a federal system like ours, and got underway the trappings of a government that was responsive to its people with a free press and free education, while right across the border the Soviets were doing just the opposite and of course that cumulated in 48 with the Berlin airlift. General Clay started that. Certainly General Tunner and the air crews that supplied a plane landing and taking off every 30 to 45 seconds unloading coal on the backs of former German wehrmacht soldiers and officers and civilians and women and children, flour, food and everything you needed to 00:12:00supply a city of two million for a year that nobody said could be done, and again one of the great efforts of doing the right thing for the right reasons to save lives without killing each other. As I was at a ceremony not too long ago, one of the veterans Gale Halverson, who started the candy drives for the kids, asked one of his pilots "how does it feel to be feeding the very people that you were killing as a bomber pilot, you know, four years ago. He said "it feels a whole lot better feeding them than killing them. And I think that says a lot about the ingenuity of. He left that, went on to have a marvelous career and was Chairman and CEO of Continental Can. Built it in the largest diversified packaging firm. Was also became active. He was Eisenhowers campaign manager, along with Herbert Brownell. Was General Clay was a secret conduit to Eisenhower over Europe. Finally got him to run by saying that - - to announce by saying if you dont I think McArthur just might. And that got Ike in the next day. That 00:13:00says a bunch - - probably says all that needs to be said. But was a great admirer of Eisenhowers and when Eisenhower developed the Eisenhower highway system that was so much integral to development in this part of the world, General Clay headed the commission that put the design together to get that done. He later became the Finance Chair of the RNC, was very much an Eisenhower democrat - - I mean republican for all that that might - - for a guy that grew up as a democrat was an Eisenhower republican for all that might mean in modern day politics. He was a pragmatist, but he also served when the wall went up. John Kennedy sent him back over to Berlin for a year as his personal envoy with the rank of Ambassador. Spent the - - with the great confrontation of tanks at checkpoint Charlie. That was under his guise and watch to prove that this was in fact a Russian, not a German operation. And the Kennedys sort of liked him. He was a kind of a take charge, can-do, not a tattle tail kind of guy, and so, you 00:14:00know, some criticized him for serving a democrat President, but again as he said one time over dinner, "I let all you folks say the President - - tell the President no, but theres only two words that come out of my mouth if a President of the United States calls and thats yes sir. So Ill let the politicos worry about whether its right or wrong. Im honored to be asked, and if I can help Im there." He was a walking history book. He could tell you what it was like to sit across the table of Joseph Stalin at the Moscow meetings after the war, drank a brandy with Winston Churchill or as he was asked to do after the Bay of Pigs fiasco, he was called by Robert Kennedy on December 23rd to come to the White House and would he sign a note and raise some money to save - - to repatriate some of the prisoners captured that Castro indicated he would. He signed a personal note for a couple or million dollars he didnt have right then. They got the Cubans out and sat in Robert Kennedys office and raised money to pay the note off before Christmas. And small things that 00:15:00folks would never know and not going to be in a history book, but had that window for six almost decades. My father had two sons. My father and uncle, on the other, both graduated from West Point in 1942. My dad went to the Army Air Corp; my uncle went into the Armor.
SHORT: And these were sons of General Luscious Clay.
CLAY: Yes, sir. Yes, sir.
SHORT: And your dad was Luscious Clay - -
SHORT: Junior. Right.
CLAY: My uncle was Frank Clay and both went on - - my dad was a medium bomberpilot out of England and Belgium and France, and Frank landed with troops in North Africa in the Armor and fought to the final days of the war in northern Italy in 1945 and my dad, and Ill focus on that. Frank was a highly, highly decorated two silver stars, two bronze stars. Certainly my dad had his share, but my dad was that cusp of the new force, the Air Force, and he went in as a 00:16:00Second Lieutenant in 1942. By 1945 a lot of them were Lieutenant Colonels if you lived and survived. And he became a part of that burgeoning and exploding new wing that in 1949 was split off to be United States Air Force, and went on to serve in many capacities from, you know, director of plans at the Pentagon to 7th Air Force Commnder in Vietnam, the Commander of NORAD, the Commander in Chief Pacific Air Forces, and as I said before, probably the seminal things that occur in your life, in anyones life. But I grew up - - I was born in Tampa. Then we moved to Alabama. Went to Virginia. Moved to Puerto Rico. Moved to Nebraska. Moved back to Virginia, out to Texas, back to Virginia again, out to Hawaii, out to Thailand, back to Hawaii, Colorado, North Carolina and here down in Georgia. So when I say I landed at a place where it was fun to see the name around I meant that sincerely. But I wouldnt trade. You grow up learning a 00:17:00lot. You make friends quickly. You learn to communicate quickly. You learn some great lessons about life which is never be really friends with the first person that talks to you on a new base because they dont have any friends or they wouldnt be talking to you. But it is a wonderful way to learn to communicate, deal with other people, you know, from sergeants and NCOs to high ranking officers, the kids played together, went to school together. There might be an officers club or an NCO club, but it was not an air of superiority. It was just a difference in the role and it was a wonderful place in many respects as a child to grow up in the serenity and safety of a military post where theres that shared mission, shared idealism, passion. At 5:00 when retreat sounds everybody stops their cars, you stop what youre doing, you stand in respectful attention as the flag comes down. Its a very - - you understand the rules and its important I think for kids, anybody, but particularly kids. You knew where you were on a post like that and it was a wonderful way to grow.
SHORT: As a member of such a distinguished military family, did you ever00:18:00consider following in their footsteps?
CLAY: Absolutely, and it - - never regrets. If I had not taken the path I did,I certainly thought about it very, very much because theres a part of me that truly loves, as I said, that sense of commitment and mission and shared passion of service. My math was atrocious. I was both concerned about my ability to say go and graduate from West Point, which is still at heart an engineering mathematics school. Part of it probably was after two generations. I think my dad and granddad may be the only two father/son four-star graduates from West Point. I think sometimes you may feel like youre competing more against your own family than you are for your own career, and Im not the first or last to ever feel or express that, so I think a combination of things just made me feel that, you know, there had been law in the family. I - - maybe this is 00:19:00indicative. I enjoy the discourse. I enjoy the give and take. I enjoy that idea of developing a theme and then trying to convince folks that your view and mission is right, but is there a part of me that always gets a lump in my throat when I go to a military retreat or see the flag coming up or down in the morning, absolutely. It will give me goose bumps until the day I die.
SHORT: You chose law.
CLAY: Law chose me.
SHORT: Law chose you.
CLAY: No, I dont mean that because I was that good. Law has - - I mean lifehas a strange way of sort of eliminating that which you cant do before you arrive at that which you can do. I graduated undergraduate at the University of North Carolina Chapel Hill. Im proud to say I was a Phi Beta Kappa graduate at a time in place where I know there were folks smarter than me, but I am proud to say that at least when I had to didnt cut class much and I studied when I had to mostly, and it paid off and I was very proud and I worked - - I ran a 00:20:00restaurant there really for a couple of years after I got out of school, and but I wanted - - obviously I knew at some point in time and growing up in a military family its all I knew. I knew we had lawyers in our family. I have lawyers relatives of my granddads family in Atlanta, very distinguished lawyers. So I thought "let me give it a try," and as much as anything even then in the 70s Atlanta was kind of a hub. It looked like a better place for opportunity for a young lawyer, so I applied at the University of Georgia. And I - - my one story, I was at a restaurant running it. I lived out in the country at a farm I just didnt have a phone, so its lucky they caught me at the restaurant. And said "this is the admissions office at the University of Georgia, do you want to go to law school? Of course my smart, you know, response would have been "what the hell do you think I put the application in for?" you know. But of course my response was "absolutely Id be delighted, yes, sir, and when do I need to be there? "Monday morning. So on Friday I sold everything I owned, which wasnt much back in 1972 or 3, and a buddy of mine put me in a pickup 00:21:00truck and dropped me what was then a gas station right down from the arches on Atlanta Highway coming into town. I remember going to the gas station attendant and saying "can you tell me where the University of Georgia is?" looking like an absolute moron. "Yeah about the next 2,000 acres." "Thank you, sir." And started law school 24 hours after closing - - 48 hours after closing my kitchen down I was a right eager enthusiastic youngster at law school. Law school is a little bit of enigmatic experience I might put it that way. It was not - - I think they probably do better now, but it was a little bit of a mysterious process and Ive never quite understood a Socratic system which is "Im paying you perfectly good money for your experience, why are you asking me the questions to the stupid, you know, answer your stupid questions. Thats what Im paying you for. But did get through. It is a grind. Proud to get through. And then 00:22:00what happened with me is fortuitously sometimes luck, fate, the Almighty good or bad, I knew I didnt want to work in a big downtown firm. I knew I didnt want to. That was not me. And I went to - - and I needed a job and I went to the job posted board and there was a little job that said Solicitors Office, Marietta, Georgia, Assistant Solicitor open. And I got in my little pickup truck and drove over here and interviewed me, Herb Rivers, and hired me that day. So it was a win-win. I needed a paycheck. He needed an Assistant Solicitor. But its the greatest thing that happened to me in terms of my legal career because suddenly things came in focus. It forced me to get into courtrooms and develop a style, develop a passion, develop communication, those types of skills, and it comes in myriads of different ways and modes, but it was a great place. The Solicitor tries misdemeanor cases and you could go in and try one 00:23:00after another after another, and then I moved over to the D.A.s office. Tom Charron had just been elected; was the first republican District Attorney in the State of Georgia. In 1980 he was up for reelection. We won a landslide election when the - - fortunately when the absentee votes were counted at 6:00 in the morning, but I spent four wonderful years over there, and thats probably what really got me focused and looking more at the republican side and then sort of igniting kind of that interest in local government and politics. I left the D.A.s office for a year or so. One of the commissioners had decided to not run for reelection, a democrat and a fine person, and I announced for that position as a republican which still in West Cobb in 19 - - even this was 1986 at this point in time, was still sort of unheard of in West Cobb, but it didnt take too much to see that the growing numbers if you could tap into 00:24:00them were from out of state, they were moving in, new neighborhoods and they were probably going to vote republican just because they didnt like what they saw - - they thought they didnt like what they saw of the good old boy system. Unfortunately as again plans always work, the same individual who decided not to run again then changed his mind and decided to run again, and what became I thought would be a run for an open seat became a very contested and occasionally bitterly contested run that I wound up upset - - unseating - - upseting if you will because I think everybody at that point in time didnt think a republican could win out there. It was no brilliance of mine we found some common themes of neighborhood protection, you know, managed zoning, it was that beginning of the clash of growth versus antigrowth, and we were able to tap into it. But I look at it not because of anything I did, as one of the first truly modern campaigns. The RNC through Reagan and Go Pac had spent an enormous amount of money focusing on voter ID and getting these people into programs and 00:25:00identified individually, and then working those individuals to go vote on a consistent theme and message, and it made me a believer that organization and skill and the money needed to do it mostly which was provided by the RNC, not to me specifically, but to republicans everywhere. Cobb had suddenly burst on the scene as a republican county, and they were investing in it and I was an early beneficiary. Back up just one sentence, you know, when I say it was still a democrat area and why folks vote republican, you know, when I got here like any young sort of idealistic person, Id go to the two different party meetings and it was then the democrats that in my mind were the more closed minded, that were, you know, talking always about them Yankees and Yankees and off color things and seemed closed and old. Probably younger than I am now, but at the time and place it seemed old, whereas the republicans, the Johnny Isaksons, the Johnny Greshams, the Warren Herrons, you know, Babe Atkins and Bill Atkins and 00:26:00any number of others, Bob Barr back then, they were young, they were enthusiastic, they were out there bringing people in, and if you looked at one versus this and you were a young person, it was the republicans that looked like the progressives - - not looked like, at the time were. And so I got involved with that and then - - and we sort of hit that cusp of things really breaking county wide in terms of republican strength here. Its ebbing back the other way now, but certainly that was a beginning and, you know, I probably ascribe more to the Bob Dole theory of republicanism than most anything else which is when Bob Dole came back from the war and wanted to run he went down to the then voting office and counted how many registered republicans there were and how many registered democrats there were, saw there were three times as many republicans and said "you know I think Im a republican." We dont register by party here, but it was clear to me that the numbers were moving in that 00:27:00direction and for all the right reasons. You know, two years after that Carl Harrison, a very dear friend and long time public servant, had had a heart transplant and went back to work, maybe worked too hard, he did what he loved to do, died in a Senate seat. 37 came open halfway through my first term as a county commissioner. I was elected in 86. Helped institute the first code of ethics for the commission. And you know the thing Im most proud of as a commissioner? We were having one or two deaths a year in Cobb, about six deaths a year in the metro area, from these trench cave-ins, construction sites, and we implemented the first mandatory licensing program and training program to ensure that when you - - trenches were dug they were either boxed or sured up in a way, and we have not had a fatality in Cobb County in that kind of accident since then. Simple safety precautions that never glamorous, but thats what commissioners do and it saved lives. Went down to the Senate, was lucky enough 00:28:00to get elected in 88.
SHORT: One of 11.
CLAY: One of 11. The proud 11. Paul Coverdell was our fearless leader and afine one, but we had some wonderful from Skin Edge and Sallie Newbill, and gosh, Jim Tysinger and Joe Burton and Frank Albert and Ted Land. Ill leave some good ones out, you know, but it was a good group of people that were both deep and profound like a Jim Tysinger. There were up and comers like Skin Edge or Sallie, Paul Coverdell was indefatigable and was both a proud republican, but knew how to work with leadership. Roy Barnes being one of his closest friends until he died, and those things paid benefits. And what I learned to do as a republican in the minority, if youre going to be effective you do have to learn how to legislate one on the margins. Youre not going to be on the conference committee for the budget, but it doesnt meant there arent effective things that you can do. And the second one is you build relationships 00:29:00and coalitions that stand the test of time because I used to go out and find folks in the house, rural farm belt that I didnt know much about, that I would find some way to befriend because I knew they could vote for me with probably no sweat and I could vote for them on some other things with no sweat, and youve made yourself a friend for not on every issue, but a lot of times when you really need a vote of importance, and you learn how to do those things and its a dying art. Its one thing I think that I dont see as much now is the ability just to intuitively understand that your political enemy today may be your most important vote the next day, and you dont give a hoot party or where theyre from or anything else. You got to always keep that door open. And I enjoyed it. I learned a lot. They were the giants down there. I mean Zell was still - - Joe Frank was Governor. The famous last minute tax on food with all the vegetables misspelled. Zell went on to be elected Governor and of course 00:30:00the lottery was his big signal statement at that time and place, but I had the great joy of watching Culver Kidd just hand out mirrors before a speech one day and get to that crescendo theres only one thing standing between you and doing the right thing. Now pick up your mirrors and take a look. As I said before he didnt give a hoot, and, you know, I learned later hed cry and hed thunder, but he was a genius at bringing in stacks of bills and hed have these emotional ones that you thought he was just going to expire over. He didnt care. Hed get the little bills passed that created another six jobs in Baldwin County and Milledgeville every year that he was there. Wonderful man. Wonderful guy.
SHORT: Thats why they called him the Silver Fox.
CLAY: He got it. He got it. Im telling you. You know, Tom Murphy was rulingsupreme in the House, but good things happened for Georgia. There was a lot of profound leadership and Im always respectful - - I was a proud republican. I 00:31:00went on later and got to be elected minority leader, but I was always proud of all those who served, much like the camaraderie in the military, and I see some of that camaraderie fraying today and it disappoints me because, you know, Zell Miller, as you well know, he could filet a republican about as well as anybody Ive ever heard back in the, I guess 90s, but it was always with just - - it was the theater and you knew it was theater. But when it came to getting something done, you know, Zell Miller would sit down "what do I need? What do you need to get your - - what do I need? What do you need, what do I need to get this vote? Lets get it done. The lottery being probably the best example of that, but I have enormous respect for the Zell Millers and the Tom Murhpys. I had never served in the House, but I know the quality and the passion he brought to that position and the benefit that accrued to Georgia by having that. No one party, no one individuals got a monopoly on whats right or whats smart. 00:32:00
SHORT: Let me ask you this question.
SHORT: It occurred to me that since the passage of the Voting Rights Act in1964 when Lyndon Johnson said to Richard Russell, our Senator at the time, Im turning the south over to the republicans, it took all those years between 1964 and 2002 to elect a republican governor. Why?
CLAY: You know I first describe that quite candidly--the quality of leadership.I mean theres some daggone good leadership in this state over that period of time. Again, you know, probably the high water mark for the potential of that was Bo Callaway backin 64. And fell short - - well went to the General Assembly, and then elected Lester Maddox after Bo had won a plurality but not a 00:33:00majority, and Lester Maddox became Governor and the republican tide if you will receded from that point until the 2000. Theres also the difficulty the business community is not as diverse. I mean the big dollar contributing business community is focused in one area, and as long as the democrats were in control they were better funded, they were much better funded. Republicans could peck away at the edges, but mounting a statewide campaign without the financial resources to do was also dauntingly difficult during those years. Unless you had the Atlanta political business base economic base sort of behind you, they stayed with the dems for most of this period of time. And it really wasnt until for good/bad reasons decades later that the house of cards politically if you will collapsed with on Governor Barnes whether thats his fault or not or 00:34:00it was coming inevitable. Theres probably a certain inevitability to that, but we all thought it would have occurred a whole lot earlier. Sort of like next year in Jerusalem the old famous, you know, saying were republicans, you know, next year in Atlanta, next year on West Paces Ferry, next year in the Governors Office and it seemed to go, go, go, and go. But, you know, now republicans are strong in control, but the dems are swinging back nibbling on the edges. Theyre moving back into the Cobbs and the Gwinnetts, certainly the Dekalbs where youre seeing a growing democrat base. Roy Barnes could be reelected Governor. If not, I do think - - if its not him I think a republican could win - - will win this time, but dont ever write out the other side in politics.
CLAY: The pendulum always swings. I dont think well be in control for 130years. I wish - - that may be good or bad. I dont think it will be that long.
SHORT: Let me ask you this question. It seems that the Georgia electoratethinks that to be republican youre conservative and to be democrat youre a 00:35:00liberal. Thats not necessarily true is it?
CLAY: Certainly never been true in the south. I dont want to speak for NewYork or Pennsylvania, but obviously, you know, there was no more economic fiscal conservative anywhere in the world than a southern democrat. Republicans rose the tide in some respects on making government more open and doing certain things better, but the fact of the matter is in some respects the republicans were seen as the more liberal and I use that by todays standards in the 70's than were the dems. Ultimately the national realignment did sort of move into the south and you saw white voters drifting to the republican party, African American, minority and fewer sort of urban metro liberals being the base of the democratic party, and truthfully thats not good. I think the American 00:36:00political spectrum has been with political parties that represented if not a complete spectrum of conservative to liberal, but a broader tint because it forced you to govern and compromise in the middle. I do fear that we have a rigid sort of almost an English parliamentary system where youve got, you know, Labour versus, you know, Tory versus Labour. I hope we dont go that way, but you are seeing a polarization now that I hope in time we see sort of merging back with groups of both crossing lines.
SHORT: A few years ago the Republican Party seemed to be confined mostly towhat was known as the donut, which is suburban Atlanta, but it has now expanded throughout the state. Is that a result of the efforts of the state party?
CLAY: Im going to give a lot of that - - in terms of the outcome, Imgoing to give a lot of credit to that to Guy Milner when he made that first run. 00:37:00He was the first republican who truly won almost every rural traditionally democrat county where there was a - - I hate - - I dont mean these words in any mean way, but a white majority he pulled those all into the republican camp. Now groundwork being laid, party structure is important. I can remember going - - I used to laugh and say "you go to some parts of Georgia back when I was chairman and certainly before that to have a republican party meeting, the only people who are republicans in south Georgia in the 70s and 80s were the folks who couldnt get in the Kiwanis Club. So, you know, you really build - - youre building interesting characters to say the least. But the party is a network that allows a framework to be taken and a model from community to community, from county to county where you have some ability to plug faces where there may not be any elected officials. So you get good people that represent the party, then youre soon going to get good candidates and then youre 00:38:00soon going to start winning the courthouses and local elections. And it is important. I never want to overemphasize party as opposed to candidates. I mean I do think, you know, best candidates with a good organization are still the key to winning. But the Republican Party you got to remember for many years was the only face for a statewide organization for republicans in Georgia. It was the chairman of the party that was turned to by the press or the media or other things that might go on to make a statement. You know, Paul Coverdell was one of the first to break through and he beat Wyche when we had the runoff. I was - - we were getting ready to go to the Philadelphia convention in 2000 when he tragically, you know, died, and suddenly I became again that point person, and I say that not as a point of pride, but it reminded me how important the partys role was up until that point in time. Once you have the U.S. senators and the governors and the statewide offices, the out front part of it is less important. 00:39:00The organizational part still is.
SHORT: His death was tragic. It left Governor Barnes, Roy Barnes, with adecision of replacing him. He appointed a democrat, Zell Miller. What were your thoughts about that?
CLAY: I personally thought it was a good choice. I mean I wasnt - - you hadsome people arguing that because Paul was a republican he should have put in a republican. Well thats not - - that may be true, but it aint real world. Of course hes going to put a democrat there, and he put about a seasoned and as we now know - - we were less sure of that at that time, conservative democrat, probably now more to the chagrin of Roy Barnes than any republican in the state of Georgia who almost claim Zell Miller as one of their own maybe to Zells chagrin, but I think it was a good decision. It was a shrewd decision and served Georgia well. I sometimes question Zells sanity for going - - for wanting to go up there after his level of service, but God bless him for doing so. 00:40:00
SHORT: Yeah. Lets go back if you will to your service in the Senate. Youserved as minority leader.
CLAY: Yes, sir.
SHORT: Tell us a little bit about that responsibility and who calls the shots?
CLAY: Minority leader is one of those wonderful positions that has neither acarrot nor a stick. So other than getting your picture a little higher on the legislative photos on the wall and the Senate chambers, its one of those that really is purely the art of persuasion because you really dont have a carrot or a stick, and sometimes you do it successfully, sometimes you dont. I enjoyed it immensely because I think its always an honor to be recognized by your peers in that capacity. We were still, you know, focused our efforts in many respects we were picking up seats, picking up seats, picking up seats and picking up seats, and it took a little longer than we thought, but to me it was fun and bespoke more a level of I guess excellence of service than it really is 00:41:00major clout. Yes youre going to be asked to be involved. Yes you get to have some discussions with the Governor. Yes you get to be a point person on explaining positions on key bills sometimes when you want to, sometimes when you dont. But a wonderful learning curve that in many respects sort of confines you in some ways because you have to take pary positions as opposed to sometimes your own political positions, but Id say itd probably been more fun it been a majority leader, but, you know, things work as they do and we prided ourselves on being a smart, politically savvy alternative. We werent nave. We didnt try to burn bridges, but we tried to, where we could, leverage the democrats. Sometimes thats easier to do when youre in the minority to leverage the majority. And with people like the Skin Edges of the world and Sallie and some of the old timers like Jim and Joe, I think Clay Land 00:42:00came in, David Ralston came in, Charlie Tanksley came in. I would have matched those intellects of those folks against anybody in the General Assembly and Id feel confident wed come out ahead every time, and I think we did. I think we created real credibility not just being good senators, but credibility on being a real political alterative that was on its way up. And Im proud to have been a little part of it.
SHORT: In Georgia a coalition of 11 votes can certainly affect the outcome oflegislation in the Senate.
CLAY: Beat most any Constitutional Amendment.
SHORT: Who determines positions from a party standpoint in those legal battles?
CLAY: Well in terms of pure legal battles, the party chairman would hirecounsel to go through. Republican party, because we didnt have a governor, came up really was a much more grassroots organization. Republicans elected 00:43:00almost everybody whether it be in the party structure, the executive committees, the local law offices, they were all elected. We all did this committee - - I mean the various conferences and conventions throughout the state and it was a very democratic organization. The democrats generally appointed theirs because the governor was the source of power. The governor controlled everything, and the governor kind of would wink and nod and certain things would almost inevitably occur. Were not back to that model as yet and theyre a little bit more like us now. Since theyve lost the governorship theyve come a little more open on it. Partys going to make the decisions that affect party business, party unity. Alec Poitevent, when David Dukes wanted to come to Georgia and run as a republican, Alec Poitevant was the party chairman then and said hell no. Youre not going to do it. And I gave him credit for that and he couldnt do it because he called that shot and he controlled whos on the nominee or a potential nominee of the Republican Party and I think thats a 00:44:00good sign.