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Interview with Bill Stephens, May 2, 2012

Richard B. Russell Library for Political Research and Studies, University of Georgia
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00:00:29 - Introduction

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Partial Transcript: I'm Bob Short, and this is Reflections on Georgia Politics, sponsored by the Richard B. Russell Library at the University of Georgia and Young Harris College.

Segment Synopsis: Interviewer Bob Short introduces interviewee Bill Stephens

00:00:48 - Early life / Education

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Partial Transcript: Bill, if I'm not mistaken, you and I have at least two things in common: we're both mountaineers, and we both played college basketball.

Segment Synopsis: Stephens discusses his youth in the North Georgia mountains and his education at the University of Georgia and Georgia State University.

Keywords: Appalachian mountains; Blue Ridge Mountains; College basketball; Fannin County, Georgia; GSU; Gainesville College; Georgia State; Morganton, Georgia; Mountaineer; UGA

00:02:05 - Political philosophy / Early political experience

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Partial Transcript: Let's talk for a minute about political philosophy.

Segment Synopsis: Stephens self-identifies as a "mountain Republican" and discusses a mock election in which he participated as a youth, as well as subsequent early professional experiences with Zell Miller, particularly his implementation of a state education lottery.

Keywords: Aide; Ballot box; Bo Callaway; Church groups; Director of communications; Education; Georgia General Assembly; Gubernatorial campaign; HOPE; Helping Educational Leaders Progress(HELP); Legislative sessions; Lester Maddox; Lieutenant governor; Lottery; Miller administration; Mock election; Morganton Elementary School; Personal responsibility; Political director; Polling; Press release; Scots-Irish; Senior citizens; Smaller government; Spokesperson; Tax breaks

00:06:09 - Early experiences in the Georgia Senate

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Partial Transcript: After leaving the Governor's office, you're elected to the Georgia Senate in I believe 1998.

Segment Synopsis: Stephens explains his decision to run for the Georgia Senate and details some of his experiences as a freshman Senator.

Keywords: Attorney General; Back bench senator; Communication strategy; Congressman; David Ralston; Election; Election strategy; Eric Johnson; Freshman term; Georgia Senate; Mark Taylor; Republican caucus; Sonny Purdue; Speaker of the House; State senator; Tom Price

00:08:45 - Rise of the Republican Party

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Partial Transcript: Well, 2002 was a historic year not only in Georgia politics but also for the Republican party.

Segment Synopsis: Stephens discusses how Republicans came to become the party of power in Georgia, suggesting that redistricting played a part.

Keywords: Benjamin Connolly; Committee chairs; Legislature; Mark Taylor; Redistricting; Republican Party; Roy Barnes; Sonny Purdue

00:11:49 - Senate floor leader / Fight over Georgia state flag

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Partial Transcript: Well, I want to get into redistricting a little later, but now I'd like to ask you about being the administration floor leader in the Senate for Governor Purdue.

Segment Synopsis: Stephens reveals some of the circumstances that led to him becoming Senate administrative floor leader under Gov. Purdue and mentions some of the contentious issues in Georgia that led to Roy Barnes being voted out of office, among them his decision to change Georgia's flag.

Keywords: Atlanta suburbs; Barnes administration; Budget; Civil War; Confederate flag; Dan Lee; Fulton County Sheriff; General Assembly; George W. Bush; Myron Freeman; Northern ARC project; Recession; Referendum; Symbolism; Symbols; Tax breaks; Teachers; Tobacco tax; Troup County, Georgia

00:16:29 - Work on reapportionment committees

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Partial Transcript: Well, let's now talk a little bit now--we mentioned reapportionment.

Segment Synopsis: Stephens speaks more about the impact of reapportionment on Georgia politics, revealing that his district once encompassed all or part of 13 counties and later consisted of just two counties.

Keywords: Carl Vinson Institute of Government; Independent commission; Lake Chatuge; Political power; Reapportionment; Senate maps; Stephens County, Georgia; Tennessee border; Toccoa, Georgia; Union County, Georgia; Woodstock, Georgia; partisan

00:20:55 - Stuck Pig Award / Senate Budget Office

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Partial Transcript: Well, you authored several bold legislative measures and had a reputation billed for finding wasteful government spending.

Segment Synopsis: Stephens tells of a facetious award he created to call out what he saw as egregious examples of wasteful government spending and opines that the state budget spends too much time in the House and not enough in the Senate.

Keywords: Budget writers; Bureaucrats; Department of Corrections; Department of Natural Resources; Duck boxes; Expenditure; Georgia Constitution; Georgia Senate Budget Office; Holistic stress management; House Budget Office; Legislative measures; State funds; Wasteful spending

00:24:09 - Joint budget committee / Federal funds in the state budget

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Partial Transcript: Uh, the, the budget in the final analysis winds up in the hands of a joint committee composed of three people--three from the House, three from the Senate.

Segment Synopsis: Stephens reveals how the final revisions to the Georgia state budget are made by a joint House/Senate committee and how federal funding makes up a large part of the state budget.

Keywords: Balanced budget; Budget writers; Bureaucrats; Department of Corrections; Department of Natural Resources; Duck boxes; Education; Expenditure; Federal government funding; Georgia Constitution; Georgia Senate Budget Office; Governor’s office; Green Door Committee; Health care; Holistic stress management; House Budget Office; Legislative measures; Medicaid; Policy; Politics; President pro tem; Projections; Road works; Senate appropriations chair; Senate majority leader; Special projects; State funds; Tom Murpy; Wasteful spending

00:28:37 - Challenge to Senate seat / Accomplishments in office

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Partial Transcript: As I recall, Bill, you only had one challenge during your Senate career.

Segment Synopsis: Stephens discusses running his only opposed campaign in 2004 and describes some of his greatest accomplishments in office.

Keywords: GBI; Georgia Bureau of Investigation; Lauren “Bubba” McDonald; Meth labs; Methamphetamines; North Georgia; OTC drugs; Over-the-Counter drug sales; Sitting senate majority leader; Suburbs; Zero-based budgeting

00:31:11 - Run for Secretary of State

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Partial Transcript: Well, after eight years as a leader in the Senate you decide to run for the office of Secretary of State.

Segment Synopsis: Stephens discusses his motive for running for Secretary of State and speculates on what he might have done differently to secure a win.

Keywords: Economic development; Electronic voting; Federal court; Georgia Archives; Georgia history; James Carville; Media; Paper backup; Paper ballots; Pile-up project; Pilot project; Run-off; Statewide election; Streamline government; Supervisor of Elections; Supreme Court; Voter ID; Voter identification bill; Voting machines

00:35:35 - Work after political office

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Partial Transcript: So you weren't successful, but you still had a life ahead of you.

Segment Synopsis: Stephens speaks about his professional life after leaving office, including his current position as CEO of the Stone Mountain Memorial Association.

Keywords: Antebellum mansions; CEO; Chief executive officer; Controversy; Exercise; Fitness; Investment banking; Memorial; Nathan Deal; Recreation; State park; The Confederacy; Walking

00:37:13 - Republican control of Georgia / Retirement from politics

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Partial Transcript: Well it seems that the Georgia Republican Party has a death grip on politics in the state.

Segment Synopsis: Stephens discusses the future of the Republican party in Georgia, speculating that control is likely to change per the nature of politics, and states that he is unlikely to run for elected office again.

Keywords: Change of power; GOP; Paul Coverdell; Public service; Republican Caucus; Temporary trust

00:40:36 - Family life

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Partial Transcript: Tell us about your five sons.

Segment Synopsis: Stephens describes his five sons, who range in age from seven to 26 years old.

Keywords: Baseball; Defensive tackle; Football; Guided missile cruiser; U.S. Naval Academy; United States Navy

00:41:28 - Conclusion

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Partial Transcript: Well it's been a great pleasure having you, Bill.

Segment Synopsis: Short and Stephens conclude the interview.