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Interview with Bob Bell, October 13, 2017

Richard B. Russell Library for Political Research and Studies, University of Georgia
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00:00:29 - Early life and military service

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Partial Transcript: Just to get started, tell us a little bit about your childhood, your upbringing, here in DeKalb County.

Segment Synopsis: Bell describes his childhood growing up in the Great Depression, including being able to attend the prestigious Boys High School in Atlanta. He briefly talks about his military service in the army, being stationed in Germany during the Korean War, and returning home to study marketing at the University of Georgia's Atlanta division.

Keywords: American Standard; Atlanta, Georgia; Decatur, Georgia; Erskine College; Georgia State University; NATO; World War II; market research

00:06:43 - Atlanta in the 1950s

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Partial Transcript: It's also relatively fortuitous because this is a time when Atlanta, population-wise, economy, was booming.

Segment Synopsis: Bell documents how Atlanta's growth surpassed anyone's expectations, including his own, as a market analyst. He explains how his understanding of the changing Atlanta led to getting involved in local politics in DeKalb County.

Keywords: American Civil War; American Standard; Coca-Cola; Eugene Talmadge; Federal Reserve Bank; Reconstruction; Republican Party; county party chairman; economic growth; history; population growth; state legislature

00:12:07 - DeKalb County Republican Party

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Partial Transcript: Let me take a step back, since you mentioned DeKalb County.

Segment Synopsis: Bell discusses the ideological divisions between the Republican Party in North DeKalb County and South DeKalb County. He credits the North DeKalb Breakfast Forum for allowing the Party to coalesce around a single goal and grow in strength.

Keywords: Decatur, Georgia; Harry Geisinger; Jim Tysinger; Jim Westlake; Paul Coverdell; Ron Toms; Tom Davidson; U.S. Census; economic growth; partisanship; reapportionment; town hall meeting

00:19:10 - Georgia House of Representatives

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Partial Transcript: So you ran for and won a seat in the House in 1968.

Segment Synopsis: Bell details the experiences of the Republicans in the Georgia House of Representatives, emphasizing how the Republicans, at that time, were powerless. Bell then elaborates why he chose to run for state senate, namely because state senators operated much more freely from authority than state representatives did.

Keywords: Atlanta-Journal Constitution; Bo Callaway; Columbus, Georgia; Cox Media Group; Democratic Party; Georgia Senate; Macon, Georgia; Mike Egan; Paul Coverdell; Republican caucus; Savannah, Georgia; Tom Murphy; conservatism; county unit system; minority leader; public education; reapportionment

00:27:07 - Georgia Senate

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Partial Transcript: So you came into the Senate in 1973, sort of a relatively high-water mark for Georgia Republicans, up to that point.

Segment Synopsis: Bell describes his experience with the small Republican caucus in the Georgia Senate, particularly Paul Coverdell's leadership role of the caucus. Bell also recounts the effects national politics had on the Senate, especially the Watergate scandal's disastrous effects on the Georgia Republican Party.

Keywords: "Georgia Democrat"; 1972 election; 1974 election; DeKalb County, Georgia; Fletcher Thompson; Fulton County, Georgia; George McGovern; National Democratic Party; Peace Corps; Richard Nixon; minority whip; partisanship

00:32:52 - Lead-up to the 1982 gubernatorial election

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Partial Transcript: In the run-up to the 1982 election, the gubernatorial election, David Nordan, who was writing for the Atlanta Constitution, called you an "urban progressive".

Segment Synopsis: Bell explains why he chose to run for governor in 1982, citing the powerlessness he felt as an individual, Republican state senator. Bell then dissects both the Republican and Democratic primaries for the governorship, which set up the general-election race between him and Joe Frank Harris.

Keywords: Ben Blackburn; Bo Ginn; Cobb County, Georgia; DeKalb County, Georgia; Decatur, Georgia; Fulton County, Georgia; Georgia Department of Transportation; Georgia House of Representatives; Georgia Senate; Gwinnett County, Georgia; Jim Tysinger; MARTA; Tom Murphy; abortion; black vote; conservatism; education; progressivism; transportation

00:41:55 - 1982 gubernatorial race / Running for state party chairman

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Partial Transcript: Tell me about the general election.

Segment Synopsis: Bell recalls his unsuccessful campaign for governor against Joe Frank Harris for the governorship in 1982. He then remembers being coaxed into replacing Fred Cooper as the state Republican Party chairman, despite his inexperience with party politics.

Keywords: Georgia Republican Party; Guy Millner; James Carville; National Republican Party; Republican National Committee; Tom Murphy; black community; campaign funding; crime; education funding

00:48:40 - Activity as state party chairman

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Partial Transcript: What was the state of the party, as you found it as an outsider chairman?

Segment Synopsis: Bell discusses the state of the Republican Party as he inherited it- namely, weak and divided. Bell also lists his goals as party chairman, stressing that instead of focusing on fundraising for local campaigns, he aimed to build the structure of the state party.

Keywords: "Reagan Republicans"; Paul Coverdell; Ronald Reagan; party factions

00:56:27 - Rise of the Republican Party in Georgia

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Partial Transcript: Why were the Georgia Democrats able to hold on to power so long in the state of Georgia?

Segment Synopsis: Bell elaborates on how Democrats were able to retain power in Georgia--namely, by continually attacking the vestiges of Reconstruction and separating themselves from the national Democratic Party. He admits that while both incumbent Republicans and Democrats in Georgia were fiscal conservatives, the Georgia Democratic Party could not effectively disavow the national Democrats' social liberalism.

Keywords: "Georgia Democrat"; African-American vote; Christian right; Franklin Delano Roosevelt; George Busbee; Herbert Hoover; Jim Crow laws; Joe Frank Harris; John F. Kennedy; Nathan Deal; Robert F. Kennedy; Sonny Perdue; fiscal liberalism; social conservatism

01:03:20 - Zell Miller

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Partial Transcript: Well, one historian, who also happens to be a politician, is Zell Miller.

Segment Synopsis: Bell recollects the actions and various roles Zell Miller took throughout his political career. Bell gives anecdotes of Miller working as Lester Maddox's executive secretary that made Bell respect Miller's dedication to public service.

Keywords: Carl Sanders; Julian Bond; draft board; lieutenant governor; state senator

01:09:33 - Jimmy Carter and George Busbee

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Partial Transcript: I want to get your assessment of the other governors that you served under, too, because right after Lester Maddox, you had Jimmy Carter.

Segment Synopsis: Bell evaluates Jimmy Carter and George Busbee's performances as governor while he was in the Georgia Senate. He briefly comments on how "Machine Gun" Ronnie Thompson, the provacative mayor of Macon, became a figurehead in the nascent Republican Party.

Keywords: Atlanta, Georgia; Jim Tysinger; Macon, Georgia; Maynard Jackson; police; teachers

01:16:40 - Education under Joe Frank Harris and Zell Miller

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Partial Transcript: Joe Frank Harris- obviously, there may be a personal element to this, since you ran against Governor Harris.

Segment Synopsis: Bell criticizes Joe Frank Harris's education policy as being stagnant and not making an effort to provide funding, especially for the African-American population. In contrast, Bell praises Zell Miller's efforts to bolster education, both through the Zell-Bell Bill, a proposal to spend the state's budget surplus on increasing teachers' salaries, as lieutenant governor and through the HOPE Scholarship as governor.

Keywords: 1994 gubernatorial election; Adequate Program for Education; Bill Shipp; George Busbee; Guy Millner; Hank Huckaby; Minimum Foundation for Education; Newt Gingrich; Quality Basic Education; Roy Barnes; Tom Murphy; property tax; racial politics; state flag; state senate; teachers' pay; urban-rural divide

01:30:00 - Future of Georgia politics / Donald Trump

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Partial Transcript: So there have now been two Republican governors since Reconstruction.

Segment Synopsis: Bell predicts what could cause the Republicans to fall from power in Georgia, or what could push the Democrats back into power. Bell also gives his thoughts on Donald Trump's popularity in the 2016 election, crediting it to Trump energizing a group of citizens who were not politically involved before that point.

Keywords: African-American vote; Chris Christie; Jeb Bush; Marco Rubio; Nathan Deal; Ronald Reagan; Sonny Perdue; Ted Cruz; William B. Hartsfield; demographic shifts; education; governorship; liberal white vote; national media; public opinion; social media