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Interview with Eric Johnson, October 17, 2017

Richard B. Russell Library for Political Research and Studies, University of Georgia
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00:00:41 - Early life and introduction to politics

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Partial Transcript: Just to get started, tell me a little about your childhood, your upbringing.

Segment Synopsis: Johnson discusses his early life, including how his parents shaped his political beliefs. He explains both why he moved to Savannah and how he became involved with Republican politics.

Keywords: 1964 Presidential election; 1972 Presidential election; Barry Goldwater; Chatham County, Georgia; George McGovern; Georgia Tech; Herman Talmadge; Jack Kingston; John F. Kennedy assassination; Medicare; New Orleans, Louisiana; Richard Nixon; Savannah, Georgia; Tulane University; Vietnam War; Young Republicans; architecture; leadership

00:08:16 - Early involvement in the Republican Party

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Partial Transcript: So did your party work begin at the local level, or county level?

Segment Synopsis: Johnson describes how he got involved with Republican politics--namely, through aiding Jack Kingston's campaign for the Georgia House of Representatives. He also discusses his involvement with Mack Mattingly's senatorial campaigns in 1980 and 1986, including becoming Mattingly's regional director.

Keywords: Bobby Phillips; Chatham County, Georgia; Herman Talmadge; Reagan Revolution; Wyche Fowler; conservatism; county party chairman; grassroots campaigning

00:15:14 - 1988 Presidential election / Running for the Georgia House

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Partial Transcript: This is right around the time- '87, '88, the Pat Robertson campaign.

Segment Synopsis: Johnson recalls the factional divide the Republican Party experienced in 1988 due to the influx of the "Christian right". He then explains his decision to run for Jack Kingston's Georgia House of Representatives seat while also campaigning for Kingston's Congressional race.

Keywords: Albany, Georgia; Barbara Christmas; Bo Ginn; Donald Trump; Joe Frank Harris; John Stuckey; Lindsay Thomas; Republican Party establishment; U.S. Supreme Court; Young Republicans; business regulation; campaign funding; district party chairman; grassroots campaigning; national Democratic Party; national politics; precinct meetings; social conservatism; social issues; taxation

00:22:52 - Georgia House of Representatives

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Partial Transcript: So you were elected.

Segment Synopsis: Johnson speaks of his one-term tenure in the Georgia House of Representatives. He gives emphasis to his focus on enacting good policy rather than partisanship or ideology, as well as his cordial relationship with Tom Murphy, the then Speaker of the House.

Keywords: Bill Lee; Denmark Groover; House leadership; Jimmy Skipper; education reform; legislative process; majority party

00:27:54 - Georgia Senate

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Partial Transcript: You already mentioned that you only served a single term in the state house.

Segment Synopsis: Johnson contrasts his experiences in the Georgia Senate with those in the Georgia House, noting especially where the legislative processes differed. Johnson elaborates how he climbed through the ranks of the Republicans' senate leadership during his tenure.

Keywords: Bob Bell; Chuck Clay; David Ralston; Georgia Lottery; Mike Egan; Paul Coverdell; Pierre Howard; Sally Newbill; Speaker of the House; Zell Miller; committee assignments; lieutenant governor; minority leader; minority party; minority whip

00:33:08 - 2000 redistricting process

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Partial Transcript: Redistricting. You were in the state senate.

Segment Synopsis: Johnson gives the context for the redistricting process after the 2000 census, starting with Sonny Perdue's switch from being a Democrat to a Republican. Johnson claims this prompted Democratic leaders to recognize the Republicans as a serious threat that needed to be gerrymandered to minimize their influence.

Keywords: 9/11 attacks; Bobby Kahn; Charles Walker; Christian right; Chuck Clay; Johnny Isakson; Lynn Westmoreland; Mark Taylor; Pierre Howard; Ralph Reed; Roy Barnes; Rusty Paul; Zell Miller; candidate recruitment; conservatism; fundraising; president pro tempore

00:40:20 - 2002 gubernatorial election and taking the state senate

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Partial Transcript: Redistricting occurs in 2001, upheld, and those are the maps.

Segment Synopsis: Johnson explains how Sonny Perdue, a relatively new Republican, won the party's gubernatorial primary in 2002, and how Perdue ultimately won the governorship over Democratic incumbent Roy Barnes. Johnson then details how Tom Price, Sonny Perdue, and himself also turned the state senate over to Republicans by convincing several conservative Democrats to switch parties.

Keywords: A Plus Education Reform Act of 2000; Appropriations Committee; Banking Committee; Bill Byrne; Dan Lee; Don Cheeks; Donald Trump; Houston County, Georgia; Jack Hill; Johnny Isakson; Linda Schrenko; Rudy Bowen; committee chairs; conservatism; liberalism; middle Georgia; redistricting; state flag

00:45:52 - Governing as the majority party

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Partial Transcript: Tell me about the different atmosphere when you come in and you're going to be in the majority.

Segment Synopsis: Johnson describes how the new Republican majority in the Georgia Senate was able to strip the Democratic lieutenant governor, Mark Taylor, of his power and give it to the president pro tempore--Johnson himself. He further recounts the mid-decade redistricting process the Republicans engaged in after taking power.

Keywords: Johnson v. Barnes; Frank Eldridge; Georgia House of Representatives; Larry Walker; Republican caucus; Sonny Perdue; Speaker of the House; Terry Coleman; Tom Price; bill assignments; fundraising; redistricting; senate rules; tort reform

00:53:04 - Transportation in Georgia

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Partial Transcript: Now that you did have the majority--governor's mansion, senate, house--some political scientists, historians, look at the governing policies, the priorities of the Republican Party, and look back at the Democrats of the '70s and '80s and say there's not a whole lot of daylight between the two.

Segment Synopsis: Johnson describes the economic benefit of the port of Savannah for Georgia, particularly in the realm of job creation. He then comments on the state of transportation infrastructure in Georgia, specifically criticizing metro Atlanta's current infrastructure.

Keywords: Charleston, South Carolina; Delta Air Lines; MARTA; Tom Murphy; Zell Miller; conservatism; education reform; ethics reform; gas tax; rural Democrats; rural Georgia; state property tax; technology; tort reform

00:59:53 - 2010 gubernatorial campaign

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Partial Transcript: Not to whiplash from policy to politics, but Sonny Perdue was reelected in 2006.

Segment Synopsis: Johnson recalls the events that prompted him to switch his candidacy in 2010 from lieutenant governor to governor. He describes the heated primary race, particularly how he believes Jeff Chapman's candidacy cost him the votes that would have otherwise put him in the runoff with Karen Handel.

Keywords: Augusta, Georgia; Casey Cagle; Columbus, Georgia; David Shafer; Georgia Department of Transportation; Jekyll Island; John Oxendine; Macon, Georgia; Nathan Deal; Savannah, Georgia; Sonny Perdue; Tea Party movement; Virgil Williams; education reform; majority party; metro Atlanta; name recognition; president pro tempore

01:08:22 - Career after 2010 / Economic development

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Partial Transcript: Did you remain active in party politics after you retired or was this playing catch-up?

Segment Synopsis: Johnson talks about his life after the 2010 campaign, namely being appointed to the Georgia Department of Economic Development's Board of Directors and returning to the architecture business. Johnson then discusses the main catalysts and inhibitors of economic development in Georgia.

Keywords: Amazon; Democratic Party; Georgia Tech; Hartsfield-Jackson Airport; Indiana; Kasim Reed; Nathan Deal; North Carolina; Religious Freedom Restoration Act; industrial recruitment; libertarianism; movie industry; port of Savannah; racial issues; real estate; religious liberty; service industry; social conservatism; technology industry

01:14:23 - Divisions within and between the parties

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Partial Transcript: What allows the divisions, the factional divisions, within the now-majority party?

Segment Synopsis: Johnson decries the increasing factionalism within the Republican Party, particularly in the realm of policy. He also laments the polarization between the Republican and Democratic parties, at both the state and national level.

Keywords: Affordable Care Act; Kasim Reed; Nathan Deal; Roy Barnes; bipartisanship; education reform; healthcare reform; parenting; public education; redistricting; rural Georgia; south Georgia; state flag; tax reform

01:20:20 - Future of Georgia politics

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Partial Transcript: Maybe we've already touched on this, but the Republicans here in Georgia, after decades and decades in the minority, have had the governor's mansion since '03, the legislature since '03 and '05, and every constitutional office since 2011.

Segment Synopsis: Johnson predicts the direction of Georgia politics: a slow dwindling of Republican power, with an increasingly polarized political landscape. Johnson emphasizes that both parties have issues with racial outreach- the Republicans to African-American and Hispanic voters, and the Democrats to white voters--and either party must overcome this hurdle if they wish to dominate Georgia politics.

Keywords: Affordable Care Act; African-American community; American Dream; Barack Obama; DeKalb County, Georgia; Donald Trump; Gang of Eight; Georgia 6th Congressional District; Georgia 7th Congressional District; Gwinnett County, Georgia; Hispanic community; Jason Carter; John McCain; Lindsey Graham; Michelle Nunn; Millennials; Richard Nixon; Rob Woodall; Social Security; Stacey Abrams; Stacey Evans; corruption; demographic changes; entitlement reform; immigration reform; libertarianism; mainstream media; scandals; social liberalism