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Interview with Bobby Kahn, December 8, 2017

Richard B. Russell Library for Political Research and Studies, University of Georgia
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00:00:58 - Early life and 1982 gubernatorial campaign

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Partial Transcript: So just to begin with, tell me a little about your childhood, your upbringing, your family, and how you became interested in politics.

Segment Synopsis: Kahn discusses being raised in a political, liberal-leaning family, causing him to pursue a career in politics at an early age. Kahn focuses on his role in Joe Frank Harris's 1982 gubernatorial campaign, particularly the Democratic primary in which Harris was considered the underdog against Congressman Bo Ginn.

Keywords: 1976 presidential election; 1980 presidential election; Bartow County, Georgia; Billy Lovett; Bob Bell; Emory University; Fulton County, Georgia; Jack Watso; Jimmy Carter; Norman Underwood; Savannah, Georgia; Sidney Marcus; Ted Kennedy; Tom Murphy; Wayne Reese; accountability; conservatism; corruption

00:08:53 - Becoming Democratic Party of Georgia executive director

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Partial Transcript: So what did you do after the campaign?

Segment Synopsis: Kahn explains how he became executive director of the Democratic Party of Georgia in 1985. He details his plans at the time to bolster Georgia Democrats through recruiting local candidates and creating an extensive list of voter profiles for use in campaigns.

Keywords: 1986 election; Atlanta suburbs; Cobb County, Georgia; Gwinnett County, Georgia; Jim Oxendine; John Henry Anderson; Newt Gingrich; Operation Breakthrough; Walter Mondale; Wyche Fowler; fundraising; legal practice

00:16:26 - 1986 Senate race / Republican growth in metro Atlanta

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Partial Transcript: Tell me about that '86 race, because Mack Mattingly had upset Herman Talmadge.

Segment Synopsis: Kahn describes the 1986 race for Mack Mattingly's Senate seat, noting how and why Wyche Fowler ultimately won. Kahn then touches upon the growing Republican movement in Georgia during that time, represented by Billy Lovett's switch to the Republican Party while in-office.

Keywords: 4th congressional district; Ben Jones; Cobb County, Georgia; Democratic primary; Hamilton Durden; Joe Frank Harris; John Henry Anderson; John Russell; Mableton, Georgia; Newt Gingrich; Pat Swindall; Public Service Commission; Roy Barnes; Tom Perdue; party unity; two-party elections; voter files; wave election

00:25:13 - 1990 gubernatorial election

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Partial Transcript: So you got involved with then-Representative Barnes in the '80s.

Segment Synopsis: Kahn recalls the 1990 gubernatorial election, working first for Roy Barnes's primary campaign, then working for Andrew Young in the primary runoff. He speaks of Young's political skill, both as a gubernatorial candidate and as mayor of Atlanta.

Keywords: 1988 Democratic national convention; African-American vote; Bob Holder; DeKalb County, Georgia; Fulton County, Georgia; George Busbee; Georgia Lottery; Gwinnett County, Georgia; Joe Frank Harris; John Henry Anderson; Lauren "Bubba" McDonald; Michael Lomax; U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations; U.S. Representative; Zell Miller; business community; environmentalism

00:33:21 - Working on cases against the FCC

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Partial Transcript: The intervening period between '90 and '98.

Segment Synopsis: Kahn talks about the period of time between the 1990 and 1998 gubernatorial races, in which he, as a trial lawyer, pursued action against the Federal Communications Commission for improper enforcement of campaign finance law. Kahn lists some of his clients during these cases, including notable members of both parties, such as Zell Miller, Johnny Isakson, and Billy Lovett.

Keywords: Atlanta Journal-Constitution; Bill Nelson; Keith Mason; Roy Barnes; WSB; federal courts

00:38:54 - 1998 gubernatorial campaign

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Partial Transcript: So '98, all expectations are that lieutenant governor Howard (Pierre Howard) is going to run.

Segment Synopsis: Kahn elaborates on why Roy Barnes switched from running for lieutenant governor to governor in 1998 after Pierre Howard opted against running in the gubernatorial race. Kahn explains how Barnes was able to overcome his Democratic primary opponents as well as Republican Guy Millner to become the next governor.

Keywords: 1996 election; Bert Lance; David Poythress; Georgia Senate; Lewis Massey; Mike Bowers; Steve Langford; campaign funding; education; fundraising; healthcare; property tax

00:47:39 - Roy Barnes's chief of staff

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Partial Transcript: So going into the--you become chief of staff.

Segment Synopsis: Kahn recalls working as the chief of staff for Roy Barnes, which involved working with different Democratic figures at the state and national level. He focuses on Barnes's reaction to Senator Paul Coverdell's death in 2000 and the decision to fill the Republican's vacancy with Democrat Zell Miller.

Keywords: Al Gore, Jr.; Bill Clinton; Chris Matthews; Dave Worley; Democratic National Committee; Georgia Bureau of Investigation; Georgia Democratic Party; Georgia Senate; John Krinshack; Keith Mason; Max Cleland; Tom Daschle; Young Harris, Georgia

00:55:41 - Redistricting

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Partial Transcript: So that's one of the major--and you've spoken with Bob Short about issues like the flag and things like that--redistricting.

Segment Synopsis: Kahn acknowledges that Georgia Democrats participated in partisan redistricting in 2001, but also criticizes Republican legislators for decrying gerrymandering while in the minority, but participating in it themselves once they became the majority party. He cites the fact that Clarke County is split between multiple Congressional, Senate, and House districts as a prime example of Republican gerrymandering.

Keywords: "communities of interest"; Black Legislative Caucus; David Ralston; John Oxendine; Linda Schrenko; Paulding County, Georgia; Roy Barnes; Supreme Court of the United States; United States Department of Justice; Zell Miller; executive director; minority voters; straight-party voting

01:03:13 - 2002 and 2010 elections

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Partial Transcript: Speaking of candidate Perdue, what was your role in the 2002 reelect?

Segment Synopsis: Kahn lists the factors that contributed to Roy Barnes's loss to Sonny Perdue in the 2002 gubernatorial election, including high voter turnout in rural counties and the issue of changing the state flag. Kahn doubts whether any Democrat could have succeeded in the 2010 election, explaining that it was a midterm election in-favor of Republicans and the white vote in Georgia went heavily to Republican candidates that year.

Keywords: Atlanta suburbs; DuBose Porter; Thurbert Baker; Tim Phillips; Ware County, Georgia; campaign manager; campaign spending; chief of staff; messaging

01:08:27 - State party chairman / Strengths of the Georgia Democratic Party

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Partial Transcript: We will get to that, but between 2004 and 2007, you become state party chairman.

Segment Synopsis: Kahn describes his role as Democratic state party chairman in the mid-2000s, commenting particularly on the 2006 election, which was a boon for Democrats nationwide, but not in Georgia. He then reflect back on how Democrats were able to maintain power in Georgia over the decades--namely, through strong candidate recruitment, incumbency advantages, and Jimmy Carter's presidency.

Keywords: 1980 election; Atlanta Constitution; Donald Trump; DuBose Porter; House minority leader; Jeff DeSantis; Jim Marshall; John Barrow; Mack Mattingly; Sonny Perdue; Stacey Abrams; Stacey Evans; demographic changes; executive director; press conferences; state legislature; voter turnout

01:17:41 - Donald Trump and the modern Republican Party

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Partial Transcript: I want to unpack that for a second.

Segment Synopsis: Kahn analyzes the potential effects of Donald Trump's candidacy and presidency on the two parties, both nationwide and in Georgia. Kahn observes that catering to the social extremes of the "Trump base" in Georgia Republican Party is driving away both businesses and suburban voters.

Keywords: 2017 Atlanta mayoral race; Athens, Georgia; Chris Riley; Cobb County, Georgia; Dan Gravelin; David Ralston; Fortune 500 companies; Fulton County, Georgia; George Busbee; Georgia Democratic Party; Gwinnett County, Georgia; Hillary Clinton; Joe Frank Harris; Josh Mckoon; Keisha Lance Bottoms; Mary Norwood; Medicaid expansion; Mercedes-Benz Stadium; Michael Dukakis; Nancy Pelosi; Nathan Deal; National College Athletic Association; Ray Crawford; Ted Kennedy; Vincent Ford; Walter Mondale; Zell Miller; corporate taxes; demographic changes; female voters; film industry; healthcare; millennials; religious freedom; rural voters; school vouchers; state flag

01:29:58 - Democrats in Atlanta suburbs

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Partial Transcript: The sixth congressional district, which we are in right now.

Segment Synopsis: Kahn believes that Democrats may be able to reclaim the suburban districts in Georgia, due primarily to demographic changes and Donald Trump's unpopularity in the suburbs. He points to the 2017 sixth district congressional race, in which Jon Ossoff nearly won a traditionally Republican district, as evidence for his claim.

Keywords: 2018 gubernatorial race; 7tth congressional district; Brookhaven, Georgia; Casey Cagle; Cherokee County, Georgia; DeKalb County, Georgia; Jason Carter; Michelle Nunn; Rob Woodall; Ronald Reagan; Roy Moore; Tom Price; female voters; state legislature

01:36:36 - Campaigning in the modern era

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Partial Transcript: Switching gears abruptly and roughly, I want to talk about--

Segment Synopsis: Kahn laments that the world of political advertising after Citizens United vs. F.E.C. has decreased the need for party organization in campaigning at the local and federal levels. Kahn also notes that social media and the internet more broadly provide methods of campaigning not tethered to the campaign finance regulations of traditional outlets, such as television and newspaper advertising.

Keywords: Americans for Prosperity; Barack Obama; Facebook; Federal Communications Commission; Howard Dean; John Barrow; Koch brothers; National Republican Congressional Committee; messaging; party leadership