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Interview with Oscar Persons, December 18, 2017

Richard B. Russell Library for Political Research and Studies, University of Georgia
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00:01:27 - Joining the Republican Party

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Partial Transcript: So tell me a little bit about--you mentioned Georgia Tech--tell me a little bit about your childhood, your upbringing and education.

Segment Synopsis: Persons recalls his early involvement in politics, particularly by joining the Young Republicans in Atlanta, rising to become the organization's president. He discusses the 1966 gubernatorial election, in which Republican Bo Callaway nearly succeeded in becoming governor, but ultimately won only a plurality of the vote.

Keywords: Ben Blackburn; Bob Snodgrass; Buckhead, Georgia; Columbus, Georgia; Emory University School of Law; Fletcher Thompson; Fulton County; James Dorsey; Mike Egan; Rodney Cook; Southern Bell; Ted Turner; United States Navy; University of Georgia; William O'Kelley; assistant general counsel; engineering; fundraising; party organization; science; segregation

00:09:37 - 1964 presidential election

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Partial Transcript: What was it like to be a Republican lawyer in a Democratic town, a Democratic state?

Segment Synopsis: Persons remembers the 1964 Republican presidential primary and the multiple factions it produced in the already-small Republican Party in Georgia. Persons also briefly considers what would have happened to the Republican Party and to the state if Bo Callaway had won his 1966 gubernatorial bid.

Keywords: "mountain Republicans"; 7th Congressional District; Anne Lewis; Barry Goldwater; Frank Strickland; Georgia legislature; Joe Frank Harris; Joe Tribble; Mike Egan; Nelson Rockefeller; Richard Nixon; Ted Turner; Watergate scandal; William O'Kelley; William Scranton; Young Republicans National Convention; general counsel; ideology; north Georgia

00:16:47 - Divisions within the Republican Party

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Partial Transcript: How would you describe the Republican Party organization?

Segment Synopsis: Persons describes factions that began to form in the Georgia Republican Party in the late 1960s and early 1970s between "establishment Republicans" and more conservative party members such as Joe Tribble and Roscoe Pickett. He explains that these factional tensions culminated in the 1976 presidential primary race between Gerald Ford and Ronald Reagan.

Keywords: Ben Blackburn; Bo Callaway; Fletcher Thompson; Jimmy Carter; John Linder; Mack Mattingly; Mike Egan; Paul Coverdell; Paul Jones; Randolph Thrower; Watergate scandal; Wiley Wasden; state party chairman; state senate

00:23:56 - Mack Mattingly's Senate campaigns

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Partial Transcript: Tell me about the Mattingly campaign.

Segment Synopsis: Persons explains why Mack Mattingly ran for the U.S. Senate in 1980 against incumbent Herman Talmadge, observing that Mattingly likely only won because he was not Herman Talmadge. Persons then talks about the improvements the Republican Party made toward electoral victory during his two decades as the party's general counsel.

Keywords: Bob Dole; Democratic Party organization; Fred Cooper; Ronald Reagan; candidacy recruitment; conservatism; fundraising; grassroots organization; senatorial courtesy

00:29:57 - 1988 Republican presidential primary

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Partial Transcript: Now that sort of "small-d" democratic precinct meetings caused a bit of trouble in 1988.

Segment Synopsis: Persons recalls the tension that arose between the "party regulars" and the Pat Robertson supporters in the 1988 Republican presidential primary. Persons explains the strategy he employed as the general counsel for the state party to get the state committee's slate of delegates to be accepted by the national Republican Party's credentials committee, though his efforts were ultimately unsuccessful.

Keywords: Albany, Georgia; Alec Poitevint; Bob Dole; George H.W. Bush; Jack Kemp; John Stuckey; Marguerite Williams; Matt Patton; Pat Swindall; Republican National Convention; state party chairman; state party convention; state party organization

00:37:52 - 1992 elections

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Partial Transcript: Tell me about the 1990s.

Segment Synopsis: Persons explains how Republican Paul Coverdell was able to oust Wyche Fowler from the Senate in 1992, but Democrat Bill Clinton still won Georgia in the presidential race that same year. Persons also comments on the state party's efforts to keep David Duke's name off of the Republican presidential primary ballot in the state, which he justifies as Duke having failed to meet the requirements set by law to be on the ballot.

Keywords: 1988 presidential election; Alec Poitevint; Atlanta, Georgia; Bob Barr; George Busbee; George H.W. Bush; Joe Frank Harris; Mack Mattingly; Margie Lopp; Sam Nunn; Tom Perdue; Zell Miller; ballot access; black voters; conservatism; county officials; liberalism; primary race; runoff election; rural areas; south Georgia; voter turnout

00:46:07 - Republican growth in the 1990s

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Partial Transcript: So '96 rolls around.

Segment Synopsis: Persons talks about the Republicans' success in Congress in the 1990s, despite the 1991 redistricting producing a largely unfavorable map, which Persons sued over, leading to the Supreme Court case Miller v. Johnson. Persons also discusses his support for Bob Dole's presidential campaigns, including his unsuccessful 1996 run as the Republican nominee.

Keywords: "Republican Revolution"; "establishment" Republican; 1980 election; 1992 election; 1994 election; 1996 Olympic Games; Ben Blackburn; Bill Clinton; Contract with America; Cynthia McKinney; Fletcher Thompson; Frank Strickland; Fred Cooper; George H.W. Bush; George Mitchell; Herman Talmadge; Jack Kingston; John Linder; John Teasley; MAXBLACK; Mac Collins; Monica Lewinsky scandal; Paul Coverdell; Sanford Bishop; Voting Rights Act; Wyche Fowler; general counsel; mainstream media; military service

00:56:04 - Republicans' statewide success

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Partial Transcript: Did you remain active in party politics even after you were general counsel?

Segment Synopsis: Persons details the factors he believes contributed to Republicans consistently winning statewide elections in the 2000s compared to the 1990s, namely the liberalism of the Democratic Party. However, Persons also warns that Republicans may return to losing elections if they are hit with a scandal, recruit poor candidates, or focus too hard on social and cultural issues.

Keywords: "conservative Democrats"; 1990 gubernatorial race; 1994 gubernatorial race; 1996 senate race; 1998 election; 1998 gubernatorial race; 2002 election; 2004 senate election; 2010 election; Doug Jones; Guy Millner; Johnny Isakson; Mitch Skandalakis; Paul Coverdell; Religious Freedom Restoration Act; Roy Moore; Saxby Chambliss; Sonny Perdue; abortion; black vote; candidate quality; constitutional offices; demographic changes; lieutenant governor; religious liberty

01:03:46 - Effects of Donald Trump on the Republican Party

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Partial Transcript: What do you make of the fact that we are in a post-Trump era, or I guess a Trump era, with Donald Trump as a Republican president at the top of the ticket?

Segment Synopsis: Persons dismisses the idea that Donald Trump is or will have a significant effect on down-ticket races for Georgia. He attributes the Democrats' strong performances in 2017 to other factors, such as increased funding for special elections, low Republican turnout, and divisive Republican primaries.

Keywords: 2016 election; 2017 6th congressional district special election; Athens, Georgia; Fred Cooper; Jon Ossoff; Karen Handel; Lewis Jordan; MoveOn; Paul Coverdell; Zell Miller; campaign funding; party organization; voter turnout