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Interview with Bill Nigut, February 20, 2018

Richard B. Russell Library for Political Research and Studies, University of Georgia
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00:01:12 - Early life in Chicago

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Partial Transcript: But first, tell us a little bit about growing up in Illinois, growing up in Chicago land.

Segment Synopsis: Nigut recalls being raised in a prominent Jewish community in Chicago's suburb of Skokie, Illinois and his entry into journalism by working for Chicago's local stations. He states that his exposure to the intense nature of Chicago politics- particularly the mayoral election of Harold Washington in 1983- prepared him for Georgia politics, which he considers mild in comparison.

Keywords: Chicago Journalism Review; ABC; Atlanta, Georgia; Chicago city council; NBC; WSB-TV; racial tensions; racism

00:08:23 - Moving to Atlanta as a political reporter

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Partial Transcript: Tell me about coming down to Atlanta.

Segment Synopsis: Nigut remembers the political environment he entered when he moved to Atlanta in 1983 to work for WSB-TV as Democrats still maintained solid control on all levels of government. He describes befriending several key political figures such governor Joe Frank Harris and Atlanta mayor Andrew Young, and the news stories those connections brought him.

Keywords: 1986 U.S. Senate race; Atlanta politics; Bill Shipp; Elizabeth Harris; Hosea Williams; John Lewis; Martin Luther King, Jr.; Ralph Abernathy; Southern politics; Speaker of the House; Tom Murphy; Tom Perdue; Vince Dooley; Zell Miller; chief of staff; civil rights movement; lieutenant governor; local television; segregation

00:16:03 - The media's relationship with politicians

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Partial Transcript: So I got to know Joe Frank, I got to know Andy Young, but one of my favorite people to get to know was Tom Murphy.

Segment Synopsis: Nigut explains that although politicians' cordiality to news reporters has steadily declined over the years, it has always varied by the individual, citing Tom Murphy and Wyche Fowler as contemporary figures who had diametric views about the media. He instead comments that social media has had a far greater effect on the media, since it has changed media's relationship with the consumers, who now have unparalleled ease of access to news stories.

Keywords: "Green Door Committee"; 1984 presidential race; Bill Shipp; Bubba McDonald; Culver Kidd; Denmark Groover; Donald Trump; Facebook; Twitter; Walter Mondale; democracy; fair-minded coverage; media scrutiny; national politics; news consumption; news coverage; political journalism

00:26:44 - Changes in Georgia politics

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Partial Transcript: You covered with WSB Georgia politics for 20 years.

Segment Synopsis: Nigut believes Roy Barnes's tenure as an overzealous governor helped push Republican candidates into dominance in Georgia politics during the early 2000s. He also credits the national politics of the 1990s, particularly Newt Gingrich's Contract with America, for making rural and suburban Georgians feel the Georgia Republican Party represented their concerns and values better than the Democratic Party of Georgia did.

Keywords: 2001 redistricting; 2002 election; African-American voters; Bob Irvin; Bobby Kahn; Bonaire, Georgia; Eric Johnson; Georgia Democrats; Jim Carville; Kil Townsend; Moultrie, Georgia; Paul Coverdell; Savannah, Georgia; Saxby Chambliss; Sonny Perdue; Zell Miller; chief of staff; conservatism; education reform; gerrymandering; metro Atlanta; rural Georgia; southern Democrats; state flag; statewide office; white voters; yellow dog Democrats

00:36:47 - Zell Miller as governor

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Partial Transcript: We should talk a little bit about Zell, if you want.

Segment Synopsis: Nigut discusses Zell Miller's term as governor, praising Miller's success in implementing a state lottery to fund the HOPE Scholarship. Nigut also gives several anecdotes as to how Zell Miller helped Bill Clinton in the 1992 election, including moving Georgia's presidential primary forward to give it greater significance in deciding the candidates.

Keywords: 1990 gubernatorial election; 1994 gubernatorial election; Georgia General Assembly; Georgia Lottery; Hal Reeves; James Carville; Jesse Jackson; Johnny Isakson; Paul Begala; Tom Baxter; Wayne Mason; Wayne Shackleford; general funds; political pragmatism; populism; pre-K education; progressivism; state of the state speech; technology; voter referendum

00:46:44 - Zell Miller's later career and changing philosophy

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Partial Transcript: And of course, later in his career after his two terms, Governor Barnes appointed him to the U.S. Senate.

Segment Synopsis: Nigut summarizes Zell Miller's term in the United States Senate and his gradual move toward the Republican Party ideologically. Nigut also links Miller's alienation from the Democratic Party to the Georgia Party's new emphasis on African-American voters and liberal ideals, which he claims the Democratic primary for the 2018 gubernatorial election highlights.

Keywords: 2000 election; 2004 presidential election; A National Party No More; Buddy Darden; Chris Matthews; George W. Bush; Joe Frank Harris; John Kerry; Mack Mattingly; Paul Coverdell; Roy Barnes; Stacey Abrams; Stacey Evans; governorship; political gridlock; southern Democrats; suburban women

00:53:25 - Divisions within the Republican Party

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Partial Transcript: We've talked about the Democratic Party as the party of African Americans and other minorities.

Segment Synopsis: Nigut describes the divisions he has witnessed in the Georgia Republican Party, namely between hardline social conservatives like Josh McKoon, who advocate for campus carry and religious liberty bills, and more moderate, business-oriented Republicans focused on economic development and growth in the state, like David Ralston and Nathan Deal. Nigut adds that despite these divisions, the members of the party can still coalesce around a set of core principles they all agree upon, and the Georgia Democrats' lack of unifying principles is one factor hampering their success.

Keywords: "birther" movement; 2016 election; 2017 6th Congressional district special election; 2018 gubernatorial race; Casey Cagle; Chris Carr; David Schafer; Georgia Sheriffs' Association; Johnny Isakson; Jon Ossoff; adoption; cash bail; civil liberties; conservative Republicans; criminal justice reform; diversion programs; illegal immigration; party switching; sanctuary cities; sentencing reform; statewide office; voter turnout; white voters

01:04:12 - Current issues in Georgia politics

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Partial Transcript: I want to get a sense of your analysis of what it would take for the Democratic Party of Georgia-

Segment Synopsis: Nigut lists the issues he sees as potentially able to shift power in Georgia back toward the Democrats, such as LGBT rights and broad state government. However, he notes that many of the issues he believes will motivate Georgians to go to the polls are not as partisan as they are geographic, with rural Georgians demanding their set of issues- like broadband internet access- be addressed and urban Georgians demand their issues such as mass transit be addressed as well.

Keywords: "The Two Georgias"; Charles Floyd; Cherokee County, Georgia; Cobb County, Georgia; David Ralston; Forsyth County, Georgia; Gwinnett County, Georgia; Joe Frank Harris; Josh McKoon; Sanford Bishop; Stacey Abrams; Stacey Evans; Zell Miller; exurbs; fiscal conservatism; gasoline tax; mass transit; public transportation; rural broadband internet; strong leadership; tax decreases

01:13:54 - Urban-rural divide in Georgia

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Partial Transcript: I think the real test is going to be after reapportionment in 2021.

Segment Synopsis: Nigut explains that rural Georgia voters have increasingly felt ignored by the Georgia political structure in favor of urban voters, which will only be exacerbated by reapportionment following the 2020 census. He credits these voters taking their frustration to the ballot box as causing the results in the elections of 2014 and 2016, as well as likely the 2018 and 2020 elections.

Keywords: "hot-button" issues; 2016 election; 2020 election; Brian Kemp; Jim Galloway; Mike Williams; T-SPLOST; metro Atlanta; partisan issues; small government; voter anger

01:21:31 - Nonpartisan education reform

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Partial Transcript: I think that really gets to the point.

Segment Synopsis: Nigut states that many of the important issues in Georgia do not necessarily follow a strict partisan label, citing Quality Basic Education being proposed by Democrat Joe Frank Harris and expanded by Republican Nathan Deal during their governorships. He also notes that support and opposition to school choice and the Opportunity School District program did not follow the presumed partisan labels.

Keywords: Amazon headquarters; Casey Cagle; George Busbee; education spending; fiscal conservatism; governing party; higher education; partisan issues; policy priorities; public school funding; public transit; tribalism