UGA Libraries Logo

Interview with Gordon Giffin, March 16, 2018

Richard B. Russell Library for Political Research and Studies, University of Georgia
Toggle Index/Transcript View Switch.
Search this Index
00:01:06 - Early life and education

Play segment

Partial Transcript: I was wondering if we could begin by talking a little about your childhood and your upbringing.

Segment Synopsis: Giffin talks about his early life living in Canada, noting how that experience would later inform his political outlook. Giffin explains why he chose to attend law school at Emory University and why he chose to stay in Atlanta, briefly working for the firm McCurdy, Candler and Harris.

Keywords: DeKalb County, Georgia; Duke University; Durham, North Carolina; Emory University Law School; Georgia legislature; Georgia politics; House judiciary committee; J. Robin Harris; McCurdy, Candler and Harris; Montreal, Quebec, Canada; New York Life Insurance; Perry Mason; Toronto, Ontario, Canada; Vietnam War; assassination of Martin Luther King; assassination of Robert Kennedy; biographies; history; liberalism; litigation; politics; protest movements; public policy

00:08:32 - Interning for Sam Nunn

Play segment

Partial Transcript: At one point, I noticed on the bulletin board at Emory Law School- a notice that the newly-elected senator from Georgia, Sam Nunn, was initiating a new internship program in his office.

Segment Synopsis: Giffin talks about interning for Sam Nunn's office in Washington, D.C. while attending law school before becoming Nunn's chief counsel and director of legislative affairs. Giffin describes working under Sam Nunn, particularly focusing on Nunn's personality traits such as his intelligence and consideration for issues.

Keywords: Georgia legislature; J. Robin Harris; McCurdy, Candler and Harris; judiciary committee

00:13:35 - Nunn's legislative director

Play segment

Partial Transcript: You were director of legislative affairs and general counsel.

Segment Synopsis: Giffin discusses his duties as Sam Nunn's legislative director, such as drafting legislation and advising Nunn on upcoming votes. Giffin directs much of his attention to the renewal of the Voting Rights Act in 1975, including the failed amendments to the bill that Nunn proposed.

Keywords: "sunset clause"; Shelby County v. Holder; Chattahoochee River preservation; George Busbee; John Tunney; Ted Kennedy; armed services committee; grant funding; local issues; metro Atlanta; minority voter participation; minority voter registration; nationwide coverage; preclearance; public policy; seniority system; water and sewer systems

00:24:11 - Herman Talmadge / Campaign finance regulations

Play segment

Partial Transcript: Speaking of- you mentioned Senator Nunn's vote- Senator Talmadge was still in the Senate at this time.

Segment Synopsis: Giffin recalls Sam Nunn's relationship with Herman Talmadge, saying that Nunn respected Talmadge for his knowledge and sought his advice on how issues would affect their constituents. Giffin then talks about advising Sam Nunn as his chief counsel on matters of campaign finance after the decision in Buckley v. Valeo.

Keywords: Buddy Darden; Georgia Chamber of Commerce; Jack Flint; Rogers Wade; Senate ethics code; The Coca-Cola Company; University of Georgia; agriculture commissioner; campaigning; collaboration; corporate contributions; ethics regulations; finance committee; fundraising; institutional knowledge; networking; political family

00:34:28 - Involvement with national politics

Play segment

Partial Transcript: So anyway- but all of that put me in a position that when I left Senator Nunn's office and came back to Atlanta to practice law, one of the things that I- you gotta have confidence in your ability to do something.

Segment Synopsis: Giffin remembers working for Sam Nunn on the Democratic Leadership Council, a coalition of moderate Democratic officials who wished to recenter the party after the losses in the 1984 election. Giffin then discusses his own involvement with the Democratic National Committee, using his own networking to get the 1988 Democratic National Convention to be held in Atlanta.

Keywords: "campaign counsel"; 1976 election; 1996 Democratic National Convention; Al Gore, Jr.; Bill Clinton; Bruce Babbitt; Chicago, Illinois; Chuck Robb; Democratic National Committee chairman; Hansell & Post; Herman Talmadge; Jimmy Carter; Ron Brown; Walter Mondale; campaign laws; campaign treasurer; congressional ethics; energy sector; legal practice; senate staff; telecommunications regulations

00:40:56 - Atlanta '88, Inc.

Play segment

Partial Transcript: I want to take a step back.

Segment Synopsis: Giffin describes the inner processes of Atlanta '88, Inc., an organization dedicated to hosting the 1988 Democratic National Convention in Atlanta. Giffin talks about the hotel/motel tax placed to fund the Georgia World Congress Center's ability to host the convention, noting that the tax was supposed to be temporary but was repurposed to support the construction of the Georgia Dome.

Keywords: 1988 Democratic National Convention; Andrew Young; Atlanta Chamber of Commerce; Atlanta business community; Bobby Kahn; Joe Frank Harris; Sam Nunn; banking community; economic development; fundraising; media attention

00:48:42 - Democratic Leadership Council

Play segment

Partial Transcript: There was a lot of speculation that Senator Nunn would jump into the 1988 presidential campaign.

Segment Synopsis: Giffin lists the political factors that formed the Democratic Leadership Council and defined its goal: moderating the Democratic Party and moving it toward the political center. Giffin emphasizes that the Democratic Leadership Council accomplished its goal throughout the 1980s and 1990s, believing this change is best illustrated by Bill Clinton's moderate agenda as president.

Keywords: "San Francisco Democrats"; 1984 presidential election; 1992 presidential election; 1996 presidential election; 2000 presidential election; Al Fromm; Al Gore, Jr.; Barack Obama; Bill Clinton; Blue Dog Democrats; Christine Todd Whitman; Chuck Robb; Georgia World Congress Center; Griffin Bell; Hillary Clinton; Jefferson-Jackson Dinner; Jesse Jackson; John Danforth; Republican Leadership Council; Richard Gephardt; Walter Mondale; centrism; exploratory committee; public policy institute

00:57:49 - Georgia Democrats and Bill Clinton

Play segment

Partial Transcript: Your work- you said you got to work with the DNC, the Democratic National Committee.

Segment Synopsis: Giffin explains that the support of a state party organization tends to follow the direction of the governor of the party. As such, Giffin elaborates that the Democratic Party of Georgia followed governor Zell Miller's lead in the 1992 presidential election by rallying around Bill Clinton after Mario Cuomo refused to run.

Keywords: James Carville; Keith Mason; New Hampshire primary; Paul Begala; Sam Nunn; county commissioners; local offices; mayors; political consulting; southern Democrats; statewide offices; strong leadership

01:04:34 - 1992 Democratic presidential primary

Play segment

Partial Transcript: So tell me about campaigning for Bill Clinton in '92.

Segment Synopsis: Giffin recalls the process of moving Georgia's presidential primary before Super Tuesday, a decision which made Georgia more important in the national political sphere. Giffin believes that the earlier Georgia primary not only helped Clinton win a majority of votes in the state, but also saved his presidential campaign.

Keywords: "The Comeback Kid"; Al Gore; Ed Sims; Keith Mason; Max Cleland; Maynard Jackson; Newt Gingrich; Paul Tsongas; Pierre Howard; Ross Perot; Sam Nunn; Tom Harkin; Tom Murphy; United States Department of Justice; Valdosta, Georgia; Voting Rights Act preclearance; Zell Miller; national press attention

01:17:22 - 1992 and 1996 general elections

Play segment

Partial Transcript: Was it an experience like that that gave you confidence that the returns in November would be, if not a win for Clinton, extremely close?

Segment Synopsis: Giffin credits the enthusiasm Clinton created in Georgia voters with the candidate's victory in the state in 1992, not Ross Perot's third-party candidacy taking votes from George H.W. Bush. Giffin contrasts that experience with Bill Clinton running as an incumbent in 1996, believing that while Clinton was able to run on his record, Clinton's message of forward-looking progress instead of change, as in 1992, hurt his reelection efforts in Georgia.

Keywords: 1994 midterm elections; Decatur, Georgia; Ed Sims; Keith Mason; spoiler candidate; voting record; youth

01:24:13 - U.S. ambassador to Canada

Play segment

Partial Transcript: You become ambassador to Canada-

Segment Synopsis: Giffin explains how he became the United States ambassador to Canada, beginning by joining with one of Bill Clinton's state visits to the country. Giffin details some of his duties as the ambassador to Canada, particularly the implementation of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) and the renewal of the North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD) treaty.

Keywords: Bosnian Crisis; Mexico; North Atlantic Treaty Organization; auto manufacturers; free trade; military cooperation; national security

01:33:18 - NAFTA and the Canadian border

Play segment

Partial Transcript: Since you brought up NAFTA, how much of the renegotiation of NAFTA, the trade war talk that's emanating from the White House, how much of this is political bluster and how much of it is a substantive move to reevaluate, renegotiate that economic and security partnership?

Segment Synopsis: Giffin decries the Trump administration's attempt to dismantle NAFTA, emphasizing that free trade between the United States and Canada is mutually beneficial. Giffin further states that the border policy between the two nations is too strict, giving several anecdotes of when the harsh policy has hurt parties in both nations.

Keywords: Robert Lighthizer; agriculture; economic partnership; human capital; law enforcement; national security; protectionism; security partnership

01:38:56 - Michelle Nunn and the 2014 election

Play segment

Partial Transcript: So when you came back to Atlanta, how involved were you in politics?

Segment Synopsis: Giffin talks about his diminished political involvement in Georgia after stepping down from the ambassadorship to Canada, changing this attitude in the mid-2010s. Giffin discusses chairing Michelle Nunn's campaign in the 2014 election, concluding that her moderate viewpoints, commitment to helping others, and heritage to the popular Sam Nunn was not enough for her to overcome the Republican opposition.

Keywords: 2002 gubernatorial election; 2014 Ebola scare; 2014 senate race; 2016 presidential election; Hillary Clinton; Jason Carter; Jimmy Carter; Long Aldridge & Norman; Nathan Deal; Roy Barnes; centrism; legacy candidates; public service

01:43:44 - Potential for Democrats in Georgia

Play segment

Partial Transcript: Two years later, Hillary Clinton-

Segment Synopsis: While Giffin expresses disappointment over Hillary Clinton's loss to Donald Trump in the 2016 presidential election, he highlights that her success in the formerly Republican suburbs could pave the way for a future Democrat to seize victory. Giffin then predicts that Democrats' path to becoming competitive at all levels in Georgia rests on a strong candidate being elected governor, allowing greater party infrastructure and fundraising to benefit Democrats in local offices downballot.

Keywords: "Georgia Democrats"; Cobb County, Georgia; Gwinnett County, Georgia; Henry County, Georgia; Nathan Deal; Sam Nunn; Saxby Chambliss; Sonny Perdue; Zell Miller; national Democrats; one-party system; party switching; political philosophy