Two decades ago, Saxby Chambliss went from being a Moultrie lawyer to serving in Congress.
Now, he’s stepping down after deciding not to seek a third Senate term this year.
In an interview with The Telegraph and Georgia Public Broadcasting, the outgoing senator reflected on a wide range of topics, from what he’s learned and problems of partisanship to getting shot at.
Sipping a cup of black coffee at Macon’s Taste and See Coffee Shop earlier this week, Chambliss also said he thinks his wife will keep him plenty busy in the months to come.
Here are his thoughts and answers to questions, in his own words:
If my wife’s happy, I’m happy. ... When it comes to determining whether or not you’re satisfied with the direction in which your life’s going, I always measure that by how do I feel when I get up in the morning. Do I really want to go to work where I’m going to work? I’ve always been blessed, that’s been the case with me. I practiced law for 26 years, and in public service now for 20 years, and literally now for all of those 46 years I have looked forward to getting up in the morning and going to work, and that’s what I’m looking forward to in the next chapter of my life, wherever we wind up.
When you deal in the secret world that I deal in ... you can’t talk about what you hear. My wife rarely knows anything about what I’m doing. Even some of the places I go, I don’t tell her. For example, I’ve never told her I’ve been shot at several times by bad guys leaving Baghdad, for example. You learn to adapt in the job by understanding that things that you hear simply can’t be repeated.
When I hear the really bad stuff, there is some of it that keeps me awake at night, but for the most part you just move on to the next day, knowing and having great confidence in the fact that there are men and women out there that are putting their life in harm’s way to make sure that America and Americans remain safe.
Harry Truman is probably my favorite president from the standpoint of being somebody who said what was on his mind, and he was truthful and very forthright. Ronald Reagan, on the other hand, was somewhat the same way, but he had a different style and his style, I guess, is by nature coming out of Hollywood, Hollywood style.
When I got elected to the House of Representatives, I was in the class of ‘94. It’s the first time in 42 years the Republicans took control of the House. We were a band of renegades who were full of energy and thought we could go into Washington and change the world. ... Even though we had good ideas about things, even though we were moving legislation through the House of Representatives, we found out right quick the world was not going to change just because we had been elected to Congress. ... All of a sudden we were doing things on the House side that simply weren’t getting done on the Senate side, and that was a mystery to us, and it took us a while to figure that out -- that politics just doesn’t work the way that you oftentimes think it does.
Being honest with people is critically important. If you’re not honest with the American public and politics, then buddy, you need to find another job, because they will figure it out. The American people are a lot smarter than some politicians give them credit for.
My law partner Lamar Moore was a guy that I tried to emulate when I came to giving my word. I practiced with this gentleman for 26 years. He taught me more than anybody else in the world has ever taught me, about honesty, integrity, about hard work and about discipline.
As I leave Congress, I continue to hold my head high. I’ve always been straightforward, I’ve always been honest, and I think Lamar taught me that early on you’ve got to make sure you do what you say you’re going to do.
My wife’s probably the most honest person I know. She tells me what she thinks. She tells me when she thinks I’m right or when I’m wrong, and she’s always taught my children that way. I would have to say she’s been a very good guiding light from that perspective. She’s always made sure that my feet were on the ground, even though I got elected to Congress. When I’m home, I’m daddy, and I’m her husband. I am not Mr. Congressman.
That aspect of our life has always been very positive, and her teaching to my children that you need to be straightforward with me and dad and everybody else you encounter, and if you have an issue you need to go to your friend and sit down with your friend, talk it through and work it out and be honest with them. She’s probably the one that comes to mind.
I don’t regret one decision that I’ve made in my professional life. My decision to run for Congress was not easy. My decision to run for the Senate was even more difficult. But once I made ‘em, my heart and my soul was in it, just like every case I ever tried or every client I ever represented. You give 150 percent of whatever the effort is.
If you’re not able to communicate with people at some point in time you’re going to develop a distrust with people and that distrust will ultimately cause problems. My advice to people is make sure you communicate, particularly at home.
I think if you looked at the political world that we live in today, we’re becoming more and more partisan, which means we’re accomplishing less and less from a policy standpoint.
I think people need to be more in tune with politics itself, with life itself. It doesn’t matter whether it’s politics in the church or politics in the city hall or politics in the workplace, decisions are made, and people assume the decision was made based on what they’ve heard or based on what they’ve seen. They need to go to the person and say, “Why did you do this? What was your rationale?”
If people ... generated a dialogue, ... we wouldn’t have these far-right positions and these far-left positions that truly are causing us problems in Washington and at city hall and in our state capitols and wherever these days.
There are points in time when I just throw up my hands, say, “Guys, that’s it, I am going to Moultrie and I’m going to sit down with my wife and have dinner.”
Family and what’s going on in my family are way more important than whatever job I’ve ever held. And I want to make sure I devote the right kind of attention to my family and the fun that they’re having and we have together that I need to.
Julianne’s got plenty of work for me to do that I have not been able to do in the last 20 years, because our time really has not been our time. We couldn’t even go, can’t go now to the grocery store without somebody stopping me and telling me how to run the country. And that’s OK, that’s what I get paid for, and I have never minded that. But I do look forward to saying, “Let me give you the phone number of my successor, let you talk to him.”
I’m going to be affiliated with a law firm, will be based in Atlanta, but it will be a national/international type firm that will continue to allow me to do some of the policy things I’ve been doing. We’ve got contacts obviously all around the world that I look forward to staying in touch with and hopefully developing some business opportunities with.
I’m going to stay plugged into the intelligence world. I’m going to be going on an advisory board. I’m going to continue to give the CIA my input about what’s going on in the world, what’s going on with what we’re hearing, with respect to what they’re doing.
What I told (U.S. Sen.-elect David Perdue) is he doesn’t need to be in a rush. He needs to go slow and make sure he gets the right kind of staff in place as he figures out what his priorities are. He needs to listen. I’ve given him the names of a few folks in the Senate he needs to get close to early on. That’s some advice that (former U.S. Sen.) Sam Nunn gave to me that I took to heart, and Sam was exactly right.
The best thing he’s got going for him is the same thing that I had, and that is his colleague Johnny Isakson. He’s the quintessential public servant, he’s one of my very best friends, has been since our college days. It’s a very unique relationship we have, but Johnny and David will develop a similar relationship, and they will counsel each other on issues. I am very confident he’s going to make an outstanding senator.
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