Back in 2002, I had been dabbling for a while in politics while practicing law. Some friends asked me to help a local area businessman who was running for Congress. His name was Cecil Staton.
2002 was the year the Democrats, desperate to hold on in the growing Republican tide in Georgia, redistricted some of the most bizarrely shaped congressional districts in the United States. A Georgia state Senate district ran from Columbus to Macon, sometimes no more than a few feet wide. The district that contained Robins Air Force Base was a U-shape that ran down Interstate 75, cut over to Waycross, then ran back up the coast.
The 11th Congressional District went from Rome down to Columbus, over to Upson County and had tentacles into metro Atlanta. At one point in the district, one could pole vault from one side of the district to the other across a different district. Islands in the Walter F. George Lake on the Alabama border connected parts of the district.
In this district, Staton ran for Congress. He was not a natural glad-hander. But he persisted. His small business message connected. But he was an outsider. A sitting state legislator named Phil Gingrey, who is now running for a U.S. Senate, beat Staton in the runoff.
Shortly after, Staton was in a wreck in north Georgia. The service in his car that should have alerted the car company and called for help got damaged in the wreck. It was a miserable end to a miserable campaign season.
But Staton, as he has done so often, persevered. He got back into politics and in 2004 ran for the state Senate.
By that time, I was fully engaged in political consulting, and he asked me to run the race. It was one of several I steered. Staton poured himself into the race. He’d picked up the groove on the congressional campaign trail, and it worked for him in the state Senate race. He won the primary. Then he won the general and headed up to the Senate.
It had to be a bit of a shock for him. Staton, who had been derided by opponents in his congressional election, as “Cecil the Intellectual” (with “Cecil” pronounced “Suh-cil” so it all rhymed), walked into the Senate probably the most educated person there -- a small businessman who had actually built a successful publishing company and had a ministry background and a doctor-ate -- and he went to work.
Staton’s first big issue was voter identification. It passed. He, I and a bunch of others were subpoenaed by Roy Barnes, who represented plaintiffs in a federal case against the law. The case ultimately collapsed, and Staton’s law remains to this day. A few years later, he led the effort to require proof of citizenship to register to vote. Despite claims from many Democrats, Staton made an evidentiary case for the law. There had been documented cases of people registering to vote who were not citizens.
Along the way, he also developed an interest in rural health care. He helped get state money to Mercer University’s medical school, which focuses on rural doctors. He worked passionately on finding solutions to fund trauma care across the state.
Cecil Pope Staton Jr. is retiring from the Senate after this term. He’ll be able to spend more time with his wife, Catherine, and his sons, and he’ll be able to focus on his businesses. Staton is a friend. And I appreciate greatly his contributions to the state and our community during his time in the General Assembly.
Erick Erickson is a Fox News contributor and radio talk show host in Atlanta.