Opinion Columns & Blogs

Lessons learned in the Georgia Legislature


One of these days, I’m going to quit writing — quit putting things I think about down on paper. And, before I quit writing, I’m going to quit writing about the Legislature. I thought I would have quit before now, but I still want to write about some of the things I learned, or perhaps I should say adopted or had reinforced, as a result of my legislative experience. Here I go.

I learned to appreciate straight talk. You know, telling people what you think straight up and direct. Lots of people don’t appreciate candid conversing. I do, and I like for people to tell me what they think, and not what they think I want to hear. I’m not talking about being rude or ugly, but being truthful and direct. Then, I expect them to let me tell them what I think. Often, if you start off candidly conversing, you can end up with something on which both of you agree. I don’t know about you, but I believe we need more of this in the Congress of the United States.

I was Tom Murphy’s right hand for many years. If he was anything, he was direct. He’d say: “Give it to me with the bark off.” What he meant was, tell it to me just like it is. If it’s bad, don’t sugarcoat it. “Give it to me with the bark off.” Zell Miller was the same way. Sometimes, he would singe your eyebrows making his points. He was good and direct, wasn’t he? Also, Sonny Perdue. He never left you in doubt about where he stood on any subject that was worth taking his time to discuss. Three good, successful politicians.

Give it to me straight. Let me reply directly and truthfully. If you get your feelings hurt easily, you don’t need to be in politics.

Another lesson: Don’t burn bridges. Oh, eventually it could get so bad that you’d have to sever the relationship. But, that’s rare. With your closest political ally, you’d sometimes differ. Get over it. The next day, or perhaps in the next hour, you’d need her/him again. Don’t burn political bridges or personal bridges. Keep your word – and, for some reason, most especially on how you were going to vote on a bill – and, most especially, a bill authored or being pushed by the person seeking your commitment. If you tell ‘em “yes,” you better vote “yes” – unless, prior to the vote you went to the person obtaining the promise and explained why you had to withdraw your commitment: “My mayor called me; I heard from my wife on this; I didn’t know how it was going to affect my school system; etc.” Keep your word. Nothing “kills” you quicker in politics than not keeping your word when dealing with your colleagues.

“The sun don’t shine on the same dog all the time.” On Monday, July 31, I looked in The Telegraph, Sports Section, at the baseball standings, NL East. That’s the division our Atlanta Braves, one time world champions, is in. There are five teams in this division: Washington, Miami, New York, Atlanta and Philadelphia. One team, Washington, had a winning record 61 wins and 41 losses and all the rest had losing records. Atlanta was 13 ½ games out of first with 48 wins and 55 losses. “The sun don’t shine on the same dog all the time.”

In politics, you win some and lose some. You pass some of your bills, if you work hard, learn the system, keep your word, treat your fellows right and your timing is good, but you won’t prevail on everything you try to do. I know the sun doesn’t shine on the same dog all the time.

Let’s see: tell the truth; shoot straight; keep your word; don’t burn bridges; realize that you’ll win some (don’t gloat) and sometimes you’ll lose (don’t mope). Show up for work every work day. Study the bills. Learn the system – including legislative history and why things work the way they do. Post. Few things are more important to success than posting. Showing up – ready to work. A good formula for life? Yes. And, I learned lots of this in politics and the Legislature – or, if I didn’t learn it there, what I had already been taught was strongly reinforced.

Larry Walker is a practicing attorney in Perry. He served 32 years in the Georgia General Assembly and presently serves on the University System of Georgia Board of Regents. Email: lwalker@whgmlaw.com.