Most every week, someone will ask me “Do you miss the Legislature?” Despite the regularity of the question, I’m always surprised to get it. The answer every time is, “I don’t miss the Legislature, but I do miss the people.”
During my 32 years in the Georgia House, I made lots of friends from all over the state. Today, I want to remember 10 of those. Some of these are well-known based on long and exemplary service, while others, at least to me, are known for something special they did while under the Gold Dome.
Roy Eugene Barnes: Roy was an effective and accomplished legislator. Roy is a great storyteller and is fun to be around. He served in the state Senate and in the state House. When Joe Frank Harris was elected governor, Roy was Gov. Harris’ Senate administration floor leader. I was his House floor leader. I always enjoyed working with Roy.
Peggy Childs: In 1979, Ray Charles came to the floor of the Georgia House and played and sung our just adopted official state song: “Georgia On My Mind.” Rep. Peggy Childs was the sponsor of this law. Peggy died shortly after “her” law was adopted. Ray Charles died in May 2004. The day we made this Georgia’s song was the most exciting day in the 32 years I served in the Legislature.
Terry Coleman: Terry and I were elected to the Georgia House in 1972 and took office in 1973 at the same time. When Al Burrus, then majority leader, died, both Terry and I wanted the job. I had the votes and got it. When Tom Murphy was defeated, both Terry and I wanted the job, and he had the votes and got it. We were friends during the 32 years we served together, and we still are.
Denny Groover: A legislator’s legislator. Of all I served with, Denny was the best. He read every bill that was introduced (thousands and thousands). He was also a lawyer’s lawyer. Need I say more?
Joe Frank Harris: When I was assigned my first seat in the House chamber, it was the actual chair that had been Sam Nunn’s. The person in the seat to my left was Joe Frank Harris. He became our governor, and I am proud that we helped him get there. He was a good governor, and he is a good man.
Johnny Isakson: When Johnny served in the House, he was the Republican minority leader. I was the Democratic majority leader. We sometimes disagreed, but we were never disagreeable. Johnny’s word was his bond. He was very smart -- smarter than his Democratic counterpart. He was always a gentleman, even when very effectively advocating his party’s position. I am glad he is one of our United States senators from Georgia.
Tom Murphy: Mr. Murphy was elected speaker in January 1973, exactly one year after I took office, and remained as speaker through 2002. Arguably, during this 29-year period, he was the most influential political person and political force in Georgia. He loved Georgia and always wanted what was best for it. He was a complex but a very smart and good man.
Calvin Smyre: Calvin was the first African-American legislator to have a major leadership position when Joe Frank Harris named him as his administrator floor leader -- and a good and effective job he did. Calvin was and is often a voice for reason and moderation. He continues to render good service to the people of Georgia.
Wayne Snow: When serving in the Georgia House for many years and then on the Board of Pardons and Paroles, he gave good service in both roles. But, to my mind, his greatest contribution was in chairing the Code Revision Commission, which gave Georgia its first official law code. The work was tedious and time consuming. A large part of it was done by this legislator who deserved more credit than he received.
Sonny Watson: Sonny Watson, like Denny Groover, was a legislator’s legislator. His word was his bond. If he told you he was going to do something, whether for you or to you, you could count on it. He and I, together, concocted a plan to unite Houston County (there was a time when Warner Robins and Perry and their elected officials didn’t see eye to eye). Sonny took our plan, and in his “Sonny way,” enforced it. The result is that Houston County, today, might be the most politically united county in Georgia.
Today, these are 10 that I wanted to remember. I could write about at least a hundred more, and I might do it one day.
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: firstname.lastname@example.org.