Opinion Columns & Blogs

WALKER: Advice to Larry Walker III

Larry, first let me say how proud your mother and I are of your recent election to the Georgia state Senate. You ran a good, clean race and defeated some good people. You know how it feels to lose, and now you know how it is to win. Winning makes you feel better, but your earlier loss probably taught more and prepared you to win this time.

Someone said: "Don't give advice. The wise don't need it and the dull won't heed it." Nonetheless, I plunge forward with my advice, for, after all, you are ours and often I think of you as just a youngster (that's natural for a parent, I think). Sometimes, in my mind's eye, I see you as that little first- grader with your eyeglasses learning to read and soon to be "working" with Papa at Gray-Walker Tractor Company.

So, here I go, bolstered in my trepidation in giving this advice by my long service in the Georgia House, and with the certain knowledge that these 10 things, in reverse order of importance, need to be considered by you.

1. TAKE THE CAPITOL STEPS AND NOT THE ELEVATOR: You will be offered lots of "free" food and drink. If you eat and drink everything you are offered, you will gain weight during the legislative session. Exercise every day is important. Take the steps and not the elevators. My memory is that there are 74 steps from the sidewalk on the Capitol side of Martin Luther King Jr. Drive to the fourth floor of the Capitol. Walk 'em, count 'em, and let me know if I'm right — about the exercise and the number of steps.

2. DON'T EAT ALL OF THE "FREE" FOOD AND DRINK YOU ARE OFFERED: As I said, if you are not careful, you will gain a great deal of weight during the legislative session. Watch your calories. Exercise when you can (see No. 1 above).

3. THE FREE FOOD AND DRINK AREN'T FREE: Lobbyists and special interests feed the elected. It's the American way. It's how the governed get focused time with elected officials. Thomas Jefferson and George Washington were being wined and dined in the Williamsburg cafes and pubs when the republic was being formed. There is nothing wrong with this as long as you keep exercising your independent judgment.

4. BE LIKABLE: Be friendly. Smile. Be courteous. This applies to your constituents and your fellow legislators (on both sides of the aisle). Don't think you are too important, even though the office you hold might be. Use words like "please," "I'm sorry," "please forgive me," "that's a good idea," etc.

5. DEVELOP A THICK SKIN: You are going to need it. Everything imaginable will be said to you. Generally, you just need to smile and take it. During your legislative tenure, you will lose some so-called friends over votes and positions on issues. This just goes with the job. If you don't develop a thick skin, you will be miserable and probably don't need to be in politics.

6. BE YOURSELF: Most folks like you, or you wouldn't have been elected. People in the public eye who try to be something they aren't are spotted immediately. Be yourself, and as I said above, don't take yourself too seriously.

7. BE WILLING TO COMPROMISE WHEN COMPROMISE IS IN ORDER: Politics is the art of compromise — or, at least it used to be. Listen to the other person's point of view. Try to reach consensus. Don't compromise your principles, but sometimes you ultimately get what you want by initially starting with something less or different than you preferred.

8. TREAT ALL OF YOUR COLLEAGUES WITH DIGNITY AND RESPECT: You might not agree with them. In fact, on many issues, you may seldom agree or vote with them. That doesn't mean you can't like and respect them. Nor, does it mean you can't understand where they are "coming from" and why. There can be friendship in disagreement.

9. DON'T LOSE YOUR FAMILY AND BUSINESS OVER THE LEGISLATURE: Keep things in perspective. Yours is a part-time job. You have to make a living for you and your family while giving "part-time" to the state Senate. Give both jobs and your family their entitlements. This might be the most important advice I have for you.

10. KNOW WHEN TO QUIT: You might say "this is strange advice to be giving when I am just starting." But, the time will come, and there will be life after politics. Knowing when to quit is more important than deciding to run.

Good luck, Larry. We are glad you are our son — and our senator. And, by the way, please let me know how many steps there are to the fourth floor from the sidewalk. Daddy.

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.