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01/11/03 - BO CALLAWAY SHOULD HAVE BEEN GEORGIA'S FIRST REPUBLICAN GOVERNOR

 

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
 
    January 11, 2003
 
36 years later, Bo Callaway welcomes a GOP governor

 By Tom Baxter

 PINE MOUNTAIN -- If any Republican can fully appreciate the moment when Sonny Perdue takes the oath of office as governor Monday, it will be Howard "Bo" Callaway.

Thirty-six years ago, the state Legislature denied Callaway the governorship after a race in which he got more votes than two Democratic opponents. The intervening years have been a period in the wilderness for Georgia Republicans.

 

Kimberly Smith / AJC

Bo Callaway won more votes than his Democratic opponents in the

race for governor in 1966, but the Legislature elected Lester Maddox instead.

So the time since Perdue's historic Nov. 5 victory has brought considerable personal satisfaction to Callaway.

He traveled to Washington this week with hundreds of other Georgia Republicans to celebrate U.S. Sen. Saxby Chambliss' swearing-in, and he stood on the floor of the House with his new congressman, Republican Phil Gingrey, when he took his oath. He plans to attend Perdue's inauguration Monday.

One of the qualities Callaway considers essential in politics is a sense of urgency. And while he is a retired senior statesman of his party now, Callaway exudes that sense of urgency when he talks about Perdue.

"You can't come in and just be a good governor. You've got to make a difference," Callaway, 75, said this week in an interview at Callaway Gardens, the sprawling west Georgia resort operated by his family since 1952. Still, Callaway is careful to stay away from specific issues -- starting with the flag -- where he respects the incoming governor's prerogatives.

A young Goldwater conservative in 1964, Callaway cut a striking figure when he won election to Congress, the first Republican from Georgia to go to Washington since Reconstruction. No Republican had even run for statewide office, but the notice Callaway gained propelled him into the 1966 race for governor.

Lester Maddox, with at least some help from crossover Republican voters, won the Democratic primary. Callaway ran what came to be the mold for Southern Republican campaigns, with bright "Go Bo" bumper stickers and an updated, upscale image that was conservative but less strident than the old Democratic segregationists like Maddox. Former Gov. Ellis Arnall, who also had lost the Democratic primary, tried to rally liberal and moderate Democrats with a write-in campaign.

Callaway got the most votes: 453,665 to 450,665 for Maddox and 57,699 for Arnall. The state constitution at that time said that if no one got a majority, the Legislature elected the governor. (That was subsequently changed, taking that power from the Legislature.)

Callaway supporters sued and the case went to the U.S. Supreme Court, which ruled against the Republicans 5-4 -- although Callaway believes that until the late Justice Byron "Whizzer" White changed his mind the night before, he'd won his case. That made it a foregone conclusion Maddox would be elected when the Democratic General Assembly convened in January.

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    AVOC COMMENT  I voted for Bo Callaway in 1966.   I had also supported Carl Sanders in 1962.   I was one Georgian who grew tired of hearing Georgia called ignorant and racist.  While Lester Maddox was a better Governor than many expected, he did not improve Georgia's image nationally.

Carl Sanders had been a progressive Democratic Governor who was a moderate on race relations.  His progressive period was set back by Lester Maddox's election on a "pick ax" campaign.    In 1970, Jimmy Carter defeated Sanders and painted Sanders as too liberal.  After the election, a lot of farmers and other conservative Georgians found out that they had not elected who they thought.  He and Lester Maddox, Lt Governor, fought all the time.

Bo Callaway had a positive image and helped Georgia to "come into" the twentieth century.  His advice and experience can serve our new Governor well.

Wendell Dawson, President, AVOC, Inc.

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AJC Article Continued..........

It is always tempting to think of what might have been.

"There would have been a vested interest on the part of most of those in the Legislature that I not do too well. But if I could have pulled it off and been successful, it would have been a whole different South," Callaway said.

Bert Lance, who served in the Carter White House, doesn't think Callaway's exaggerating. "If the right thing had been done and [Callaway] had been made the governor, he would have been the Republican nominee for president, in my judgment. Whether he could have won the presidency or not I don't know," Lance said.

Callaway moved on in a number of ways. The Callaway and Walton families of Georgia bought the Crested Butte resort in Colorado in 1970, and Callaway began dividing his time between the states. He was secretary of the Army from 1973 to 1975 and chairman of President Gerald Ford's campaign committee in 1976.

It turns out Callaway may have had a greater impact out of office than he would have as governor of Georgia -- or U.S. senator from Colorado, a subsequent election he also lost by a close call.

Callaway became an ally of Rep. Newt Gingrich, who chose Callaway to run GOPAC, the organization which became the engine of the Republican revolution. So had Callaway become governor, Gingrich's Republican revolution might not have had the same anti-establishment edge. Had the 1966 election not prompted a change in state election law, Paul Coverdell would not have had the runoff in which he defeated Wyche Fowler in the 1992 U.S. Senate race.

And conceivably, Jimmy Carter might not have been president, because Callaway would have been in his way.

Carter won the governorship in 1970, surprised the country with an inauguration speech calling for racial moderation, and the rest is history. Callaway's idea of how things might have turned out bears some similarities, but with a Republican twist.

"The Republican who was elected on a Goldwater ticket had a better chance of doing something real for race relations than a Democrat could," Callaway said. "My view was that what we had to do, working with the Legislature, was figure out a way to make Georgia the leading state in race relations, and do it not by pandering, but by working to find ways to give an opportunity to every single American to do what their God-given talents are."


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