News - Zell's betrayal
Miller turns his back on loyal supporters
I woke up last Thursday to newspaper headlines reading that Georgia's newest senator, Zell Miller, had already decided to support John Ashcroft as attorney general of the United States.
Miller's statement was both unnecessary and unwise: The hearings had just begun, yet the former Georgia governor had already decided that no evidence, no witness, could change his pre-ordained "decision." Two days later, he announced that he'd help Pres. Bush pass his $1.3 trillion tax cut.
What other conclusions has Miller already reached? Will he go ahead and switch parties, becoming the Republican he so strongly resembles lately?
I realize that a Republican administration is something I'll have to learn to live with. But some things I can't tolerate: John Ashcroft's overwhelmingly racist statements and actions; his pro-life, anti-woman, anti-gay, anti-gun control rhetoric; his Bob Jones diploma-holding, good ol' boy, White Man's Burden attitude.
Republicans claim not to understand why "liberals" are bashing their boy, why they can't see how much "integrity" he possesses. I have to wonder whether Republicans even understand the meaning of the term. Ashcroft swears under oath to support numerous laws he has spent decades attacking — what kind of "integrity" is that? He's willing to scrap everything he believes in after a few minutes' questioning from his Senate buddies?
For the past eight years, Republicans and conservatives and the religious right and the Rushes and the Boortzes and their shrill, ill-tempered ilk have lied and threatened and bashed every initiative attempted by the Democratic administration. Now, after spending a successful career as a Democrat, Zell decides to leap aboard the Bush bandwagon?
I'll have to admit that I have personal reasons to feel betrayed.
I came to Georgia in 1993 to work on then-Gov. Miller's re-election campaign. As deputy director of scheduling and advance, my job was to get "the message" out: Work the media; get the governor on TV, on the radio and in the newspapers as much as possible; make sure he looked good, and pump the HOPE Scholarship at every opportunity. In this part of the state, make sure he's pictured with an elderly white woman; in that one, get a bunch of black schoolchildren for the shot.
I worked tirelessly, feverishly and with precious little sleep for eight months, driving around Georgia schlepping sound gear, flags, banners, yard signs, bunting, press releases, faxes, staging and miscellaneous junk to schools, courthouses, lighthouses, mountain camps, pre-K programs, seaside lodges, barbecues, churches, picnics, fund-raising dinners, bungalows, mansions and gazebos, punctuated by angry spells of shouting if everything wasn't perfect.
I stuck Georgia maps all over my office walls. I talked endlessly on the phone to people all over the state — friends of the governor, Democratic precinct chairs, sheriffs, fund raisers, reporters, stage hands, PR people, schoolteachers, Capitol staffers, security folks at the Governor's Mansion.
Some people used to call him Zig-Zag Zell, but I quickly began referring to him as Zell the Yell; from the first moment I spoke to him, he was yelling — and he yelled for the next eight months.
It's not that I didn't respect Zell. I did; I respected his courageous effort to stand firm in his conviction to change the Georgia flag. When he spoke out against that symbol so redolent of racism, he spoke for all Georgians — not just the good ol' boys and slavery apologists.
That was the issue that could have sunk his campaign, and it was the issue that made me admire him most, made me work even harder, helped me endure the yelling and long hours. And I respected his intellect, his love of music; he is, as one co-worker put it, "a true renaissance man in every sense of the word. You just can't tell it because of his accent." A silly, back-handed compliment, yes — but also somewhat true. There would always be the accent.
And it's even more pronounced when he's yelling at you.
"Whhhiiiyyy do I need to do that? Whhiiiyyy is there always iced tea ever'whhuure I go?" (Because that's what you said you like to drink, so I made sure there was some on hand for you.)
We got the message out. We won the campaign. We won through hard work, the HOPE Scholarships, the governor's long history of service to the state, and because of the people who believed in and respected Zell Miller.
On Thursday morning, I lost that respect.
Oh, I know it's likely that the Senate will confirm Ashcroft. In fact, after a lot of soul-searching and heartache, our other senator, Max Cleland, will likely — grudgingly — go along.
But my question to you, Sen. Miller, is "why?"
Whhhiiiyyy did you leap to bless this bigoted reactionary? Whhhiiiyyy did you spit in the faces of the witnesses and victims of Ashcroft's vicious brand of politics who came to testify? Whhhiiiyyy did you leave behind the people of Georgia who've supported you throughout you career, the people you once proudly stood up for?
You've stolen my belief in you, senator. Now you're just another politician — a politician I'm ashamed to have helped get elected.