James.qxp Jan Feb 2019 web - Page 44



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JAMES
JANUARY/FEBRUARY 2019
can’t say for certain the rst time I
went into our state Capitol. Knowing
my wonderful aunt Lillian Walker
Maddox like I do— or should I say, like I
did— I think it was before 1972. But since she
took her country niece and nephews, of which I
was one, to see virtually everything worth seeing in Atlanta— including the Atlanta Zoo,
the Cyclorama, Stone Mountain, Rich’s
department store, the Fox Theater and
to watch airplanes taking off and landing at Hartseld— I have to believe that
she also herded us to our Capitol building. I just can’t remember. But I do know
for certain that I went in 1972.
I was elected to Georgia’s House of
Representatives, taking the seat and the
chair formerly held and sat in
by Sam Nunn before he
started his outstanding
and long service as
one of Georgia’s great
U.S. senators. Both of
us were elected on
the rst Tuesday in
November 1972.
Shortly thereafter, I
had an audience with House Speaker George L. Smith. I
proudly returned from that meeting to Perry with my
committee assignments including Judiciary, chaired by
Robin Harris from DeKalb County; the University
System of Georgia, chaired by Chappell Matthews from
Athens; and a new urban-oriented committee (State
Planning and Community Affairs?) chaired by “Red”
Atherton from Cobb County.
So for the next 45 years (not to include 2018) in
January of each year I climbed the steps from the sidewalk to the first floor and then to the second, third,
and fourth, 73 steps in all as I remember it, while
Georgia’s Legislature was in session. And during 32 of
these years, 1973-2004, I was an active, interested and
closely observing member. My memories of the goings
on are imbedded in my mind and generally remain
strong, reliable and recallable.
Let me share some observations and learned truths.
I must have authored or co-authored more than
1,000 pieces of legislation that became law. I remember
many of these bills. I handled Quality Basic Education
(QBE) for Gov. Joe Frank Harris. It passed unanimously in the House and I think it passed
unanimously in the Senate. Our public
schools, over the 30 years since Harris
signed this bill into law, are still largely
governed by what was passed. Amazing.
As the House majority leader, I presented
Georgia’s budgets on the House oor (the
original bills and the Conference
Committee reports on the bills) 63 times.
(It would have been 64 saving my absence,
once, to attend a funeral.)
Yet QBE and budgets
are not what I most
remember. What are?
The first and
my deepest is the
memory of what
happened when
we initially
changed Georgia’s
1950s-era flag. Only
the governor and a handful of legislators, almost all of
which were House members, knew what was about to
happen. When it was rolled out of the Rules
Committee, chaired by the wonderful chairman Bill
Lee, the atmosphere in the House chamber was electric. All day— that Friday, January 24, 2001— the
debate ebbed and flowed. I gave the last speech. We
needed 91 votes and, as I recall it, we got 94 or so. The
bill was headed to the Senate.
Of course, the ag issue was not settled that day nor
during that session, or even that year. But it started that
day, and the memories linger. Thanks to Governors Roy
Barnes and Sonny Perdue and lots of gutsy legislators,
Georgia got a new ag. continued on page 46
JANUARY/FEBRUARY 2019
45

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