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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

RIP Tom Murphy

If readers will allow me a moment of home-state parochialism, I want to note the passing of Tom Murphy, the Democratic Speaker of the Georgia House of Representatives for nearly thirty years (1974-2003).
Murphy first emerged as a factor in Georgia politics as House floor leader for the zany segregationist Governor Lester Maddox (whose chief of staff, BTW, was Murphy’s longtime rival Zell Miller), who wound up having a relatively progressive record despite his nutty right-wing rhetoric. As Speaker, Murphy’s career tracked the gradual evolution of the southern Democratic party from its conservative past to its eventual condition as a moderate biracial coalition.
But unlike such former Dixiecrat-types as George Wallace, he never had to apologize for racial demagoguery, and never abandoned the Democratic Party. Indeed, the one great constant of Murphy’s career was an inveterate hostility to the GOP.
Murphy finally lost his power, and his seat, when his once-rural West Georgia district (where most of my mother’s family still lives) became a Republican-trending Atlanta exurb, at about the same time that demographic changes finally flipped Georgia into the Republican column in state as well as national elections.
But Georgia resisted the region-wide GOP trend longer than any other state, electing Democratic governors and controlling the state legislature throughout the post-Civil Rights Act era, right up until 2002. It was no coincidence that this remarkable period in which Georgia Democrats defied the inevitable coincided with the Speakership of Tom Murphy. May he rest in peace.

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