On Wednesday night, the grandson of Jimmy Carter hosted a gathering in Decatur to launch his campaign for a state Senate seat that is not quite available yet.
Jason Carter, 34, is the first of the former president’s grandchildren to seek public office. “I think if I didn’t give politics a chance, then I would be leaving some opportunities on the table to make a difference,” the young attorney said. “That may sound canned, but it’s not.”
The former president, who left his state Senate seat in 1966 to make a first run for governor, has endorsed his grandson’s venture. “He said, ‘You’re going to have to work harder than anybody else, and always tell the truth. And that’s all the advice you’ll ever need,’ ” Jason Carter reported.
But a legacy is one part wings and one part baggage.
Jason Carter aims to replace David Adelman, who has been nominated by the Obama administration as ambassador to Singapore — but who has yet to be confirmed by the Senate.
Adelman is Jewish, as is a healthy portion of Senate District 42, a Democratic slice that covers downtown Decatur and western DeKalb County, including the Emory University complex.
In case you don’t follow the subtleties of foreign affairs, Jimmy Carter’s relationship with the pro-Israel faction of the world has been somewhat shaky these past few years.
The situation isn’t lost on Jason Carter, whose pro bono work has included a legal challenge to the Republican-backed law requiring voters to supply photo ID.
A mini-resume sent out by his campaign is topped by a citation for his “efforts to protect voting rights” — from the Anti-Defamation League.
“You and I both know that the Georgia Senate doesn’t set Middle East policy. And I don’t think anybody would want it to,” Jason Carter said in an interview that preceded his Wednesday kickoff.
The younger Carter said his campaign issues will be entirely domestic in nature, even predictable — transportation, the economy and education.
That said, Jason Carter acknowledged a certain amount of bridge-building to be done. “As a candidate, and hopefully as a state senator, my job is to make sure that the people of my district trust me to do what’s right,” Carter said. “And it may be that I have to do more in certain communities to earn that trust. But it’s going to be about who I am, and what I do.”
It is important to note that Jason Carter has two ties, not one, to the state Legislature. His maternal grandfather was Beverly Langford, who served in both the House and Senate, and was a member of the state transportation board. Langford died in 1996.
Liane Levetan, the former CEO of DeKalb County, has known both sides of Jason Carter’s family. She was one of Jimmy Carter’s original bloc of supporters in his 1976 presidential campaign, and once held the Senate seat that Jason Carter now seeks.
But Levetan is also Jewish. Her grandparents, three aunts and an uncle perished in the Holocaust. Three years ago, Levetan was one of 14 members of the Carter Center’s board of councilors who resigned in protest of criticisms of Israel’s behavior made by the former president in his book, “Palestine: Peace Not Apartheid.”
“My difference with President Carter is his concept of what Israel is and what Israel does,” she said.
Levetan arrived home the other day to find two messages from Jason Carter on her voice mail. The pair have played phone-tag ever since, but she’s interested in talking to him.
“I’m sure there will be some questions asked,” Levetan said. “And that he will be prepared to answer them.”
Others have expressed interest in the Adelman seat, including Tom Stubbs, a 2008 candidate for a Superior Court judgeship in DeKalb County.
But it may benefit Jason Carter that his more famous grandfather is appreciated for things other than his views on Arabs and Israelis.
Johnny Isakson on Wednesday estimated that the Senate might take up Adelman’s nomination sometime after the middle of January. If he’s confirmed, a special election to replace the Decatur state senator could come as early as March — while the Legislature is in session.
Which would mean that a campaign for the state Senate could be dominated by the issues of the day, including the current angst over ties — personal and financial — between lobbyists and leaders of a Republican-controlled Legislature.
Decency was Jimmy Carter’s issue 33 years ago. It might work again.
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