Identity politics: A candidate by any other name

Especially in this season, voters are inclined to think of politicians as creatures that jump into existence out of nothing more substantial than a yard sign.

This is mostly untrue. All have parents, of course. But a rare few are indeed self-created.

In a strange coincidence driven by opposition research, we have learned— in the span of three or four days — that two candidates for the state House, both Republican and both male, are not who they once were.

They have had their names legally changed. One said he had to cut a final tie with his father, the other said he needed to create a bond with his.

For many women in the audience, changing identities is a rite of passage. No big deal, they murmur. It is different for men — though not unheard of.

President Gerald Ford was born Leslie Lynch King Jr. President Bill Clinton was, out of the womb, William Jefferson Blythe III.

But name changes for men are still rare, and each instance is usually accompanied by a soap opera.

Jason Goldfarb was a middle-school student in Tennessee when his parents divorced. His mother reverted to her maiden name of Shepherd when she brought her son to Georgia — and enrolled him in school as Jason Shepherd. His degree from the University of Georgia bears that name.

Now 34, Shepherd is running against state Rep. Terry Johnson of Marietta, the Democratic incumbent.

On Monday, the state Democratic party produced documents indicating that, in 2000 and as Jason Goldfarb, Shepherd was arrested on a charge of domestic violence. His live-in fiancée accused him of attempting to strangle her.

“That is absolutely not true. I never said or did anything like that,” Shepherd said. “She makes things up, to make herself into a victim.”

The charge was dropped when the young woman declined to answer a Cobb County court summons. Shepherd said he nonetheless went through a diversion program as “an effort of good faith.”

Shepherd said he told GOP leaders about the incident when they recruited him to run. “I have been, on a small scale, open and honest about it,” he said.

Shepherd formally changed his name in 2003. Not to escape the blight of a battery accusation, he said, but to sever a final tie with a father who never showed up. And to simplify the paperwork needed to bring his German bride to the United States.

In 2008, Michael Harden of Toccoa was elected to his first term in the House. In the state Capitol, he is best known for proposing random drug tests for those receiving state unemployment benefits.

This year, Harden faces Democrat Chris Irvin, grandson of longtime state Agriculture Commissioner Tommy Irvin.

It has come out that Michael Harden was originally Michael Holland, the out-of-wedlock son of a Toccoa restaurant owner and Walter “Doc” Harden, the married owner of a traveling carnival company.

“I played the hand I was dealt,” the son said. “He supported us somewhat, financially.”

In 1998, as a senior in high school, Michael Holland sold some hogs at a show and raised the $500 necessary to pay a lawyer to accompany him for an appearance before a Stephens County judge — where he became Michael Harden.

“I don’t consider it suddenly being something else,” said the 30-year-old owner of a log home company. “As a young man, you pride yourself as a man and where you’re from. I was proud to be my dad’s son.”

Doc Harden died in 2007, without a will. Michael Harden was named co-administrator of the $204,000 estate, along with Doc Harden’s legally adopted son, David Harden, 58.

They were the sole heirs.

Michael Harden’s Democratic opponent, Chris Irvin, has produced a signed and notarized affidavit from David Harden, claiming that the state lawmaker insinuated himself into a profitable situation.

“At a vulnerable time, I put a lot of faith in the possibility that I may have had a brother that I never knew. But things quickly changed when this alleged brother stole from me,” David Harden said.

David Harden admits a criminal past. He was caught with “a little weed” in the late ’80s, has been picked up for DUI and carrying a concealed weapon. “I never killed nobody or robbed no banks,” he said.

Michael Harden says he has known David Harden longer than the affidavit implies. “When my dad passed away, I had to bail him out to make it to the funeral,” the state lawmaker said. David Harden agreed that a disagreement over a judge’s fine had landed him in jail.

Nonetheless, David Harden says his half-brother can’t account for thousands of dollars from their father’s estate. And maybe shouldn’t have had a share in the first place.

“I did my brother right,” said Michael Harden, who said the cash went to the debts “that were clearly my dad and his wife’s liabilities.”

And so this small-town dispute that should be addressed in court will be settled at the polls on Nov. 2 — giving identity politics an entirely new meaning.

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14 comments Add your comment


September 29th, 2010
7:54 pm

I don’t know either of these gentlemen, but it is interesting that the “scathing” news was delivered by their opponents. Seems like that last one backfired to me, “a little weed”…are you serious?. Hasn’t anyone told these folks that the voters reject this kind of crap, guess they’ll find out on Nov 2!


September 29th, 2010
9:27 pm

I know both of them. I knew Jason before his name was legally changed he was going by “Jason Shepherd.” He is a mild mannered young man and does not fit the description the Georgia Democratic Party is trying to portray. I also know Michael. He too, is a very decent guy. Both are tenacious when it comes to their work ethic. I still don’t get the point the Georgia Democratic Party is trying to raise against Michael. I hope their attempt at character assassination backfires on them.

Just Say No to Democrats

September 29th, 2010
9:57 pm

Democrats in desperation mode. Their #1 is a clown disguised as the president – even the loser Barnes leaves town when Obozo comes here. Hopefully the Democratic riff-raff will be sent packing from GA in November.


September 29th, 2010
10:06 pm

Some change names some political party.


September 29th, 2010
10:21 pm

So….Harden’s opponent, Chris Irvin, delivers an affidavit from a convicted “dope head” as his reason that Rep Harden should be replaced? Of all the issues that we’re concerned about, a document from a doper is the solution to all our ills? There’s a CLASSIC CASE OF GOOD JUDGEMENT!!!!

Friend of Family

September 29th, 2010
10:33 pm

I dont live in NE Ga, but I do know Irvin’s dad from law school. And although I’m a supporter and friend, I agree that this attempt to gain ground was a very short-sighted and stupid move on the Irvin’s part. I like Chris and wish him the best, but he just threw any chance of an upset out the window. Sad…he’s a very nice guy.

Alabama Communist

September 29th, 2010
10:40 pm

And so this small-town dispute that should be addressed in court will be settled at the polls on Nov. 2 — giving identity politics an entirely new meaning.* Jim

You got that right! This Redneck family should replace the Palin family of Alaska on ” Dancing with the Family Rednecks to fame show”


September 30th, 2010
6:26 am

A better question would be, how did Mr. Irvin’s father get so rich on the salary of a state worker? “Me thinks”, Mr. Galloway has a tendency to be a bit bias against Republicans.


September 30th, 2010
7:02 am

I’m thinking………….SO WHAT!!


September 30th, 2010
7:25 am

Their progressive massters sent out the message to the loyal press hacks to dig for dirt. The democrats are doing their best to avoid running on their record and have decided to take every race to the negative.
It’s good to know which of the AJC writers is a loyal toady.

Peachtree Pete

September 30th, 2010
7:47 am

Dems are desperate. Reps are negligent. We all lose. Same old song, eh?

Bobby Saxon

September 30th, 2010
8:35 am

I had the good fortune of meeting Michael Harden on several occasions in 2008. I found him to be honest, sincere, kind, and a genuinely likeable person. I found his wife, Janelle, to be equally charming and kind. I find it hard to believe the man that treated me so kindly and respectfully is capable of the behavior intimated by his half brother.

Chris Irvin should be ashamed of himself for such seedy political games. I would be surprised if his honorable grandfather agreed with such tactics.

Although Michael and I do not share every view, I would have happily voted for him in 2008 had I been a member of his district. I feel the same way in 2010.

Bobby Saxon
2008 Congressional Candidate, GA-10


October 1st, 2010
9:45 pm

Jim Galloway is so much into Jason Shepherd he will never give Terry Johnson any ink at all unless it is negative. Johnson is a low key guy, which I personally lke. Shepherd/Goldfarb is an egotistical, right wing rumpswab. He running becausse he needs a JOB. If elected he has dellusions of being Governor like his mentor, John Oxidine….BTW, where is Ox???


October 2nd, 2010
1:40 pm

I would have thought the Democratic parties hit machine (AJC) would have cut Harden some slack (by telling the truth or researching the facts, which are not evident here…) since he was the first, and perhaps only, state legislator to publicly ask for Richardson resignation, before Dale Russell made it vogue.