Sam Olens breaks through an ancient Georgia barrier

Republican candidate for Georgia attorney general Sam Olens speaks during an election-night party Tuesday, Nov. 2 2010, in Atlanta. AP/John Amis

Republican candidate for Georgia attorney general Sam Olens speaks during an election-night party Tuesday, Nov. 2 2010, in Atlanta. AP/John Amis

With only the smallest notation of the fact, Republican Sam Olens broke through one of the oldest barriers in Georgia politics last week.

The man who will be our next attorney general is also the first Jewish candidate to win a statewide, partisan race in Georgia.

Olens did it the hard way, some — not him — would say, as a member of a party whose Christian conservative base hasn’t always been tolerant of religious nonconformity.

The former chairman of the Cobb County Commission would just as soon see his accomplishment pass unnoticed. And in an interview at the state Capitol, before a meeting with Democrat Thurbert Baker, whom he will replace in January, Olens declared that geography worried him more than his faith during the campaign.

“There were four things against me,” Olens said. Yes, he was Jewish. But he was also a Florida native raised in New Jersey. He wasn’t part of the state Capitol crowd whose networks usually produce statewide candidates. Plus, he was from metro Atlanta.

“I think it is clear the Atlanta card was by far a bigger issue for me than any of the others,” Olens said. “I think we should take great pride in this state, in how little my religion played a part in the campaign.”

There were incidents, of course.

“There were whisper campaigns — big-time in the primary. I would walk into rooms and people would overtly comment about my religion to me,” Olens said. “But I think the nice thing is the number of folks who did that was very, very few.”

Reference to his New Jersey upbringing became “a code word,” he said.

Olens also had a dust-up with primary opponent Max Wood, a former federal prosecutor from Macon, over a TV ad in which the former Cobb chairman touted his defense of prayers that opened County Commission meetings.

Wood vociferously denied that he was attempting to draw attention to Olens’ religion. “He used an invocation, which is supposed to be a holy moment, as a political tool to ingratiate himself,” Wood said back in July.

Heath Garrett, who directed much of Olens’ campaign, acknowledged on Friday that the 30-second spot was intended to underline the “core values” that Olens shared with Christian voters in Georgia.

Olens, who endorsed Ralph Reed in his 2006 bid for lieutenant governor, also credited conservative Christians in South Georgia with his victory. Specifically, he singled out Tommie Williams of Lyons, the Senate president pro tem, and GOP activist Pat Tippett of Baxley.

Olens’ entry in the political record books must be couched. Debra Bernes, who died of cancer in July, won a statewide contest for a nonpartisan seat on the state Court of Appeals in 2004.

Then there’s the blurry figure of David Emanuel, president of the Georgia state Senate in 1801. When the sitting governor named himself to the U.S. Senate, Emanuel advanced to the governorship, where he served one year. He didn’t seek re-election.

Details are thin. According to the New Georgia Encyclopedia, Emanuel was Jewish, but he may not have practiced his faith openly — and later in life he became a Presbyterian. Even so, authorities accept Emanuel, a Revolutionary War veteran, as “the first Jew elected to public office in the South and the first Jewish governor of any U.S. state.”

Emanuel County, with its county seat of Swainsboro, bears his name.

Two hundred and nine years later, the significance of Olens’ election may be as part of a small but significant trend.

“You’re beginning to see a core of mostly men — and mostly in their 30s to 40s — who are emerging as the new Jewish voices of Republican conservatism,” said Steven Windmueller, a specialist in Jewish voting trends and a member of the faculty at Hebrew Union College in Los Angeles.

The Republican Jewish Committee counts Olens among four who won statewide office on Tuesday. Another was Jay Dardenne, the next lieutenant governor of Louisiana.

Three-quarters of Jewish voters still vote Democratic.

Disagreements with Democrats over U.S. policy toward Israel have had their effect, but there’s some evidence that an isolationist streak in the tea party movement could threaten a stronger Jewish shift to the GOP.

One target of federal spending by a Republican-controlled House next year is likely to be President Barack Obama’s foreign operations budget. Defunding it could threaten U.S. aid to the Middle East.

“I’m hoping we can see some kind of separation in terms of tax dollars going to Israel,” U.S. Rep. Eric Cantor, R-Va., the only Jewish Republican in the House and likely its next majority leader, said last week.

Back in Georgia, Olens will have little say over foreign policy, but he intends to cut a more public figure than Georgians are used to in an attorney general.

He will back legislation in January to strengthen the state’s Open Records Act, and he wants a bill to prohibit child custody hearings in cases involving a parent who is overseas and serving in the military.

And he will bask in his state’s diversity.

“When you look at rural Georgia and you see the number of African-American council members, mayors, commissioners, police chiefs, sheriffs — this state is far, far different than it was 40 years ago. My election is just another sign,” Olens said. “For the folks that still are living in the past — the state isn’t. The electorate isn’t.”

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91 comments Add your comment

lou

November 6th, 2010
3:30 pm

I wonder how many of the people who voted for him know he is Jewish. Some, but certainly not all or even most, of the Republicans I know are anti-semitic as well as being racist, sexist, and homophobic. These folks really do seem to hate anybody who is not like they are. They are members of what I would call the far right wing fringe, which unfortunately seems to be a larger percentage of Republicans than it used to be.

bulldog

November 6th, 2010
4:12 pm

And some but not all of the Democrats I know are ignorant.

marietta guy

November 6th, 2010
4:15 pm

I didn’t (and would never) vote for Sam Olens, but it has nothing to do with his religion. He has to be the most over-rated, ego inflated guy in politics, which is an amazing accomplishment.

I used to laugh at the shots he took at Thurbert Baker. The notion that of Sam Olens as some sort of ethics cop is laughable. Just read this newspaper’s accounts of his incompetence and petty corruption here in Cobb to get a preview of what he’ll be at Attorney General.

And for the peanut gallery, I’m a Republican (I voted for Smart).

Last Man Standing

November 6th, 2010
4:22 pm

bulldog:

“And some but not all of the Democrats I know are ignorant.”

You must know a lot more democrats than I do. All the democrats I know are ignorant, even though many are intelligent.

JSS

November 6th, 2010
4:24 pm

@ Bulldog…
Ignorance is a choice, stupidity is a heredity matter… Guess which segment covers Georgia Republicans?

Regardless of party affiliation, the voters of Georgia are the least politically on issues and on where candidates stand then any other voting population anywhere outside of Mississippi… It is reason why we get clowns like Joe Frank Harris, Perdue, and Taylor in office. Moreover, you get fools like Neil Boortz, Ralph Reed, and Erik Erickson having undue influence in the public square…

Last Man Standing

November 6th, 2010
4:28 pm

lou:

“They are members of what I would call the far right wing fringe, which unfortunately seems to be a larger percentage of Republicans than it used to be”

The far left liberal idiots now control the democrat party, which I guess makes them the majority. That is the reason the democrats suffered one of the greatest political defeats in U.S. history on November 2.

Last Man Standing

November 6th, 2010
4:34 pm

JSS:

“Ignorance is a choice, stupidity is a heredity matter”

I am sorry for your parents handicap and have only two words for your inherited defect, “Don’t reproduce”!

JSS

November 6th, 2010
4:55 pm

@ Last Fool…
You really don’t want to make it personal Sonny Jr., I’ll flame you to Alpha Centauri…

lou

November 6th, 2010
5:07 pm

Well, Last Man, I am actually a moderate Republican. (What you would probably call a RINO.) I agree with you about far left liberals controlling the Democatic Party. But it is also true that far right conservatives have much more influence in the Republican Party than they used to. And many of those people have to time for anybody who is different from them and don’t want them in the Republican Party. Your hateful comments help me to prove my point about intolerance. I’ll bet you call yourself a Christian, but Christ preached tolerance and understaning. That leaves somebody like me with no place to go politically. I would love to see a strong centrist third party develop for those of us who feel deserted by both political parties.

Last Man Standing

November 6th, 2010
5:16 pm

lou:

When I first began here, I was treated to the “tolerance and understaning” exhibited to conservatives here. I began to respond in kind and am now criticized for it. This is definitely not a conservative-friendly atmosphere.

Selah

November 6th, 2010
5:25 pm

Sam was nominated and elected by the Republicans not the Democrats. None of your rhetoric stands up to the obvious fact which is the subject of the article. Sam has been elected for years as a Republican in Cobb Country where everyone who cares to know knows he is Jewish. It would seem that bigotry, hatred and prejudice are larger obstacles for those on the left than for those on the right.

Sammy W

November 6th, 2010
5:27 pm

Attention Last Man Standing,

You the man!
I totally agree!

James

November 6th, 2010
5:31 pm

Apparently, Georgia Republicans can judge the content of his character and not his religious beliefs. Unfortunately, Georgia Democrats only look at the color of someone’s skin.

Last Man Standing

November 6th, 2010
5:32 pm

lou:

These are just some examples (from this posr only) of “tolerance and understanding”.

“Republicans I know are anti-semitic as well as being racist, sexist, and homophobic”

“Ignorance is a choice, stupidity is a heredity matter… Guess which segment covers Georgia Republicans?”

End of sermon on “tolerance and understanding”.

Last Man Standing

November 6th, 2010
5:35 pm

JSS:

“You really don’t want to make it personal Sonny Jr., I’ll flame you to Alpha Centauri”

No, thanks anyway but that is a democrat habitat and I wouldn’t be happy there.

Ole Roy

November 6th, 2010
5:39 pm

Unlike other candidates, I always kept my campaign positive…and now I can say I am a big supporter of Obama and his socialist agenda.

JSS

November 6th, 2010
5:54 pm

Elliott Levitas and Sam Massell were elected multiple times more than 40 years ago as Democrats. Why are people patting themselves on the back all of sudden?

What part of “guess” don’t you? If I want to call all Republicans “stupid” I would. The same people who found Eugene Talmedge tolerable were ignorant. They made a choice. The same people willing to tolerate the disgusting ethical lapses of Nathan Deal choose to be ignorant. I didn’t tolerate from Herman Talmedge in 1980. I will not tolerate Johnny Isakson calling himself a “fiscal conservative” and stand on the floor of the Senate rolling a pork barrel F-22 project down our throats. I will not accept him complaining about extending Tier 4 or Tier 5 unemployment compensation; but he can cry for $1.3 trillion dollar subsidy for the real estate industry, not once but twice… That is ignorance! You have a legislature which has pulled back the homestead exemption for cash strapped seniors but can talk about giving billions in tax relief to large corporations who are already in the 2% tax bracket under the GA tax code…

You want “tolerance and understanding?” Try stop coming on here spouting about how “ignorant” Democrats are… Talk to your own side first…

Bobby

November 6th, 2010
6:20 pm

Last I remember, it wasn’t a Republican who blamed his daughter’s election loss on J-E-W-S.

Z

November 6th, 2010
6:30 pm

Dollar to a bagel to good Christian folk in South Georgia have no idea Olens is Jewish.
It amazes me that some Jews would entertain an alliance with the modern Republican party which is founded on three pillars: oligarchs, repressive pseudo-Christians and hatemongers.
Oh and they didn’t win on Nov. 4. Democrats lost. They’d be wise to remember that distinction.

Bill Clinton

November 6th, 2010
6:52 pm

Attention Z,

You make all Democrats look bad.
Get off this blog!

riteWingr

November 6th, 2010
7:09 pm

We elected a jew? He shudda told us! we good christians woulda voted for a differnt guy in the primary had we known.

Jeff H.

November 6th, 2010
7:16 pm

I am less impressed with his religion than the fact that he will be the top prosecutor in the state with absolutely no experience. I am continually amazed at the lack of critical thinking in this region of the U.S.

JSS

November 6th, 2010
8:30 pm

@ Jeff H…
Bingo!!!

Dave

November 6th, 2010
8:34 pm

Jeff H “lack of critical thinking in this region of the U.S.” as opposed to CA or NY?

td

November 6th, 2010
8:56 pm

JSS

November 6th, 2010
5:54 pm

You are a true bleeding heart and just do not understand that defense is about the only thing that we conservatives feel is the role of the Federal government. The only other thing taking care of the veterans and the old. Everything else we can just zero out of the budget as far as I am concerned and send back to the state (you no the 10th amendment)

As far as you coming on here being a bully, fire away if you think you really want to go there you pinko comrade.

Wreck

November 6th, 2010
9:01 pm

Jeff, yep, southerners are Jew hating morons. Seriously?

Good critical thinking on your part about why Sam was elected. I am in awe of your sheer brilliance!

JSS

November 6th, 2010
9:27 pm

Oh here they go again… No other region spends as much time having their cases heard and overturn by Federal Courts especially the Supreme Court then opinions provided by Southern AG’s… Do not confuse this with what Federal Circuit Court of Appeals (the 11th). From the Carolinas to Arizona, the Courts of Appeals and the US Supreme Court have battered the cases brought by Southern AG’s.

Now you want a non lawyer having to bring cases? Amazing, just amazing!

Vexorg

November 6th, 2010
9:37 pm

Yep, them there Democrats are all for tolerance, accepting other’s viewpoints, fairness, etc., etc., ad nausem. Just as long as you AGREE with their viewpoints.

I wonder when these “tolerant” Democrats will put an end to the demonization of Republicans as “Greedy”, “Intolerant”, and “The party for RICH people”….probably when they quit using the welfare programs as a vote-buying mechanism for the “oppressed” in society and stop blaming former PRESIDENT George W. Bush for everything that’s wrong with the United States today.

The Democrats USED to be for the working man in our society; that ended with the Democratic National Convention in Chicago back in 1968…their party committed suicide by pandering to every left-wing, pro-communist fringe element in America for the sake of votes….thus driving their party’s conservative and moderate elements to the Republican party.

Go ahead and feel free to bash me, you “tolerant” Democrats..please show me, a moderate Republican, how willing you are to accept the fact that other people in our society are ENTITLED to their own opinions and are free to voice that opinion without fear of ridicule or being ostracized as a right-wing fascist.

I can smell the putrid stench of your hypocracy now…don’t even bother.

JSS

November 6th, 2010
9:37 pm

TD…
The Department of Defense and the Generals don’t want the F-22!!! They want the Joint Strike Fighter (the F-35)! Fools like Isakson and Chambliss keep trying to push that over budget and impractical boondoggle on the military along with those obsolete C-130’s that Chickenhawks out in Cobb love! You fools always say let the generals decide; but when they say something you don’t like you pitch a fit!

JSS

November 6th, 2010
9:56 pm

Yeah, comrade, the Cold War has over for 20 years everywhere except for the Southern United States of America… That is why when 1994 when they flew the first WTC Bombers around the the towers to show them that they failed. Your communist fighting friends in the Mujahideen laughed in your faces and turned on us… My Mother worked for the US Air Force for 30 years. My father fought in Patton’s Army. My uncle helped liberate Buchenwald… I worked for one of the Most Hawkish members of the House in his Washington office in 1980… So run your uninformed mouth some more, Conservatives waste trillions of dollars just social reformers do!

John Radney

November 6th, 2010
10:08 pm

Had I even known, I would have voted for the man ayway. Good for him, it’s past time for that to end. Now a democrat is who I fear because I hate all of them and all their fAmilys and their pets including goldfish and the dogs and cats.

bNformedNvolved

November 6th, 2010
10:14 pm

@ td you sound like Archie Bunker calling some1 a “pinkie comrade” except “pinko commie” is what I think u meant u big dummy (that was me being Fred Sanford).

T Knight

November 6th, 2010
10:27 pm

My family has at least 7 generations of history in the south. I find Lou and other like minded Democrats to be just as anti-semetic as the next person. Let me remind Lou that it is not members of the Republican Party who have been kissing the butts of muslim dictators, and extemists world wide. It was recently revealed that over half of african americans view muslims in a positive light, yet view jews in a negative light. The core of black liberation theology is very supportive of the muslim religion. They have strong ties to the Black Panthers and other anti jew groups.

Are you sure you want to go down the path of political stupidity? Labeling people you don’t agree with really shows your ignorance.

melenie thompson

November 6th, 2010
10:47 pm

I did not know Olens was jewish nor do I care. I voted for Hodges because I didn’t believe Olens had the experience neccessary for the job. Does that make me anti-semitic? I think Olens benefitted from the Republican “wave” and his election had nothing to do with advancing the state by electing someone who is not a Baptist.

JSS

November 6th, 2010
10:48 pm

Hmmm… Princes Faisal and Fahad, (House of Saud) close personal friends of Eisenhower, John Foster Dulles,Nixon, George H.W. Bush, and James Baker… Check…
The House of Al-Sabah (Kuwait) restored to power by George H.W. Bush and James Baker… Check…
Saddam Hussein placed in power by a coup engineered by the CIA and Dept. of State in 1968. Ba’ath Party given tacit American support throughout the 1980’s until the invasion of Kuwait… Check…
I won’t even mention Egypt (post the death of Nassar or Sadat) and the Yemen Civil War…
That’s one great track record for democracy!!!

ga female

November 6th, 2010
11:32 pm

so many fakes, just fake the party to get ahead. I went to college with Ed Gillogoly former RNC Chair. He was a Dem, in college, but the only House member he could find a job with was a Republican, so he became a Republican, otherwise he would have been a Democrat. It is always amazing how people change to get ahead.

rc35

November 7th, 2010
1:53 am

He wasn’t a Georgian, but Judah P. Benjamin was Attorney General and later Secretary of State for the Confederacy. He, too, was Jewish. That makes it a little harder to allege that all Southerners are–or were–anti-Semitic.

stw

November 7th, 2010
3:00 am

MARIETTA GUY; So your source of information is the AJC. That explains your ignorance and bias. Please look at how Mr. Olens has lead Cobb and made it the foremost leading county in Georgia. Next please look at his coming agenda and then give the man a chance. Then you’ll probably be the first to say “I supported Sam and I’m proud of it.” For your info, there has not been a prosecutor elected to this office since before any of us were born. Finally, you should get off your Aarons’ computer and send it back since you have nothing to say that is worth reading.

stw

November 7th, 2010
3:05 am

JSS: Nothing like getting your FACTS correct. Mr. Olens is an attorney and a damn good one..

dawg

November 7th, 2010
3:08 am

JEFF H. @ 7:16—Since you condemn this part of the country may I remind you DELTA

Travis McGee

November 7th, 2010
4:21 am

Where he came from and whether he is Jewish is all horse hocky! He ran as a Republican — and to most, that is the key the unlocks the door of the vote.

He was the beneficiary of the straight Republican ticket vote.

It doesn’t matter that he doesn’t have any experience, he ran as a Republican.

Fire Eater

November 7th, 2010
4:24 am

Sam Olen’s “Jewishness” would only be of concern if he were taking his orders from the Anti-Defamation League…his stated opposition to illegal aliens and respect for the Second Amendment will infuriate them.

Buzz G

November 7th, 2010
6:39 am

“as a member of a party whose Christian conservative base hasn’t always been tolerant of religious nonconformity.”

Shame on the AJC. They are supposed to report the news. This level of bias is rarely reached even by an institution as biased as the AJC. The fact is that Jewish conservatives have had a large presence in the Republican party for decades. The AJC is way behind the times. Open up your closed mind, Jim Galloway, and let the truth flow.

pete

November 7th, 2010
7:30 am

HERE WE GO ANOTHER ONE THAT ONES TO ENSLAVE ALL OUR RIGHTS, LETS JUST MAKE EVERYTHING A LAW LETS JUST ENSLAVE OUR SELVES.

Doug

November 7th, 2010
7:52 am

If the redneck, homophobic, xenophobic, racist masses of “conservatives” and Tea Party activists had known he was Jewish, Ken Hodges would be attorney general.

JSS

November 7th, 2010
8:02 am

“Now you want a tort or non criminal practicing lawyer having to bring cases? Amazing, just amazing!” That clear it up for you?

M. D. Cain

November 7th, 2010
8:02 am

JSS, You are so wise on defense issues. I’m sure our Country is poorer for not having you in a policy making role. Saying the C-130 is obsolete just shows your ignorance.

dawg

November 7th, 2010
8:15 am

JSS: Call your sister Cynthia and tell her you did your best but it’s time to go outside and play with the rest of the children..

CourtneyF

November 7th, 2010
8:17 am

Dear Sam Olens, weren’t u da treasurer of the Cobb Co. Democratic Party once? I remember giv’n u a check. Switch da party and get elected……da game still the same. I know ‘dats right.

TruthBe

November 7th, 2010
9:02 am

lou, JESUS CHRIST the LORD thy GOD said to ” love the sinner and hate the sin”. NEVER did JESUS say to tolerate sin or sinful behavior like homosexuality. JESUS didn’t ever preach to embrace any sin or sinful behavior from man or nation. Maybe you should stay awake at Church lou.