Five years later, the Irish wake that Tom Murphy deserved

From left to right, former House speaker Terry Coleman, current Speaker David Ralston, and former speakers Mark Burkhalter and Glenn Richrdson. Marshall Guest/Special

From left to right, former House speaker Terry Coleman, current Speaker David Ralston, and former speakers Mark Burkhalter and Glenn Richrdson. Marshall Guest/Special

CARROLLTON, Ga. — Half of Georgia’s political world – by and large, the older half – turned out Thursday for the formal dedication of a recreation of the late House Speaker Tom Murphy’s office on the campus of the University of West Georgia.

Earlier this week, we described the recreated office with its eclectic collection of mementoes gathered up by Murphy over his 28-year career as leader of the House.

Much of Murphy’s nearby hometown of Bremen witnessed the event, as did all four House speakers who have followed him, two governors, a labor commissioner and a roomful of former lawmakers, lobbyists and staffers.

The political population gave the ceremony the air of a long-delayed, and much overdue, Irish wake. Murphy left office in 2003, and died in late 2007. A few high points:

House Speaker David Ralston was on stage as one of the speakers. The other three speakers were front and center: Terry Coleman, the last Democrat; Glenn Richardson, and Mark Burkhalter, both Republicans.

Before the proceedings began, Richardson and former Gov. Roy Barnes shared a manly, bipartisan bear-hug of greeting. They are currently on the same side of a lawsuit against Georgia Power.

Wayne Garner, the mayor of Carrollton, a former state lawmaker and currently a lobbyist, welcomed the several hundred gathered with a borrowed thought from Jack Kennedy:

“There’s never been more political acumen, political intelligence, and institutional knowledge under one roof – since Tom Murphy dined alone,” he said.

Ralston, from Blue Ridge in north Georgia, emphasized Murphy’s role as the creator and preserver of a House independent of gubernatorial control.

But current House speaker also told the tale of his one serious encounter with Murphy, when he was a Senate Republican with an item in the budget that he dearly wanted to preserve. Informed that it was in trouble, he asked what he should do. A conversation with Murphy, who hated both senators and Republicans, was required.

“I said, ‘Oh, my God, is there another option?’” Ralston remembered. Walking into Murphy’s office reminded him of the scene in “The Wizard of Oz,” as Dorothy and her three companions walked toward their first meeting with the wizard. Ralston said his knees buckled – just like Ray Bolger’s.

“But I had a good visit. We had the longest conversation we ever had. I gained a great appreciation for him, and came away knowing more about the legislative process than I’d known before then,” Ralston said. “And I didn’t get that item in the budget.”

Former Gov. Sonny Perdue revealed the first half of the surprise of the day – for anyone with an interest in Georgia political history.

Perdue declared that his introduction to the House speaker came through Murphy’s red-headed son Mike, who – like Perdue – was a football walk-on at UGA in the mid-1960s. Mike Murphy is now a Polk County superior court judge.

Perdue later became a state senator – first as a Democrat. “I believe your dad gave me a little bit of grace because of you. You must have put in a good word for me,” Perdue said.

“Frankly, [Murphy] had a healthy respect for the executive branch, the judicial branch, and, obviously, the legislative branch – except for the Senate,” Perdue quipped.

The second half of the surprise? Roy Barnes was next – and also said that Tom Murphy’s son, his buddy at UGA law school, helped arrange his first meeting with Murphy.

Barnes has a reputation as a story-teller. If this were the 19th century, we would put him on a boat bound for the Sandwich Islands, wait for him to come back – then throw a white suit on him, and set him loose on the lecture circuit.

Barnes was first a Democratic senator, ran for governor in 1990, was defeated, and returned to the Capitol as a member of the House.

Recounted Barnes:

”I sat on the back row, next to Bob Lane, ‘cause I knew his daddy. At the time, it was open back there and the press sat right behind you. Now, I am notorious for making smart-aleck remarks that come back to haunt me. I have eaten many of them.”

There was a dispute in the House over whether a seeing-eye dog should be allowed on the floor of the chamber. A local talk radio host, who shall remain nameless, accused the speaker of hating the disabled.

This same speaker once regularly carried his brother James Murphy, crippled with rheumatoid arthritis, up a flight of county courthouse stairs so they could practice law together. Continued Barnes, who had already enjoyed a reputation as a successful trial attorney:

”The speaker gets on the floor, he hits that gavel and it gets deathly quiet. He told the story about James, and he literally began to weep. This is what I stupidly said: I leaned over to Bob Lane, and I said, ‘I don’t cry for less than $50,000.’

“It sounded funny at the time. I’d forgotten about the press being right there. It did not sound funny the next day on the front page of the newspaper.”

That next day, Barnes walked into Murphy’s office – the real one:

“He was reading the paper. I walked through and pushed it down. He put it back up and didn’t say a word. I went and sat down in front of him and said, ‘You mad at me?’ And he pulled the paper down and said, ‘Hell, yes, I’m mad.’ And he chewed me out. About an hour later, I was sitting on the floor of the House, and he came back by there, and he put his arm around me. He says, ‘But I still love you.’”

Calvin Smyre, a Democrat from Columbus and destined to become the most influential African-American in the Capitol, recounted his first meeting with Murphy, shortly after Smyre’s election in 1974.

Murphy asked Smyre to name his preference for a committee assignment. Smyre said he would dearly appreciate an appointment to the all-powerful House Appropriations Committee.

Smyre, one of the last of Murphy’s circle left at the Capitol, continued:

“[Murphy] laughed, and he said, ‘You know, son, we don’t even allow freshmen to go into that room.’

“I said, ‘What about Ways and Means?’ He said, ‘There you go again. Freshmen don’t go in those rooms.’ He said, ‘What’s your third one?’

“I said Banks and Banking. He said, ‘I don’t appoint freshmen to Banks and Banking.’ He said, ‘But since that’s your third choice, I’m going to give it to you.’

“I said, ‘Thank you, Mr. Speaker. I’m thinking of going into the banking industry, and that would serve me well to know a little bit about banking.’

“About four days later, he saw me, and said, ‘You’re going to be all right in the House. I found out that Banks and Banking was your first choice. And you gave it to me as your third. You’re going to be all right.”

The final speaker was Tom Murphy’s son Mike. The judge struggled to make it through his address. But he made this final, sharp point about his father:

“If he were here today, he would have reminded us to make the failures of the past our successes for the future. He would have reminded us that we must be engaged, that we must run for public office, we must participate in the political system.

“That we must not avoid our share of responsibility. He would have reminded Speaker Ralston that we should not pass laws against things that people aren’t doing.”

It was a direct shot at some of the ideological legislation Republicans have insisted on since their takeover. The crowd gave a nervous chuckle, and Ralston managed a good-hearted wince. Continued the head of the Murphy clan:

“He would have reminded us that every time a law is passed, somebody’s freedom is eroded.”

The ceremony ended shortly afterwards, as Ralston, using an oversized gavel, banged Murphy’s recreated office officially into existence.

- By Jim Galloway, Political Insider

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46 comments Add your comment

Centrist

April 19th, 2012
9:14 pm

Mr. Jim Galloway – Lots of “ink” this week on former Speaker Tom Murphy. I’m sure you miss the “good old days” of Democrat domination and Tom Murphey dominating the Democrats – maybe even the Governors.

With a Republican Governor, House, Senate, Attorney General, both U.S. Senators, and a large majority of the U.S. House Congressional delegation – nostalgia is all you and the rest of the AJC staff have.

BP

April 19th, 2012
9:20 pm

Centrist:
Typical partisan comment from the only person in Georgia to have it right.

Centrist

April 19th, 2012
9:31 pm

@ BP – I’m not being partisan, but simply observant. I vote for moderate Democrats, and never for right wing Republicans. There just are many left. Zell Miller, Griffin Bell, and Sam Nunn were head and shoulders better statesmen than Tom Murphy whose own constituents voted him out of office. He was a dinosaur of partisan politics. Most Democrats in Georgia have drifted to the left (along with the AJC) into virtual extinction.

jgalloway

April 19th, 2012
9:34 pm

Thanks for your comment, Centrist. Please write again after you’ve actually read the post.

rlittleton

April 19th, 2012
9:49 pm

Centrist, whoever you are, you sound like an armchair quarterback, AND, to use a good southernism, your comments are just plain tacky under the circumstances. Sometimes thoughts are better reserved for a different time and a different place.

Diehard

April 19th, 2012
9:49 pm

Did Matt Towery speak? To listen to him, you would think maybe he was one of Speaker Murphy’s sons too.

Sonny LIED!

April 19th, 2012
9:52 pm

2 chances missed to attend Richardsons memorial was fouled by Richardsons pathetic attempts to accomplish nothing, after trying twice. Now he is attemtping a comeback? Why can’t he just go away?

Cutty

April 19th, 2012
9:58 pm

Centrist wants his own blog.

Look before I leap...

April 19th, 2012
10:00 pm

@Centrist

Just a couple of random thoughts:
If the AJC is as leftist a rag as you so often claim and the state of GA is Royal Red, why is there no major publication that leans decidedly to the right?

And why do you continue to visit this blog so often (and are one of its most prolific posters) if you are so offended by Galloway’s leftist leanings? (Serious question by the way). Don’t get me wrong, I find you to be intelligent and articulate even though we disagree on many things and I’d hate to see you go – but if your point in posting is to address the issues, why complain about the platform?

And finally, having come from the left coast, the AJC, in terms of being to the left, has NOTHING on the SF Chronicle. I often thought the Chronicle should have had a hammer and sickle in its masthead.

td

April 19th, 2012
10:03 pm

You have to give Murphy his credit. He was more powerful then several Governors and knew how to keep the membership in line by ruling with an iron fist. If you opposed Murphy then you did it at your own political career.

Jim,

Can you remember a bill that actually passed the house to the objections of Murphy?

jgalloway

April 19th, 2012
10:08 pm

That’s easy. The 2001 vote to remove the Confederate battle emblem from the state flag.

Centrist

April 19th, 2012
10:18 pm

@ Look – the media, especially large city, is dominated by Democrats. It starts in schools of journalism, and is self sustaining. TV networks, Hollywood, and print magazines are mostly the same. Until talk radio, a few weekly publications, Fox news, and internet sites – it was a monopoly. It is still a monopoly as far as big city newspapers go. But you are right, bigger city newspapers are even MORE left biased than the AJC.

I visit this blog because it covers local politics where I live. It allows feedback, and I give it – including my pointing out the bias. You’d think the biggest newspaper in the region would reflect the majority viewpoint, but it has shrunk to only reflect majority ITP Democrat opinion. At least the SF Chronicle, NYT, and LA Times reflect their regional liberal constituent opinions.

td

April 19th, 2012
10:29 pm

galloway

April 19th, 2012
10:08 pm

Was he actually opposed to the bill or was he still trying to hold the fragile rural, urban coalition together?

Eric

April 19th, 2012
10:54 pm

@ Centrist: Again, I don’t think that word means what you think it means.

Look before I leap...

April 19th, 2012
10:57 pm

@Centrist

A fine, honest and reasoned response but…
It does not answer why there is no major “OTP Bugler” publication.
I have never attended a journalism school so I can’t speak to what they teach and preach.
But newspapers are not operated by journalists, they are owned and operated by people who want to sell papers and advertising. So, if there is a market for it in the suburbs and exurbs of Atlanta, why hasn’t someone gone after that?

Bennie

April 19th, 2012
11:15 pm

Newspapaers are dinosaurs. Google sells more advertising than all the newspapers in America put together by a substantial margin. They are in an economic death spiral cause partly by market forces which are destroying the print media and partly by their own ideological bent which has accelerated already negative trends.
Like many papers, the AJC is more liberal than it’s market but more conservative than its readership. It cannot move ideologically and survive. Make no mistake, though, the writers at the AJC would never move the paper once inch to the right.

Centrist

April 19th, 2012
11:22 pm

@ Look – Atlanta and the Southeast once was able to sustain both the morning Atlanta Constitution and the afternoon Atlanta Journal. They had to combine, and has since continued to shrink considerably in circulation. Lots of reasons, one of which is the out of touch bias – but ideology has trumped economics.

The Atlanta Business Journal has been steadily growing and the Atlanta suburbs now have their own newspapers, and they are not nearly as liberal as the AJC. Look at the list here: http://www.usnpl.com/ganews.php

Most exurbs also have the weekly “Neighbor” paper.

The internet is where most people now get their news (faster and cheaper) – print media is a dying industry.

Centrist

April 20th, 2012
12:05 am

@ Bennie – You probably explained it better than I did. I was typing instead of reading what you had already posted. Nice job.

Watching the Braves continue their strong hitting (9 – 2 so far). Fun day tomorrow, so won’t be able to continue my bias reports until at least mid-afternoon. I don’t think Mr. Galloway and the mostly partisan left posters on the AJC will miss me, though.

Weetamoe

April 20th, 2012
6:33 am

Family notes from my Mom’s Great Uncle Jimmy married to her Great Aunt Gracie relate how at a real Irish wake in NYC the mourners would move the coffin out onto the fire escape so they would have room to dance and that in summer they would scoop the ice from the coffin to put in their drinks.

Buckhead Boy

April 20th, 2012
7:04 am

Centrist, have you ever considered that what you deem to be “bias” may just be the product of greater knowledge and experience?

jw

April 20th, 2012
7:06 am

Other than when Congress is in session………..has there ever been a bigger group of lawyer/graftors assembled under one roof?
.
And to compare a crony corruptocrat lawyer/politician to Mark Twain?……………….Puleeeeeeeeeze.

Me Too

April 20th, 2012
7:19 am

Mr. Galloway please release my comment. The blog monster ate it.

derwood

April 20th, 2012
7:37 am

Tom was a domineering, self centered egotistical maniac. He only thought the end result should birng him pats and thanks. He helped people, true but it was all for his own glory. I would not help him cross the street unless he was leaving Atlanta at that time and never coming back. He and Jimmy and Roslyn Carter deserve their own museum, in outer space so we wouldn’t have to hear about them nor see them anymore. Anyone that would use their power as speaker and stop the growth of the great State of Georgia should not even be given front page coverage. He is gone, thank God, he is gone.

honested

April 20th, 2012
8:08 am

Speaker Murphy kept the tiller true through some of Georgia’s most stormy seas.

Unfortunately, he did not pass on his skills to able proteges while at his peak and failed to comprehend when it was time to retire, on his terms.

The amateurs wasting taxpayer funds under the Gold Dome today do make one nostalgic for a period in time marked by leadership of affairs and stewardship to the People of Georgia.

honested

April 20th, 2012
8:10 am

Buckhead Boy

Good point!
Unfortunately, one of the greatest problems with the ‘right’ is an inability to see just how wrong they often are.

Ace

April 20th, 2012
8:43 am

That pic looks like a goober class reunion.

td

April 20th, 2012
8:47 am

honested

April 20th, 2012
8:10 am

Yes, yes let us get down on our faces in the present of all you enlightened progressives. You have given us such great things as the “Great society” to end poverty in America, abortion on demand and the United nations to put an end to all wars. These programs were so successful that you now what us to believe global warming is so bad that we must tax energy.

Ace

April 20th, 2012
8:53 am

td,

If we taxed stupid, you’d be broke.

td

April 20th, 2012
8:55 am

Ace

April 20th, 2012
8:53 am

So what you are really attempting to say is if we rewarded intelligence then you would be on welfare?

madison

April 20th, 2012
9:10 am

Murphy opposed the flag. Really. He was a SOUTHERN Democrat, which can only be defined as a Republican with a conscience. But conservative to the bone – not like the modern Democrat. He was defeated not by the people who kept sending him back year after year, but by a those transplants from Cobb running from growth to cause growth and from transplants from points further north.

Speaker Murphy’s true legacy was his role as gatekeeper for foolish legislation affecting the judicial branch. His absence in that area is sorely missed.

Joe

April 20th, 2012
9:11 am

Jim,

Great post!
Whether you agreed with his politics or not, it provides wonderful insight into the man and the history of Georgia politics.

Thanks for sharing this.

td

April 20th, 2012
9:17 am

madison

April 20th, 2012
9:10 am

Murphy opposed the flag. Really. He was a SOUTHERN Democrat, which can only be defined as a Republican with a conscience.

So I am assuming you feel all Democrats have a conscience? What does having a “conscience” mean to you?

madison

April 20th, 2012
9:22 am

The reason we need to be a Republic more than a democracy is that people don’t learn what they need to learn to participate. But even as a republic we have a duty to know before we cast a ballot. We turn over legislators and call for term limits because they keep disappointing us. It’s our fault. Tom Murphy’s long career is a direct result of his connection with his constituents and their interest in the process. The connection seems more tenous today. Many Legislators hold town hall meetings to tell us what they want us to hear, not to listen to us.

We see ourselves in loftly places, purveyors of freedom – the great democratic experiment. But, as Steve Chapman of the Chicago Tribune recently wrote, ” we rarely live up to our self-image. There is a consistently large gap between what people need to know and what they actually do know.

Most think the federal budget is too big, but the only program a majority wants to cut is foreign aid — which makes up about 1 percent of spending. Voters think taxes are too high but don’t realize they’ve been reduced. One reason Americans supported the invasion of Iraq was that most of them had the erroneous idea that Saddam Hussein carried out the9/11 attacks.

It’s not just the issues of the day that flummox people. Most Americans don’t know the three branches of government. They don’t know the name of the person representing them in Congress.”

tom mitchell

April 20th, 2012
9:26 am

Sonny Perdue, Terry Coleman, and Wayne Garner…the FBI could have arrested all 3 at once.

madison

April 20th, 2012
9:31 am

As for the southern democrat definition, it’s just a joke I’ve heard. Semi-serious given the state of party politics these days – one party has traditionally been considered the party of big business the other the party of the little man. Now both parties are simply “the party of my party”. Their respective party planks are just the means through which they manipulate uninformed followers to permit the respective party’s continued power and influence. All the while “Rome burns.”

R U Kidding Me?

April 20th, 2012
9:47 am

madison:

Well said!

Aaron Burr V Mexico

April 20th, 2012
9:53 am

I live to heckle the ignorant, and even *I* do not speak ill of the recently deceased dead.

Strawman is not only not a centrist, but he is not even worthy of the gentility that is one of the better elements of the culture that spawned it.

Bonannie

April 20th, 2012
10:14 am

Really enjoyed this well written testimonial of regard for a man who, regardless of anything else, obviously cared about Georgia and it’s people. We should appreciate those who choose a life of public service and who engage in it to the best of their ability, as Murphy obviously did. Thank you for recounting the value of Murphy’s efforts and his import to others. Consensus politics, as practiced by Zell Miller and Sam Nunn, moves things forward faster because working together reduces negativity. We can all learn a lot from the legacies of public servants to our future benefit. Good reading; thanks Jim.

zeke

April 20th, 2012
10:55 am

looking at that photo, not hard to figure out why current speaker against gift limits….

honested

April 20th, 2012
12:00 pm

td,

True to form, I make a statement about the ignoramuses that have taken over State government and you come back with an inaccurate overview of National programs.

More reason never to trust issues of importance to con(fused)servatives.

Aaron Burr V Mexico

April 20th, 2012
12:54 pm

@Honested – They get that way when they aren’t receiving orders from their masters.

Richard Hyatt

April 20th, 2012
3:02 pm

Wonder if Mitchell Kay was invited?

[...] Five years later, the Irish wake that Tom Murphy deserved I have eaten many of them.” There was a dispute in the House over whether a seeing-eye dog should be allowed on the floor of the chamber. A local talk radio host, who shall remain nameless, accused the speaker of hating the disabled. Read more on Atlanta Journal Constitution (blog) [...]

Interested Observer

April 20th, 2012
6:14 pm

Jim, as a native Georgian who was there yesterday also, thank you for this objective and respectful column. Too many people speak ill about Speaker Murphy who have no actual knowledge of the man – they never even saw him in person, heard him speak, had a conversation with him, and much less ever actually had the privilege of knowing the historic Speaker Thomas B. Murphy. When they speak badly of him, it demonstrates that they truly do not know anything factual about this man who was an intellectual giant with the common touch.

Madison hit the nail on the head by saying “He was defeated not by the people who kept sending him back year after year, but by a those transplants from Cobb running from growth to cause growth and from transplants from points further north. Speaker Murphy’s true legacy was his role as gatekeeper for foolish legislation affecting the judicial branch. His absence in that area is sorely missed.” People who had no idea what they were doing deprived the whole state of this great man.

The only person in U.S. history to serve as Speaker of the House in any legislative body, it was no accident that he was elected not once or twice, but 14 times by his House colleagues. For 28 years, he was the back bone of Georgia governance – governors came and went, bureaucrats came and went, legislators came and went, etc., but Speaker Murphy gave continuity to moving our state forward. As Governor Perdue said, he transformed Georgia from a sleepy Southern state to the Capitol of the South. Our state enjoys unexpected prosperity today due to Speaker Murphy’s foresight and wisdom.

Indeed, yesterday’s event was overdue and certainly well deserved. All Georgians should revere this historic and great public servant who gave his life to serving our state he loved, making the lives of ordinary Georgians better than he found them. We should do more to honor his legacy, and to encourage others to emulate his dedication to public service with dignity. This unique statesman in all of U.S. history should have a statue on the Capitol grounds to forever honor our native son.

northgeorgiaboy

April 20th, 2012
10:12 pm

As for legislation passing that Tom Murphy did not support, Zell Miller’s welfare reform bill. That was sometime between 1996-1998. Murphy destroyed the Democrat Party in Georgia, insisting that the rural elected officials tow the line of the Atlanta elites. They (the rural democrat elected) were picked off every 2 years, several at a time. Murphy outstayed his welcome.

Billie Edwards

April 20th, 2012
11:13 pm

This was the nicest, memorable event I have attended where the politicians of both parties came together to honor someone who was dear to their hearts and who had touched their lives in one way or the other.