At the age of 12, the young Wilcox County farmer Melvin Everson made his first big-league speech at a Future Farmers of America gathering at Atlanta’s Sheraton Biltmore hotel.
By the time he settled in at Abraham Baldwin Agricultural College (ABAC) in Tifton, the young Everson had been cured of the desire to take up his father’s occupation of farming the family’s 176 acres between Rochelle and Abbeville. At one time, he was the most likely of the 10 children of Northern and Willa Everson to stay on the farm, though he jokes now that “that second row of cotton I picked made me decide that farming was not the life for me.”
The speeches that he might have made over the hood of a John Deere now have a larger audience — and next year will have a larger audience still.
State Rep. Melvin Everson, now of Snellville, hopes to be the first black Republican to win statewide office in Georgia. He’s running for state labor commissioner, an office Democrat Michael Thurman is rumored to be leaving to run for lieutenant governor.
When Republicans took control of Congress in 1994, Everson was living in Snellville. Shortly thereafter, he and other parents chaperoned a school trip to Jekyll Island. Talk turned to politics. Several urged him to run for City Council in Snellville, which was then 96 percent white.
He lost the first time in 1995, but five years later became the first African-American to serve on Snellville City Council.
In 2004, he ran for the General Assembly. He lost, but won a special election the next year by 27 votes. Then his margins widened. He won with 65 percent in 2006 and 58 percent in 2008 in a district that has become increasingly Democratic, though it’s still about 60 percent Republican.
Everson, one of two black Republicans in the House — the other is Willie Talton of Warner Robins — is a solid conservative. Until it dissolved, he was a member of the 216 Policy Group, a gathering of mostly younger and newer members of the House who assembled to read proposed bills.
They attempted to examine them with a four-way test: Does it promote smaller government, lower taxes, increase personal responsibility and advance “liberty and justice for all”? It was a worthwhile effort to try to develop a common philosophical basis for considering bills.
Everson’s statewide race is important to Republicans, and to two-party politics, because of a debate raging nationally. Does the party recast itself as something closer to the views of Arlen Specter and Colin Powell, or does it project core conservative values?
If the latter, Republicans need to sell that message to blacks, Hispanics and newer immigrants as well as the young. It needs in 2010 a conservative ticket that reflects diversity.
Don’t change core values. Recruit candidates who reflect those values and are as diverse as the state Republicans govern.
He’s retired military, having served in the Army and Army Reserve, is one of five assistant ministers in the 5,000-member Salem Missionary Baptist Church in Lilburn, and is an officer in a real estate investment firm.
Everson is mainstream Georgia and the face of a party that Georgians will allow to govern for a long, long time.