Danny Harrison

It’s official: U.S. Congressman Lynn Westmoreland is retiring.

My official response: Yeah, right.

Lynn announced last month he would seek his sixth consecutive term as a U.S. Congressman (each term lasts two years), but then less than a week ago he announced he has changed his mind and will return home to Georgia after this current term ends on Jan. 3, 2017. He is retiring… for now.

I think he will run for governor.

Lynn told me back in 1997 he wanted to be governor some day. He said perhaps he’d like to be speaker of the house first, then governor. About this time that year, he had just been sworn in to serve his third two-year term in the Georgia House of Representatives. I was his full-time legislative aide, and I had asked him if he had higher political aspirations.

Many of my legislative aide friends back then liked Lynn better than their own legislators, and they all thought he would make a great governor.

Back in those days, the Democrats ran the show under the Gold Dome. Zell Miller (D-Young Harris) was governor, Tom Murphy (D-Bremen) was speaker of the house, and Pierre Howard (D-Decatur) was Lieutenant Governor. Future Governor Roy Barnes (D-Mableton) was still a state representative. It wasn’t easy having a big “R” beside your name back then, but Lynn wore his well, and I believe even the meanest and toughest Georgia Democrats of that era secretly admired Lynn because he believed in what he was doing and stood his ground when the voting got tough.

Across the street from the Capitol in Suite 501 of the Legislative Office Building, Lynn had a jar on his desk with a handful of coins in it. A label on the side read “Tyrone Library Fund.” Because Lynn wouldn’t sell his votes to the Democrats, his requests for the governor to contribute money to help start a public library in Tyrone were shot down. His friends started the jar as a joke, but it was also their way of showing support for a man they admired.

One of my privileges that year was to help Lynn write editorial columns for the newspapers in his district. The content was all his, but I tweaked it for newspaper-friendliness and submitted it each week to the editors. Several of his legislator friends eventually hired me to also write columns for them, and when I would ask them what they wanted to tell their constituents, they often asked, “What is Lynn saying this week?”

We didn’t know quite what to say later that spring when some wiseacre Atlanta Journal-Constitution reporter published a story announcing that Lynn topped the list of elected officials who took advantage of being able to get free Georgia Flags from Secretary of State Lewis Massey’s (D-Gainesville) office. Lynn told me on my first day on the
job that each legislator could get as many as three free flags a day, and he wanted me to keep a few on hand for him to present to people in his district.

I rarely forgot to pick up the flags. Eventually, Lynn’s office credenza was stuffed with them, and I even carried a box of them around in the trunk of my 1989 Bonneville in case he needed them at meetings back home in the district. It turns out Lynn was going by Massey’s office, too, from time to time, and between the two of us the 104th District was well supplied.

Lynn took the news article in stride. If that was the worst they could dig up on him, he was doing pretty well.

Later in 1997, I returned to this newspaper and encouraged Lynn to hire Sara Larios to succeed me. I encouraged Sara to go easy on the free flags.

Five years later, I became a missionary journalist and moved to England, and two years after that Lynn became a congressman and moved to Washington, D.C. Well, sort of. Lynn and Joan actually loaned me their Capitol Hill apartment one weekend in the winter of 2006, and it was clear they didn’t intend for that to be any kind of “home away from home.” It was nice, it was clean, and it was conveniently about a block away from the U.S. Capitol, but it was not big and it was not fancy, and it was a reassuring sign that the Westmorelands still considered Georgia to be their only home. Even more reassuring was when Lynn moved out of that apartment and spent the next eight years
sleeping on the sofa bed in his D.C. office.

So now the big question is whether or not Lynn will compete for a set
of keys to the Governor’s Mansion.

I’m guessing he will.