Apr 4, 2022 - Politics

Calvin Smyre, longest-serving Georgia state lawmaker, bids farewell

Calvin smyre hugs Bernice King

Smyre hugs Bernice King at the unveiling of a statue of her father, Martin Luther King Jr., at the Capitol. It happened thanks to a law Smyre sponsored. Photo: AP/David Goldman

Calvin Smyre, the longest-serving member of the Georgia legislature, is saying goodbye to the General Assembly Monday. After nearly 50 years, the Columbus native is not running for re-election.

  • The Democrat known as the “Dean of the House” will give a farewell address to the chamber in which he’s served since he was 26.

What’s next: Smyre is awaiting confirmation of his appointment by President Biden to be ambassador to the Dominican Republic.

Why it matters: Smyre is the only member of the Democratic caucus who knows what it’s like to have been in leadership back when Democrats had the majority said state Rep. Carolyn Hugley.

  • As a result, “Calvin has political maturity that we rarely see now, because now we are tribal,” she tells Axios.
  • “He knows what he told me when I first got here: no permanent friends, no permanent enemies. Issues always should be what's important. And, so, that’s how he operates.”

The legislator from Columbus served as the powerful Rules Committee chair, was the first Black person to serve as a governor’s floor leader, and is considered the most influential Democrat in the General Assembly.

The big picture: Republican House Speaker David Ralston said recently at an event for Smyre that the dean has been involved in every major policy achievement over the last five decades.

Zoom out: Smyre was among the first group of Black lawmakers elected in Georgia after the Civil Rights movement, Neill Herring, a veteran environmental lobbyist, said. But Smyre was quicker to “master the details of the process," Herring tells Axios.

  • “He knows which buttons to push, which wires to pull, how to lean, how hard to lean and when,” Herring said.

Of note: Smyre has also had influence on national Democratic politics for decades, beginning as an adviser to the Jimmy Carter 1976 presidential campaign, later in roles including president of the National Caucus of Black State Legislators.

What they’re saying: Smyre has a skill set that “no one else possesses” at the Capitol, said Democratic strategist and lobbyist Tharon Johnson. He listens, identifies the obstacles, and then uses "his experience and credibility to find a third way solution to complex problems.”

  • “Calvin has always been a gentleman. He's looked at issues rationally, and he's been willing to compromise. And he's just a quality human being,” veteran Republican state Rep. Alan Powell tells Axios.

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