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Zell Miller: a rare politician who made an impact

By Walter Geiger The political primaries loom May 22 and hordes of candidates are roaming the state, various districts and precincts looking for my vote and yours. As I was compiling data with which to write a story on qualifying several weeks back, I was drawn to the thought that very few politicians at any level have ever personally impacted my life. Personal impact seems to gravitate toward two ends of the political spectrum. Presidents can have an impact. Richard Nixon ended the draft just before I would have become eligible to be sent to Vietnam which was chaos at the time with no effort being made on the part of the U.S. to win the war. Very few people I knew who went to ‘˜the Nam’, as it was known back then, came back unscathed. Many came back in boxes. So, Nixon impacted my personal life in a positive way. Barack Obama impacted my life in that he ruined health insurance permanently with his Obamacare scam. So, Obama impacted my life in a very negative way. Donald Trump, an agent of change in every respect, has impacted my life just from a pure entertainment perspective. Largely, in my opinion, he angers all the right people. You may disagree and that’s fine but the federal government, which does very little well or efficiently, needed shaking up and Trump is doing just that. Conversely, politicians at the local level can impact our personal lives. We may call a city councilman about the need for a stop sign or stop light or a profusion of potholes and get action. We may call a county commissioner and get rights of way mowed or litter picked up. Perhaps a family member has gotten a proclamation honoring them from a mayor or commission chairman. Those amount to personal impact. As for the rest of the spectrum, perhaps my memory is deficient but I don’t recall a single state representative, state senator or any congressman or U.S. senator ever doing anything that personally impacted my life. Some have impressed me and won my vote. It seems I heard little from them after I voted. In fact, with few exceptions, they are just a blurred slideshow of faces. I recall some names but most are forgotten. I expect that, were you to reflect upon it, you would come to the same conclusion. Perhaps we have far more elected officials than we need. Once in office, they need staffs, government grows more bloated and those of us who pay taxes pay for it all. Zell Miller, who served as Governor and U.S. Senator, died recently. Zell was different. Though a political animal to the core, Zell was genuine. He came to Barnesville twice for groundbreaking ceremonies at Gordon back in the day. At one, he broke ground with a plow and mule and knew how to do it. Mules are not to be trifled with. Zell once said in a half joking manner, ‘Public opinion can’t change any faster than I can’. That among other things earned him the moniker ‘˜Zig Zag Zell’ which he embraced. Zell, as all of us over a certain age did, grew up watching people gamble by playing ‘˜the numbers’, sometimes called ‘˜the bug’, in his hometown. He knew that football parlay cards were easy to find anywhere in the state during football season. He took on stiff opposition, much of it from powerful religious organizations, and implemented the Georgia Lottery, legitimizing a similar sort of gambling and using the proceeds for education. It has funded Pre-K programs for the very young and HOPE scholarships and Zell Miller grants for college students. In Lamar and Pike County alone during the period 1994-2017, the lottery funded 9190 scholarship and grant recipients in the amount of $33, 923,089. It has boosted 4306 Pre-K students with funding of $16,455,867 for those programs. Winners in the two counties have taken in $138,325,373 in prize money while retailers have garnered $14,456,571 in commissions. With those figures in mind you can get some idea of the statewide impact the lottery has had. Though I have probably bought fewer that 20 lottery tickets in my life, both our daughters have earned the HOPE scholarship and the Miller grant. The eldest, who will graduate shortly from UGA with a triple major, kept her grades up and qualified for the money all four years of college. The youngest is headed to Athens soon and I am confident she will strive for academic excellence. So, Zig Zag Zell had a direct positive impact on our personal lives. We are thankful for him and wish there were more like him in the primary pipeline.

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