THOMASVILLE — Despite his boyish looks, Ralph Reed, a Republican candidate for Georgia lieutenant governor, is a nationally known political veteran.

Reed is former executive director of the Christian Coalition and chairman of the Southeast Region Campaign to Reelect President George W. Bush and Vice-President Dick Cheney. He was chairman of the Georgia Republican Party in 2002.

He has been named one of the top 10 political newsmakers in the nation by Newsweek, one of the 20 most influential leaders of his generation by Life magazine and one of the 50 future leaders of America by Time magazine.

On Tuesday, Reed was featured speaker at the Thomas County Republican Party’s monthly meeting.

In his address, Reed said citizen action in politics is essential to a healthy democracy.

“One of the things I love about this country is the miracle and the genius of what we’re doing here today as free people in a free society, participating,” he said. “When you think about the people who lie in shallow graves in Iraq, who for 35 years suffered under one of the bloodiest tyrants in the modern era, and now they’re getting the opportunity to do what we’ve taken for granted — that is to choose their own leaders, to participate and to form political parties.”

For all its benefits, politics in a democracy can sometimes be messy and personal, Reed said. He quoted former British Prime Minister Winston Churchill.

“Democracy is the worst form of government ever conceived, except for all the rest,” he joked.

Reed saluted members of the local Republican Party for the work they do at the grass-roots level.

“If it weren’t for you, we wouldn’t have a Republican Gov. Sonny Perdue. We wouldn’t have Rep. Mike Keown up there to stand for our values. We wouldn’t have George W. Bush in the Oval Office,” he said. “If you don’t think it matters, just remember — we came within 537 votes out of 106 million of having Al Gore, not George W. Bush, sitting in the Oval Office at 8:46 a.m. on Sept. 11, 2001, when the first of those hijacked airliners entered the North Tower of the World Trade Center.

“It matters.”

Reed attended his first Republican Party meeting at the courthouse in his Georgia hometown of Toccoa in support of then presidential candidate Ronald Reagan.

“There were nine people there. Once they gaveled the meeting to order, and it was clear we were running a Republican meeting, one guy stood up and said, ‘I’m just trying to pay my car tag fee. Does anybody know where I’m supposed to go?’” Reed said. “I remember a day when the Republican Party in places like Stephens County and Thomas County could fit in a phone booth.”

Since that time, the Republican Party has grown to take control of state government.

“We achieved what nobody thought was possible. We elected the first Republican governor in 134 years,” Reed said. “In fact, Georgia had never had a Republican governor without the benefit of the occupation of federal troops (during Reconstruction).”

Reed said Georgia was the last state in America since the Civil War to have a Republican governor. Following Perdue’s election in 2002, Republicans have also gained the majority in both the state House of Representatives and Senate.

“But folks, we’re not done yet. We’ve got two Republican U.S. senators, we’ve got a Republican governor, we now control both chambers of the General Assembly, but we have unfinished business,” Reed said. “We need to re-elect Sonny Perdue. That, in my opinion, is job one. We need to elect with him a Republican lieutenant governor that will be a philosophical ally and not an adversary. We need to increase our majority in the state House and the state Senate, and make sure we add as many Republicans as we can down the ballot to the other positions.”

Reed said he hopes to see Republicans elected to positions such as state commissioner of agriculture, labor commissioner and secretary of state. “When we get done with this election, I believe we will have ensured a Republican majority for the remainder of our lifetime, and confine the Democratic Party to a permanent minority status,” he said. “But we have to do the job this November.”

Reed said he is running his own campaign on bold conservative issues.

“If you are looking for a lieutenant governor who is simply looking to lose as slowly as possible, and who simply wants to wield a gavel and preside over the status quo, I am not your candidate,” he said. “If you want somebody who’s going to be a bold conservative and an agent of change, and work on lower taxes, fiscal responsibility, building a transportation system for the 21st century and standing unswervingly for our shared conservative values, I’m your candidate.

“I believe that when we stand unapologetically on the principles that made our party great — of lower taxes, limited government, strong families and protection of innocent human life — we win.”

Reed said the media has a tendency to attack Republicans because of these principles. He also addressed his much-publicized connections to Jack Abramoff, a political lobbyist who recently pled guilty to charges of federal conspiracy, tax evasion and mail fraud.

Reed had dealings with Abramoff while running a political consulting firm but has not been accused of any illegal activity. In 1999, Abramoff asked Reed to help him work to oppose five new casinos in Alabama.

“I said yes on one condition — I can’t be paid with revenues from other casinos or other gambling operations,” Reed said. “He said that wouldn’t be a problem.”

Abramoff’s clients owned manufacturing plants, timberland, hotels and golf courses, which were to be used as the sources of Reed’s payment.

“We now know that for the most part I was not (paid with gambling revenues,” Reed said. “If I had known then what I know now, I would not have done that work — not because what I did was wrong, but because of the group that hired me.

“What I did was prevent five casinos from coming to Alabama. I helped close two illegal casinos in Texas, and I prevented a Las Vegas-style casino from coming to Louisiana. I’m glad that I did that work.

“What I do not appreciate, and what I’m confident the voters in this state will reject, is an unfair attempt by the media and by others to engage in guilt by association. I think the voters are decent and they are fair. That’s why I’m running on the issues.”

Reed said he supports a taxpayer dividend act, which would return tax money to Georgia citizens in the event of a budget surplus.

“I don’t think it’s the politicians’ money. I think it’s your money,” he told the group. “I think it ought to be returned to you.”

He also proposes a 50 percent tax cut on capital gains and dividends, and the eventual elimination of income tax on seniors.

“That’s so we can attract more of the retirees, near retirees and part-time retirees, who are instead going to places like Florida,” he said.

Reed said he would like to see bold changes in Georgia’s educational system.

“Georgia has the second-highest high school dropout rate in the nation,” he said. “If you take 100 ninth graders, four years later, only 62 of them will get a high school diploma.

“That is not acceptable in the economy of the 21st century.”

To lower the state’s dropout rate, Reed proposes a dramatic increase in dual and joint enrollment at community or technical colleges.

“There’s a much closer connection between their future job and their current education,” he said. “You’ve got to make their curriculum more job- and career-focused.”

Reed’s goal, if elected, is to raise Georgia’s graduation rate to the national average by the end of his first term as lieutenant governor. He also wants to see the Republican Party continue to grow.

“We’ve got to go out there and build bridges to people who haven’t always felt welcome in our party,” he said. “I’m not somebody who believes the only people who share our values are the ones in this room right now. I think there are a lot of other people who believe in the things we believe in.”

To contact reporter Brewer Turley, call (229) 226-2400, ext. 226.


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