Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger garnered quite a bit of attention earlier this week when he called on Georgia lawmakers to end Georgia’s general election runoff system.
The move drew criticism and cries of partisanship who say the runoff system was fine when Republicans were winning and now that Democrats have made gains in the state the runoffs are being called into question.
However, 30 years ago the shoe was on the other foot. When Democrats ruled the state and Republicans were gaining traction, it was Democrats who called for an end to the state’s general election runoffs. In this month’s Flashback, we will take a look at what happened 30 years ago to make Georgians reconsider the runoff law. But first, let’s take a moment to look back at what life was like in 1992.
The Time: In December of 1992, George H.W. Bush was wrapping up his term as president, having just been defeated by Bill Clinton in November. The country was still feeling the effects of a recession that lasted 8 months in 1990, but impacted citizens wallets throughout 1992.
Democrats held legislative power in Georgia and the governor’s mansion and were still the majority party in Georgia, but Republicans were starting to gain ground in elections. Zell Miller was the governor.
Gas was $1.75 per gallon. The price of a Gallon of Milk was $1.13. (Bush was unable to answer that question in a debate with Clinton, which is often cited as a contributing factor to his loss.) At the box office, “A Few Good Men,” “My Cousin Vinny,” “Batman Returns,” “Beethoven,” and “Home Alone 2” were entertaining movie-goers.
The Election In Georgia: So, what caused Georgia pundits and politicians to want to rethink the runoff system? Like today, it involved a Senate seat. A Democrat by the name of Wyche Fowler was a sitting senator from Georgia. In November of 1992, Fowler led in the election but got less than 50% of the vote, forcing him into a runoff against Republican Paul Coverdell who won in a Nov. 28 runoff, flipping one of Georgia’s Senate seats.
The Aftermath: Several Democrats started calling for changes to Georgia’s runoff election laws and a group led by Ralph Nader called Public Citizen when to court in an attempt to throw out the election and have Fowler declared the winner.
Political columnist Bill Shipp wrote at the time “Even if the courts rule against Fowler’s side, you can bet the runoff law is not long for this world.” The state has cycled from Democrat to Republican and is heading back to Democrats again and the runoff law still stands today.
Origins of the Runoff Law: In a 1992 column, Shipp described the Runoff law as an insurance policy for Democrats that boomeranged on them. The law was a product of segregation era politics from the 1960s.
“The runoffs mean blacks, even in jurisdictions with large black population, cannot win an election without gaining a solid majority. That keeps down the number of black challengers. More important for Democrats, the majority-vote requirement and the runoff elections seem to hold the growing Republican Party at bay. The Georgia GOP is big, but it is not the majority party. Or so leading Democrats believed until now,” Shipp wrote at the time.
Paul Coverdell went on to win reelection to the Senate in 1998, becoming the first Georgia Republican to be reelected to the senate. He served as Georgia’s Senator until his death in 2000 from a cerebral hemorrhage.
Fowler went on to serve as U.S. Ambassador to Saudi Arabia during the Clinton Administration. Afterwards. he came back to Georgia to practice law.
Information for Flashback stories is gathered from local news sources from the time period covered in the article.
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