U.S. Rep. Tom Price's formative years in statehouse politics provide clues to how he'll run the federal government's sprawling health bureaucracy as Donald Trump's pick for the top health job.
Price was ambitious from the start, and he soon won a role after his 1996 election to the state Senate in the GOP’s small but growing caucus. Price and fellow Republicans squirreled away in basement rooms under the Gold Dome plotting a course to power. They recruited candidates, raised money and dreamed up policy. He and Eric Johnson, then the Senate's top GOP official, held a fractious caucus of party-flippers, newcomers and ideologues in line.
To Democrats, he could be insufferable. Other Republican leaders would flirt with supporting Democratic proposals or compromise. Price struck a hard line. He backed Georgia’s constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage and opposed then-Gov. Roy Barnes’ plan to shrink the size of the Confederate emblem on the state flag. The latter vote, in particular, still infuriates Georgia Democrats.
“He’s an intelligent guy. That’s why I was really disappointed when he voted against changing the flag,” said state Sen. Vincent Fort, an Atlanta Democrat elected to the state Senate the same year as Price. “It was a vote that history would remember, and he was on the wrong side of it.”
Added Bobby Kahn, who was Barnes' top aide, of the measure's eventual approval: "We couldn’t have passed the flag vote without Republicans, but no thanks to Tom Price. If it was up to him, the old Confederate flag would still be flying."
Price and his aides have been mum since he was tapped by Trump, but former staffer Jared Thomas said his vote was in protest of a lack of transparency from Barnes administration.
"There was a lack of debate and a lack of public conversation," said Thomas, who managed Price's 2004 U.S. House campaign. "Tom wanted to give the people the right to vote on the flag in a referendum. He wanted to make it a public and transparent debate, not behind closed doors."
Read the full AJC profile here: Tom Price, the Georgian who will lead Trump's health policy.
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