011215 ATLANTA: Former Govenor Zell Miller and First Lady Shirley are introduced in the balcony during the inauguration of Governor Nathan Deal to a second-term of office on the first day of the legislative session on Monday, Jan. 12, 2015, in Atlanta. Curtis Compton / ccompton@ajc.com
Photo: HANDOUT/ccompton@ajc.com
Photo: HANDOUT/ccompton@ajc.com

The Jolt: Zell Miller, Mozart and the ‘Hallelujah Chorus’

Former Presidents George W. Bush, Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton will speak in that order this morning at a memorial service for former Gov. Zell Miller at Peachtree Road United Methodist Church.

“Amazing Grace” is on the program, a standard at Southern funerals well suited to a man more than conversant in the language of country music. But remember that Miller once proposed a program that issued every newborn a cassette tape or CD of Mozart or Bach, intended to stimulate nascent intellects.

The final piece of music at today’s service: The “Hallelujah Chorus” from Handel’s “Messiah,” to be sung by the Georgia Boy Choir.

Here’s betting that Miller himself had a hand in that choice.

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In “Tom Sawyer,” when the book’s namesake is thought dead, Mark Twain wrote a scene that featured competing schoolyard mourners. One boy could only muster, “Tom Sawyer, he licked me once." But most of his fellows could say the same thing, and so it wasn’t worth saying.

This is where many of us are with Zell Miller. Our former AJC colleague Tom Baxter, writing for the Saporta Report, does tell of his schoolyard fracas with the late governor, but goes one better. In 1992, Miller nominated Bill Clinton for the presidency at the Democratic National Convention. Baxter writes that he may have played an unwitting role in the speech’s composition: 

When he was tapped to give one of the keynote speeches at the 1992 Democratic National Convention, I wrote that Madison Square Garden would be unlikely to have heard a voice like his, “that speaks of honeysuckle and wood fences in inflections more suggestive of knotty pine and barbed wire.” He must have liked the line. “Listen to this voice,” he began a few weeks later in the Garden. It was a voice, the old Marine said proudly, “that’s been described as more barbed wire than honeysuckle.”

Often, when things were frosty, we’d communicate through Miller’s grade-school classmate, Bert Lance. Miller and Lance were the products of a sort of mountain intelligentsia which bore striking resemblance to the “talented tenth” that W.E.B. DuBois wrote about: Enterprising, able families, living always on the cusp between high expectations and financial ruin.

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The late Zell Miller was a close friend and adviser to Bill Clinton. He was an outspoken supporter of George W. Bush. He made nominating speeches for both of them at their party conventions. 

But he had a far more strained relationship with the third ex-president who will speak at his Tuesday service in Atlanta.

Jimmy Carter and Miller knew each other for more than five decades and were friendly for much of the time as they each climbed the state’s Democratic hierarchy. But Miller’s 2004 endorsement of Bush at the Republican National Convention set Carter off.

In a two-page missive he sent Miller a week after the speech, the former president blasted the then-U.S. senator for his “rabid and mean-spirited” address and accused him of turning his back on fellow Democrats: 

"By your historically unprecedented disloyalty, you have betrayed our trust," Carter wrote in the letter. He saved some of harshest words for his last. The letter was signed: "Sincerely and with deepest regrets, Jimmy Carter."

At the time, Miller responded by quoting a warning from another Democratic president, John F. Kennedy, about the “dangers of extreme party loyalty.” He later sent a memo calling Carter and other state leaders “a board of deacons for Democratic disaster.”

Still, the two seemed to have buried the hatchet. Carter last week called him a model for anyone interested in public service – and praised his “straight-talking approach to politics that left no one in doubt of his views on any subject.”

And Miller seemed to take the tension between the two in stride. After Carter told the Fox News radio program in 2003 that “one of the worst mistakes” Roy Barnes ever made was tapping Miller to an open U.S. Senate seat, the then-U.S. senator brushed it off.

"Jimmy Carter and I have been friends for more than 40 years," Miller said at the time. "And over those 40-plus years, I bet I've received about two dozen personal notes from Jimmy Carter. Half of them are giving me hell, and the other half are bragging on me. So, I figure I'm doing OK batting .500 with Jimmy Carter."

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If Democrats were made uncomfortable by some of Zell Miller’s shifts, the religious conservative base of the Republican party also gave him mixed reviews. From a column by Gerald Harris, editor of the Christian Index, the publication of the Georgia Baptist Mission Board:

Many think Miller’s vision to create a lottery in Georgia with profits designated for specific educational programs has improved the state in a myriad of ways. Others would agree with me that the collateral damage must to be taken into account before giving the lottery unilateral praise.

However, we can bless God for Miller’s stand against abortion. When other politicians were becoming pro-choice for the sake of political expedience Miller was becoming pro-life, because he knew it was right.

In his book Miller stated, “Bill Clinton, Jesse Jackson, Al Gore, and Dick Gephardt, to name a few, started their political careers opposing abortion. Over the years they all changed their positions to pro-choice. My own evolution on this issue has been just the opposite. Personal experience again reshaped my thinking.”

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The retirement of 11th Circuit Court of Appeals Judge Julie Carnes will likely lead to another opening on the Georgia Supreme Court.

Justice Britt Grant is seen as having the inside track at the newly-vacated seat, which means Gov. Nathan Deal will get to tap another judge to the high court’s bench.

The governor is likely to be on the lookout for a conservative woman to take the spot.

Should Grant get the 11th Circuit nomination, the appointment could be short-lived. The Trump administration floated Grant last year as a possible U.S. Supreme Court nominee should another vacancy occur. 

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The former U.S. Attorney for north Georgia is back in private practice with King & Spalding’s growing white-collar practice.

John Horn served as U.S. Attorney for the northern district in Georgia from 2015, when he succeeded Sally Yates, until he stepped down late last year. President Donald Trump tapped former state Rep. B.J. Pak to take his spot.

Horn worked for King & Spalding before he joined the Justice Department, where he led cases involving cybercrime, national security, fraud and public corruption. He was also deputy chief of the department’s narcotics and organized drug enforcement unit.

He is the fifth former U.S. Attorney to work for the mega-firm.

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The Trump administration plans to ask people about their citizenship status in the 2020 U.S. Census, a decision that prompted an outcry from civil and immigrants rights groups who warned it would lead to fewer responses. 

The Commerce Department announced last night the data will “permit more effective enforcement” of the Voting Rights Act. “I find that the need for accurate citizenship data and the limited burden that the reinstatement of the citizenship question would impose outweigh fears about a potentially lower response rate,” Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross wrote in a memo explaining the move yesterday. 

Critics said the question’s inclusion will lead to fewer -- or less accurate -- responses to the Census, which helps determine how congressional districts and federal funding are allocated between the states. Several groups, including the state of California, have threatened to sue the Trump administration over the move. 

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