Gov. Brian Kemp wanted to hear from some unconventional candidates when he put out an online call for applications for retiring U.S. Sen. Johnny Isakson’s seat. And boy did he get them.
About 500 Georgians have so far submitted their resumes to his office, and only a few of them are politicians. The rest are a snapshot of Georgia: schoolteachers and social workers, physicians and farmers, mechanics and managers.
Some of them — OK, many of them — put their names in the mix as a lark or to poke fun at the bizarreness of the process. But others treat it like they would a quest for their dream job, with meticulously prepared cover letters and long lists of references designed to attract Kemp’s attention.
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution interviewed a range of candidates who are dead serious about their candidacy, earnest about their intent to run and honest about their chances. They cast themselves as everyday Georgians who would bring a much-needed perspective to the nation’s most exclusive club.
There’s the former University of Georgia administrator who quit his job to embark on a quest for consensus. A criminal defense attorney with a history in Democratic politics. The OB-GYN who preaches wellness and personal responsibility. And the hog killer who promises to pursue a different sort of pork in Washington.
They acknowledge they have the faintest of chances to earn even a glance from Kemp’s advisers, let alone make the final cut. A small number of well-known Republicans are in that rarefied air, including U.S. Rep. Doug Collins, state House Speaker Pro Tem Jan Jones and former U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price.
But they say they’re as deserving as any of those politicos to earn the chance to woo the governor, whose selection might be the most important political decision he makes as governor. Here are the stories of four of them:
The college administrator
Arthur Tripp Jr. had a pretty nice gig: He was a senior aide to UGA President Jere Morehead, with a hectic life in Athens, a wife and a newborn baby. And then in June he left it behind to embark on a long-shot quest — to run as an independent for a Gwinnett County-based state Senate seat.
“It sounds so crazy — trust me, I know — but it got to the point where I just couldn’t feel comfortable coming home to our 18-month-old without doing something,” he said. “I cannot stand us being turned against each other.”
He was on the campaign trail for a few months when news of Isakson’s retirement — and Kemp’s casting call — got his mind racing.
Tripp had worked for years as an aide on Capitol Hill, and every analysis he read about Isakson’s departure seemed to focus on the conservatives or liberals who were eyeing a run.
“Senator Isakson served the state for 45 years. I feel like we owe it to him to push a vision, going forward, about the issues and not the ideology,” he said. “That message is putting people over political party. We’ve got a genuine issue working together in Washington.”
His focus, he says, is still squarely on his campaign to succeed state Sen. Renee Unterman under the Gold Dome. But he hopes Kemp gives him a shot at proving he could represent Georgia in the U.S. Senate.
“This is an opportunity to change the narrative and pump some fresh air into the political system,” he said. “I’ve jumped in the deep end, and here we are.”
The Democratic activist
Robert Patillo is the first to admit that he wouldn’t be Kemp’s typical choice for Isakson’s seat.
The criminal defense attorney was an organizer for John Edwards and the Democratic National Committee, worked as a researcher for the Rev. Jesse Jackson and ran for a state House seat as a Democrat in 2012.
His interest in elected office dried up after he was defeated in the primary, and he still talks of it like it was a bad hangover.
“I think that’s one of those things in your 20s that you have to get out of your system, just like going to Tijuana,” he said.
But Patillo, who hosts a radio talk show on WAOK and dabbles in cable news punditry, saw an opportunity with Kemp’s call for applications.
The political system lavishes too much attention on the party bases, he said, all too often drowning out the middle. He wants to highlight the areas where both parties can find common ground: expanding rural broadband, encouraging alternative energy and improving veterans’ care.
“Broadly, we want the streets to work, we want clean water and clean air, we want kids to have the best education possible and we want to care for our veterans and our elderly,” he said.
“I think that by tossing my name in the hat, being able to push forward on those kitchen table issues that many of us don’t hear addressed, it’s a way to move and shape the conversation in a way that hopefully takes us from the polarization we currently face,” Patillo said.
After a long career in medicine, Dr. Melody T. McCloud thinks she can offer Kemp a refreshing alternative to the parade of politicos.
“I’m a professional woman,” she said. “I’m articulate. I’ve dealt with the media. I’m friendly and relatable, and I think it would be a positive thing for people to see a female physician in that capacity.”
McCloud is a Roswell-based obstetrician-gynecologist affiliated with Emory University Hospital Midtown, and her bio highlights that she was the first black woman to establish an OB-GYN practice in DeKalb County in the mid-1980s. She’s also a lecturer and the author of several books focused on health, sex and the well-being of women of color.
McCloud identifies neither as a Republican nor a Democrat, but as a “conservative-minded citizen.” In her lectures, she often discusses personal responsibility, crime in the black community and a “return to family structure.” She said a lot of her personal interests overlap with Isakson’s policy portfolio, including health care, veterans’ affairs, ethics and education.
“I find many of the politicians to be very hard left or hard right, and I think we need a more moderate (lawmaker) like Senator Isakson, who can work across the aisle with other people and bring ideas to the floor with dignity and class,” she said. “I feel like I can do that.”
The hog killer
This much is for sure: Hal Shouse knows a thing or two about targeting pork.
The Navy veteran went from running strip clubs and an escort service in Arizona to building a thriving hog-killing business in southwest Georgia.
Many nights, he can be found armed with high-powered assault rifles in search of feral hogs menacing another sprawling farm. By day, he’s become a political junkie who can’t pry his eyes from cable news.
“I can’t yell at my TV anymore. I have no other choice,” he said of his decision to apply for Isakson’s job. “I know I’m just one man and I’m not able to single-handedly fix anything, but I’m hoping I can motivate other patriots sick of partisanship.”
The 49-year-old, who considers himself a conservative Democrat, wants to preserve gun rights and provide more support for law enforcement. He says his bluntness will impress Kemp, who also had a knack for straight talking on the campaign trail.
But he’s preparing to run for the seat regardless of whether he’s Kemp’s pick — and he’s realistic about his infinitesimally small chances — partly so he can show off his brand of politics on the debate stage.
“I’m telling you right now, they’re not going to be able to answer the questions the way I can,” he said. “It’s going to be a grind. I’ve got to visit 159 counties. And I’ve got to try not to cuss — I’m a sailor, but I’m going to have to slow my roll.”
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