The Jolt: Presidents, senators and everyday people remember Max Cleland

News and analysis from the politics team at The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

The tributes began moments after news broke Tuesday morning about former U.S. Sen. Max Cleland’s death: Former Presidents Bill Clinton and Jimmy Carter sung his praises. So did President Joe Biden, a close friend from his Senate days. Every leading state politician chimed in, as did governors, historians, and senators from around the country.

We’re just as interested in the tales shared by others touched by Cleland’s life.

Roger Lau, a veteran Democratic consultant, shared a story about the time Cleland bailed him out of jail days before the New Hampshire primary when Lau was arrested for a traffic violation. He wrote on Facebook:

“I sat in the jail for an entire night thinking that I would be a terrible news story for the campaign. Max never left me. He stayed at the station all night and made calls to put together the money to bail me out. I cried when I came out and tried to apologize to him for screwing up. Before I could muster the words, he pulled me close and whispered in my ear, ‘We few, we happy few, we band of brothers. I will always be here for you because you are my brother.’”

David Ayers was in elementary school in Hartwell when Cleland visited. He talked to the class about patriotism and courage, sharing words that Ayers still holds dear.

“The best part is that he hung around for a long while after he spoke to us, shooting basketball one handed from his wheelchair,” he said. “They don’t make them like that anymore, and we are all worse off for it.”

Filmmaker Lynne Novick said she and Ken Burns couldn’t have made their 18-hour documentary series, The Vietnam War, without Cleland.

“Still haunted by the war’s images and sounds, he couldn’t watch the full series when it aired,” she wrote. “Nonetheless, he felt an obligation to share his story with us and the world, for which we are forever grateful.”

Even R.E.M.’s Mike Mills wrote that Cleland was such an inspiration to the Athens-based band they asked him to induct them into the Georgia Music Hall of Fame.

In more recent years, Cleland formed a bond with Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms, as well as state Rep. Scott Holcomb, who described his friendship with his fellow veteran in a tribute.

“We laughed and cried together. Every time we talked, we ended with, ‘I love you, brother.’ Rest easy, my friend. You earned it.”

And particularly noteworthy during these days of intense partisanship, which in some ways began with Cleland’s 2002 Senate defeat, were the many Republicans in the state who praised Cleland. Gov. Brian Kemp called him “a patriot.” House Speaker David Ralston called him “an American hero.”

Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger, Attorney General Chris Carr, Ag Commissioner Gary Black, and the full GOP-led state Senate, of which Cleland was once a member, all added their voices in tribute.

Read more about Max Cleland on Former VA administrator and Georgia senator Max Cleland dies at home



* 8:00 a.m.: Committee meetings begin;

* 10:00 a.m.: The House convenes;

* 10:00 a.m.: The Senate gavels in;

* 4:30 p.m.: The House Legislative and Congressional Reapportionment Committee meets.


November 9, 2021 Atlanta - Lieutenant Governor Geoff Duncan speaks during a special session debating and voting on redistricting maps in the Senate Chambers during a special session at the Georgia State Capitol in Atlanta on Tuesday, November 9, 2021. The hearing was a step toward votes on new political maps for the state House, state Senate and Congress during a once-a-decade redistricting session of the General Assembly. The Senate plans to vote on new maps Tuesday, and the House Redistricting Committee could advance its proposal as well. (Hyosub Shin /

Credit: Hyosub Shin/AJC

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Credit: Hyosub Shin/AJC

The AJC’s dynamic legislative duo of Maya T. Prabhu and Mark Niesse reported on the party-line vote to approve Georgia Senate maps that pave the way for GOP control of the chamber into the next decade.

The vote was also a test of Lt. Gov. Geoff Duncan’s clout in the Senate after announcing he wouldn’t run for a second term – and becoming an outspoken critic of former President Donald Trump.

His top adviser is now Macy McFall, who helped shepherd the map through the voting process and has emerged as a key behind-the-scenes player in the Legislature.

When Democrats attempted to push an alternative map, McFall urged David Cook, the secretary of the senate, to rule it out of order because it lacked certain data required by the rules to be considered. When the Democratic motion failed, the most significant effort to derail the GOP map in the Senate sank with it.

For a chamber usually defined by rebels and rabble rousers, it’s been unexpectedly steady-as-she-goes.


Lots of campaign endorsement news today:

  • Atlanta mayoral hopeful Andre Dickens landed the support of former candidate Sharon Gay at a Tuesday press conference. Gay said she has the utmost respect for Council President Felicia Moore, but sees Dickens as having the best vision for Atlanta’s future;
  • U.S. Sen. Cindy Hyde-Smith of Mississippi threw her support behind Gary Black’s U.S. Senate campaign Tuesday while hosting a crowded fundraiser for him in Madison, Miss.
  • Gov. Brian Kemp picked up endorsements GOP AG Chris Carr and Insurance Commissioner John King. Even though Kemp appointed King to his current job, every high-profile supporter counts for Kemp right now as he works to keep his GOP coalition together. He’s also now got 107 sheriffs backing his bid;
  • Senate candidate Herschel Walker landed the support of former U.S. House Speaker Newt Gingrich. He’s the latest in a string of establishment and Mar-A-Lago figures to back Walker’s bid to challenge U.S. Sen. Raphael Warnock;
  • And State Sen. Tyler Harper, who is running for agriculture commissioner, has been endorsed by Schools Superintendent Richard Woods. The superintendent was also once Harper’s social studies teacher in Ocilla, so this endorsement could have gone either way if Harper’s report cards were like some of your Jolters’.


Now that the gigantic Bipartisan Infrastructure Bill has passed Congress, it’s up to members of Congress to tell Georgians what’s in it.

U.S. Rep. David Scott headed to CNN to talk about the money headed to the state for rural broadband, child tax credits, supply chain improvements and new jobs.

And look for U.S. Sen. Raphael Warnock around the state this week talking about the roads, bridges, broadband and batteries Georgians could eventually see thanks to the billion-dollar bill.


Gwinnett County’s government structure would get a massive overhaul under surprise proposals submitted by state Sen. Clint Dixon, the AJC’s Tyler Wilkins reports.

The local legislation would double the number of members on Gwinnett County’s Board of Commissioners and make elections for the Gwinnett Board of Education nonpartisan.

Democrats, who have made major gains on both boards recently, were not looped in on the process. More:

County officials and Democratic state legislators first heard about a proposed change to the Board of Commissioners by a vague notice placed in the Gwinnett Daily Post warning that legislation would be introduced to amend the act that created the county's board.

State Rep. Sam Park, a Democratic legislator who chairs the Gwinnett Delegation, sent out an email to his colleagues last Thursday inquiring about the notice. Dixon did not claim it by Monday morning and other Democrats were unsure of its purpose.

County Commissioner Kirkland Carden said he called, texted and emailed Republican members of the Gwinnett Delegation last week. Radio silence.

- The Atlanta Journal-Constitution


Georgia Tech announced Tuesday that its renovated student center will be named in honor of the late U.S. Rep. John Lewis.

The Board of Regents of the University System of Georgia approved the decision to honor Lewis, as both a famed Civil Rights leader and the University’s 5th District congressman for 33 years.

Tech President Angel Cabrera noted that the John Lewis Student Center will be the home of the Student Government Association. “I can’t think of a better name to inspire future generations of Georgia Tech student leaders,” he said.


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