Secession and David Poythress’ finest moment

Charlie Harper over at was the first to tell us that David Poythress, the former labor commissioner and two-time Democratic candidate for governor, died on Sunday. He was 73. The news was posted on the Facebook page of YMCA of Georgia. Poythress served on its board. From the announcement:

Poythress was a wonderful example of a servant leader. He served Georgia as Secretary of State, Labor Commissioner, and Adjutant General. He served the State YMCA in many roles including Chairman of the Board and for the past decade as Chairman of the Personnel Committee.


We are grateful for David’s friendship and support. Our prayers are with his wife, Elizabeth, and his family.

Elizabeth Poythress is president of the League of Women Voters of Georgia.

David Poythress made two runs for governor, in 1998 and 2010. Roy Barnes ultimately won both primaries. It was in the latter campaign, I think, that Poythress had his finest moment in public life.

Republicans were in full tea party mode. The state Senate had passed a resolution declaring Georgia’s right to secede — should encroachment by the federal government deepen. One candidate, then-state senator Eric Johnson of Savannah, voted for the measure. Three others, including John Oxendine and Karen Handel, endorsed it.

Poythress put out a video statement that slammed a lid on such talk. He didn’t appear in uniform, but two years earlier, the reservist had been commander of the Georgia National Guard. He retired as a lieutenant general. Watch here:


The transcript:

“For years, Georgia’s eighth grade students read in their history books about our state’s decision to secede from the United States back in 1861. Today, our students need only look at a daily newspaper to see that talk of secession isn’t just a thing of the past.


“Some Republican candidates for governor are embracing it today. In fact, four of the six Republican candidates recently said they would support Georgia seceding from the United States of America.


“This is outrageous. This is absolutely disgraceful. It’s a slap in the face to every patriotic American, to anyone who has served under the American flag, and to those brave Georgians who have fought and died for our country in Iraq.


“As commander of the Georgia National Guard, I prepared and sent our troops to fight in Iraq and Afghanistan. Before that, I served in Vietnam. And if called, I would do it again, because I love this country and everything it stands for.


“Democracy and freedom aren’t free. They aren’t even cheap. Our American form of government certainly isn’t perfect. But it sure beats the heck out of anything else.


“What really offends me the most is that none of these Republican secession candidates ever wore, for a single day, the uniform of our country, ever carried a weapon, or heard a shot fired in anger.  Not one ever put their life on the line to protect our freedoms and liberties.


“But they recklessly call for secession from America.  They would, in effect, ban the American flag, and end the Pledge of Allegiance. They would say to the world that when they don’t get their way, they quit.


“That’s just childish. That’s cowardice, not leadership.


“Many of us don’t agree with everything that Washington politicians do, but that doesn’t mean that Georgia should secede from America.  Real leadership means we work towards common-sense solutions to protect American values, not just quit our country because we don’t agree with other Americans.


“United we stand, divided we fall. Know this, when I’m governor of Georgia, I won’t cut and run from America.  I’ll stand tall and proud under the American flag.  Because when I say the Pledge of Allegiance, I mean it.”

And with that, the 2009 Republican flirtation with secession in Georgia ended. David Poythress had taken a political fantasy and made it real. It wasn’t pretty, and it has never resurfaced.

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