Thursday, January 1, 2009

The Curious Case Of Mike Hamby

I had intended to post something about this prior to November’s election. However, when incumbent Elton Dodson dropped out of the running for the District 10 seat on the Athens-Clarke County Commission and left the field open to challenger Mike Hamby, it seemed kind of moot. Be that as it may, both Jmac and Hillary have mentioned this get-to-know-your-commissioner piece published in the Banner-Herald last week, so I will complete the blogging trifecta. The truth be told, this post is not so much about Hamby as it is about the seemingly curious nature of progressive politics here in the Classic City.

First a bit of background is in order. From the time of city-county unification (or consolidation, as was the term at the time) through 2004, the offices of mayor (or chief elected officer, as was also the term at the time) and commissioners were determined on a partisan basis, just as they are for “regular” county governments. Since Athens-Clarke County is a “unified” government, it had the opportunity to institute nonpartisan elections for its officers, just as can boards of education. The original charter proposed for the Unified Government specified nonpartisan elections, but political skullduggery on the part of Democrats scuttled that idea and stymied a number of attempts to institute nonpartisan elections for the next decade and a half. Finally, in 2004, voters had the opportunity to decide the matter for themselves and overwhelmingly approved a referendum to make the offices of mayor and commissioners nonpartisan (and yes, there is a long history there about which I have written at length).

Back in the 1994, Hamby ran for mayor as a neophyte Republican against incumbent Democrat Gwen O’Looney. Afterward, he even served a stint as chairman of the Clarke County Republican Committee (this is where I will insert the caveat that I do not know Hamby personally, as his involvement with the CCRC predated my own, and that I have nothing against him personally). Since then, Hamby recanted any Republican leanings and reinvented himself as a “progressive” Democrat. Says he about his conversion:

At one time, I had non-Hodgkin's lymphoma. I had to go through radiation and chemotherapy. It was caught early, but in going through something like that, you realize that people aren't as lucky to have the insurance that I had. You see people waiting in the office who may have caught it late because they didn't have the insurance to go to the doctor, or for whatever reason, the money situation.

You start thinking about those things - how our government, how our community operates really affects
the lives of people. I just started looking more into it and came to the realization that Democrats, for what it's worth, take into account the individual stories of people and how those stories make up the community - the stories of people without insurance or without jobs or without affordable housing; you can go on and on through the list of the problems.

And that's not to say that Republicans don't take into account the stories, but in a lot of ways, when it boils down to it, the bottom line becomes more important to the Republicans than the more humanitarian issues, perhaps. It's just different types of ways of looking at it, and I just prefer the one that looks at it as sort of a right that people should have health care and should have education and should have a roof over their heads.

Fair enough. I will accept Hamby’s account of his political conversion at face value. I must say, though, that his analysis strikes me as questionable in the extreme – and yes, we can have reasonable disagreements over such things – but then Athens teems with those who hold similar opinions. For what it is worth, the ideological positions of the incoming Hamby do not appear to be much different from those of the outgoing Dodson.

Fast forward to now. For those who do not live in our fair city, the first things to happen when any given individual is rumored to be considering a fun for local office is that the lefty types immediately comb through the voting history of that individual and the campaign finance disclosures of past candidates so as to detect any latent Republican sympathies, however trivial they may be (and if you doubt it, ask Cardee Kilpatrick, Tom Chastain, Charlie Maddox, David Hamilton, Red Petrovs, Jim Geiser, etc.) In point of fact, the only readily identifiable Republican to run for anything at the local level in this community since 2004 is none other than yours truly.

At this point our discussion returns to Hamby. Since Dodson pulled
out of the race, one can only wonder as to how that contest may have played itself out. I assume that the local left would have mentioned Hamby’s past dalliances with things Republican but, in stark contrast to the damning critiques heaped on those other individuals mentioned above, only for the purpose of distancing him from them. This is Athens-Clarke County; progressive ideology trumps all else.

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Anonymous said...

Given that several members of the ACC "Democratic establishment" supported Hamby over Dodson, I have to respectfully disagree with your analysis, especially the bit "I assume that the local left would have mentioned Hamby’s past dalliances with things Republican but, in stark contrast to the damning critiques heaped on those other individuals mentioned above, only for the purpose of distancing him from them. This is Athens-Clarke County; progressive ideology trumps all else"

james said...

Perhaps you misunderstood my comments – or perhaps I am misunderstanding yours.

Ideologically speaking, the differences between Dodson and Hamby appear to be negligible, as both are progressive Democrats and have espoused similar positions. Unlike the others mentioned, though, in a former life Hamby had real ties to the (evil) Republican Party.

My point was that the local left would probably have ignored Hamby’s past involvement with the GOP due to this political conversion to hard left progressivism, while the others, who in my opinion ranged from center-right to center-left ideologically and had never run for office as or been affiliated with the GOP in any way (other than perhaps speaking at out meetings as they competed in nonpartisan races), were tarred with the brush of being “closet” Republicans to one degree or another.