Thursday, July 28, 2016

Riding the Coattails

In anticipation of the November 2016 presidential election, the Russell Library’s Access and Outreach staff has been working on curating an exhibit, On the Stump: What Does it Take to Get Elected in Georgia? opening September 2nd in the Russell Library’s Harrison Feature Gallery. The exhibit On the Stump considers the evolution of campaigning for state office and asks visitors to imagine life on the campaign trail. This post is one in a series exploring political slang and its role in elections.

In electoral politics, constituents have a tendency to vote according to party. In the nineteenth century, voters simply choose a party ballot that encouraged “riding on the coattails.”  Though modern voting machines decreased “straight-ticket voting,” the trend still exists. Popular presidential candidates , for instance, often attract votes to Congressional candidates of the same party. Dubbed the coattail effect, political analysts continue to debate its significance in shaping electoral outcomes.

Right: Marion Baker and Timmy O'Keefe campaigning for Herman Talmadge, Savannah, GA, 1980.  Herman E. Talmadge Collection, Russell Library.

The 1980 election gives us the most convincing example of presidential coattails in modern history. Republican Ronald Reagan ousted incumbent President Jimmy Carter by a wide popular vote margin of 50.7 percent to 41 percent. The GOP gained 34 House seats (considerably narrowing the Democrats’ majority) and a stunning 12 Senate seats, moving that chamber from a 58-41 Democratic majority to a 53-46 Republican one, effectively ending Democratic  Party’s 26 year reign over the “world’s greatest deliberative body.”

Left: Mack Mattingly meeting with constituents on the campaign trail, 1980. Mack F. Mattingly Papers, Russell Library. 

Few states that year produced more significant results than Georgia. Despite native son Jimmy Carter securing 56 percent of the popular vote in the presidential election, four-term incumbent Democratic Senator Herman Talmadge lost a close 51-to-49 race to state Republican Party chairman Mack Mattingly. Mattingly’s victory, by about 27,500 votes and a 1.7 percent margin, was the first for a Republican Senate candidate in Georgia since Reconstruction and the first since the 17th Amendment created popular elections for the U.S. Senate.

Above: Talmadge Campaign Leaflet, 1980 re-election campaign.
 Herman E. Talmadge Collection, Russell Library.  

A number of factors led to Talmadge's defeat—among them his known battle with alcoholism, and allegations of financial misconduct which landed him before the Senate Ethics Committee in 1979. In the Democratic primary, Zell Miller offered a strong challenge to the weakened Talmadge campaign, which never recovered for the November general election. In a year dominated by Republican victories, it is difficult to say what might have happened had Talmadge not faced scandal and personal difficulties during the campaign. Republican Mack Mattingly served in the U.S. Senate only one term, losing to Democrat Wyche Fowler in 1986.
To find out more about the ins and outs of the 1980 Senatorial campaign between Talmadge and Mattingly, take a look through their finding aids online. Scrapbooks (available on microfilm) from the Mattingly collection, compiled by the senator's staff and family, record the highlights of the senator's political career and campaigns. The Talmadge Political Series documents all his political campaigns from 1956-1980.

More recently, President Obama’s solid victory in 2008 accompanied impressive Democratic wins for Democrats in Congress, gaining eight seats in the Senate (for a 59-41 majority, the widest for either party since the 1970s) and 21 in the House (for a 257-178 majority, the widest since 1992). However, congressional results in 2008 may have simply represented a welcoming year for the Democratic Party, both “up” and “down” the ballot, rather than evidencing far-flung Obama coattails.

What will the presidential election of 2016 hold? Stay tuned…..

Want to find out more? Visit On the Stump on display in the Harrison Feature Gallery in the Richard B. Russell Building Special Collections Libraries  from September 2August 22, 2016 through July 31August 18, 2017. The Russell Library gallery is free and open to the public weekdays from 8 a.m.-5 p.m. and on Saturdays from 1-5 p.m. For more information, email or call 706-542-5788.

Thursday, July 14, 2016

ACLU of Georgia: Freedom of Speech and Expression

This is the second in a series of posts about the American Civil Liberties Union of Georgia Records, which were processed in 2015 and are now open for research. These records document the ACLU of Georgia's litigation, lobbying, and public education efforts to protect civil liberties for all Georgians. Their work, which began in 1963, involves issues such as freedom of speech and assembly, freedom of the press, freedom of religion, due process of law, and opposing discrimination against many groups. This series of posts was written by Shaniqua Singleton, a student at the UGA School of Law, who was instrumental in processing these papers.

Sticker from the ACLU's "Keep America Safe and Free"
campaign to defend individual freedom in the wake of
September 11 and arguments related to national
security, 2002. Source: Series I, Box 8, Folder 48.
In an election year it is not uncommon to hear candidates discuss issues like gun control, foreign policy, and taxation. However, this election year has had a distinct flavor about it: increasingly, the conversation has focused not on social and fiscal policy, but rather on the free speech rights of candidates and the individuals who attend their events. For several years, the ACLU of Georgia has worked to shape case law and legislation that aims to protect the First Amendment rights of all segments of our population, even when that speech is unpopular or inflammatory.

For example, the ACLU of Georgia’s records contain a number of issue files and legislative efforts to protect free speech rights. The ACLU was heavily involved in a legislative campaign and case (Maher v. Avondale Estates) challenging a DeKalb County ban on political signs in residential areas. Researchers will find legal documents highlighting the ACLU’s constitutional challenge to this ordinance, as well as newspaper articles covering the litigation and legislative efforts to combat laws of this nature. Similarly, the ACLU has been involved in efforts to protect whistleblowers from SLAPP lawsuits (Atlanta Humane Society v. Harkins), the free speech rights of the KKK, free speech rights at university's (Schmitt v. Fort Valley State - 2002-2006), and defending the rights of students to wear confederate flags (Schingler v. Seminole County School District).

Flyer for a training program for demonstrators,
undated. Source: Series I, Box 8, Folder 50.
Each of these cases reflects the ACLU’s position that freedom of speech should be protected at all costs, lest unpopular speech and artistic or personal expression be at risk of suppression. Researchers interested in learning more about the ACLU’s position in both of these matters will find many articles and court documents regarding legal and legislative challenges to attempts to curtail free speech.